Backpacking can be a great way to travel on a budget. You have complete freedom over where you go, what you do and where you stay. Here are some things to think about to ensure you stay safe and healthy on your trip.
Preparing for your trip
Wherever you’re thinking of going one of the first things you should do is check the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) website for the latest travel advice. This provides information on how safe the area you want to travel to is and what to watch out for. You can also find out what documents and vaccinations you need to enter the country, if there are any health or weather conditions you need to be aware of and what the local laws and customs are so that you don’t fall foul of these.
Taking out the right travel insurance is essential to ensure you and your belongings are protected. A good policy should cover the cost of any emergency medical treatment you might need while abroad and ensure you get home safely. It should also cover your luggage or money if it’s stolen and provide you with a helpline in case of emergencies. And if you plan to do any unusual activities, such as white water rafting, make sure your policy covers you for this.
While backpacking may give you the freedom of the road it also seriously limits how much luggage you can take. There are plenty of websites and guides with advice on what to pack but a few essentials worth taking include a lock for your backpack, a first aid kit (especially if you plan to head off the beaten track) and appropriate clothing. If you’re going somewhere hot our guide on sun safety has tips on what to take and avoiding sun burn. And if you’re going somewhere cold see our guide on cold climates.
Where you’re staying
Where possible try to book accommodation in advance to ensure you don’t end up without a bed for the night. If you plan to stay in out of the way places it’s a good idea to check on reputable websites or with the local tourist board where it’s safe to stay.
If you’re staying in a hostel and sharing a room trust your instincts. Arrive at your hostel before dark so you have time to check it out and look for alternatives if you don’t feel safe there.
If you’re in a room with people you don’t feel comfortable around ask to be moved perhaps to a room of your own room with a lock on the door. Even if you are happy where you’re staying still err on the side of caution and keep your luggage locked and your valuables safe (ideally on your person) at all times.
Getting out and about
While it can be fun to do things on the spur of the moment, if you want to be sure of getting from one place to another it makes sense to book ahead. This way you not only know where you’re going but there’s no risk of running out of money and getting stranded if you’ve paid ahead. This is particularly important when it comes to booking your flight home.
Public transport is often a cheap and efficient way to get around while you’re abroad but you need to take the same precautions as you would at home. And depending on where you are there may be local customs to take on board. For example, in some countries men and women are segregated on public transport or expected to only sit next to someone of the same gender.
If you’re going on a long journey padlock your bags to a luggage rack if possible. And always keep your money, credit cards and important documents on you but not all in one place in case of theft. For more on keeping your money safe see our guide.
Trying out the local food and drink is half the fun while you’re away. But if you’re eating food that’s spicier than you’re used to this can result in an upset stomach. The same goes for alcohol and be aware that measures are often larger than in the UK. Depending on where you are, drinking the local water may be an issue. Our guide on food and water safety has tips on eating and drinking safely and what to do if you fall ill.
It’s important to know what to do and who to contact in a medical emergency. A good way to ensure you can get help quickly is to store the contact details of your travel insurer’s emergency 24-hour helpline and the emergency services number for the country where you’re staying (112 in the EU) in your phone.
The vast majority of backpackers enjoy a safe and enjoyable trip. As with many things, commonsense and good planning can help you avoid most potential problems. For example, no matter where you are, it’s never a good idea to walk alone in a dark, deserted area or to accept drinks from strangers. Our guide on personal safety provides more tips on other sensible precautions to take when you’re travelling abroad.