My first backpacking trip

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    Aug 30, 2014 5:23 PM GMT
    I just had my first backpacking trip this summer and I wanted to share my experience as well as what worked for me. The purpose is just to get more people to share their experiences and tips about backpacking.

    It was a 40 days backpacking in Europe, total 22 cities in 7 countries. I have to say, Italy was just magical. I ended up staying in Italy for 20 days, traveling all the way from north to Sicily, a lot longer than I have planned. Here are some of the things I found,

    First, it's never too old to do backpacking. At first, I was a bit self conscious. I am 42 even though most people will think I am in my 20's. But 40 days trip will cost a lot of money if I stay in regular hotels so backpacking and staying in hostel seemed to be the only viable options. And it was not bad at all! It's true, most of the backpackers are people in their early 20's or even late teens. But there are still many backpackers who are in their mature age and people really don't seem to care how old you are! Rather than save lots and do a short trip so you can stay in a fancy hotel, I rather stay in cheap hostels so I can travel as much as I can!

    Secondly, pack as light as possible. I am sure this is common knowledge. As a backpacker, chance is that you might be moving to a different location or hostel in a daily basis that means you want to be able to pack as quick as possible and constantly walk around with everything you have!

    When it comes to packing,

    1) Bring clothes that could serve multiple purpose. For example, bring undershirt that you can also wear outside so you will cut down half of the shirt you need to bring. You really don't need to bring a whole 7 days supply as most of the time you can just use your hand to quickly wash underwear and socks in the hostel and hang it up to dry by your bed.

    2) Bring your own towel. Although some hostels will provide towels for free but most of them will charge you about 2 Euro for a towel. 40 days time 2 that's about 80 Euros. Towel could also serve as a light cover if you end up have to sleep on the train or even train station.

    3) Bring a sleeping bag. I didn't bring one and I regretted. Especially in summer, you will find that chances are that you might probably don't even need to go to a hostel. There are many places where you can potentially sleep for free such as train stations, airports, parks or even beaches. Of course, safety could be an issue so I definitely recommend you exercise caution if you plan to do this.

    4)Many high end manufacturer's backpacks are not necessary the best options. I had spent almost $300 to purchase a backpack from a very reputable brand. However, I wish I had chosen something else. I found that most backpackers have the similar backpacks as I have.

    The problems are, first, their sizes are too big. The problem with their size is some airlines will not allow you bring it on the cabin as a carry-on luggage and so you have to check in as a regular luggage. Many budget airlines charge for your regular luggage so you end up paying a lot of money.

    Secondly, they are too heavy. All the add-ons that are supposed to make you more comfortable make the backpack very heavy. I realized that 1/3 of the weight was actually backpack itself rather than the content. I suggest you not to follow the trend, but just find a big bag with not so many add ons and you can buy very simple light weight bags that could just serve the same purpose for just a fraction of price. Make sure clarify if you can bring in as a carry on luggage.

    If you really want to be more organized inside your bag, you can always just use plastic bags or you can buy very cheap traveler organizer bags for just a few dollars from some traveler's stores.

    4)Superstores are your best friends. Restaurants are expensive. Many Italian restaurants even charge you a fee just to be in their restaurants. So, locate a superstore locals will go as soon as you get to a city and purchase your supply of water, snack and even lunch and dinner. Traveling could use a lot of energy. Always have some snacks in your backpack will help you gain energy and also help you not to be hungry all the time. What I saw from many other regular travelers were, they just constantly buy food from the stores all the time as they are always hungry!

    5) You do make friends from backpacking! As much as I was skeptical about the possibility of making friends through this, I had make some great friends and I don't think it would have happened if I had just stayed in regular hotels.

    I can go on and on, but I want to hear your experience! In short, backpacking is about travelling economically, but backpacking is also about the experience. I think what made this trip so special was the backpacking experience and I think everyone should do it at least once!
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    Aug 30, 2014 6:17 PM GMT
    Sounds like you had a great trip. Your advice is very useful. Just to add, if travelling in summer, you can probably get away with taking a compact sleeping bag.

    mc3-U59wa1QMVcEV1z8tblA.jpg

    It is probably worth taking a lightweight sleeping bag liner too, so that you can launder it every few days. It will air dry in a few hours.
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    Aug 30, 2014 8:14 PM GMT
    Oh. Interesting.
    That means something different in the US than it does in Europe.
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    Aug 30, 2014 8:55 PM GMT
    Ex_Mil8 saidSounds like you had a great trip. Your advice is very useful. Just to add, if travelling in summer, you can probably get away with taking a compact sleeping bag.

    mc3-U59wa1QMVcEV1z8tblA.jpg

    It is probably worth taking a lightweight sleeping bag liner too, so that you can launder it every few days. It will air dry in a few hours.


    Definitely, I saw many people also carry a small pad which they can use to sleep on the hard surface.
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    Aug 30, 2014 8:58 PM GMT
    mindgarden saidOh. Interesting.
    That means something different in the US than it does in Europe.


    Hm... How so?
  • mrwritenow

    Posts: 15

    Aug 31, 2014 12:59 PM GMT
    I car camp and have never backpacked. But I highly recommend the micro towels when traveling. All of my camping gear is compact because it is not fun traveling with heavy, bulky luggage. Even the extra large version of the micro towel folds up to a tiny little roll and weighs next to nothing. They absorb so much water and dry quickly. It can also double as a sheet/blanket.

    During my extensive travels around the USA and Canada over the past 4 years, I use Couchsurfing.com to find hosts to stay with. There are a plethora of state and national parks - some quite rustic, some quite glamping (glamorous camping) - in both of these countries that offer camping sites with absolutely incredible views.

    In these 2 countries also are a host of men's private resorts. I don't know if that is the case overseas, yet.
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    Aug 31, 2014 1:16 PM GMT
    JCSF said
    mindgarden saidOh. Interesting.
    That means something different in the US than it does in Europe.


    Hm... How so?


    Backpacking in the US usually means trail hiking and camping in remote locations.
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    Aug 31, 2014 1:55 PM GMT
    Good suggestions! Apart from carrying your own towels, also carry a small lock. In most of the hostals they even charge for renting locks for your locker.

    If you are going to stay in a particular city for like a week or 4-5 days, try to find some weekly pass for the local transport. In general, European cities have good public transport system. Buying tickets for every single journey could be expensive.
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    Aug 31, 2014 2:35 PM GMT
    This is perfect timing...a few RJers and myself are planning (two are confirmed) a trip to backpack across Europe next summer! ^_^ Very helpful!
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    Aug 31, 2014 8:26 PM GMT
    BlackCat saidThis is perfect timing...a few RJers and myself are planning (two are confirmed) a trip to backpack across Europe next summer! ^_^ Very helpful!


    Now I'm jelly icon_mad.gif
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    Sep 01, 2014 2:19 AM GMT
    mrwritenow saidI car camp and have never backpacked. But I highly recommend the micro towels when traveling. All of my camping gear is compact because it is not fun traveling with heavy, bulky luggage. Even the extra large version of the micro towel folds up to a tiny little roll and weighs next to nothing. They absorb so much water and dry quickly. It can also double as a sheet/blanket.

    During my extensive travels around the USA and Canada over the past 4 years, I use Couchsurfing.com to find hosts to stay with. There are a plethora of state and national parks - some quite rustic, some quite glamping (glamorous camping) - in both of these countries that offer camping sites with absolutely incredible views.

    In these 2 countries also are a host of men's private resorts. I don't know if that is the case overseas, yet.


    Definitely agree on the micro towels! I think they even make some of the clothing with it which is great, you can just wash it and dry overnight.

    Also, many hostels in Europe don't have washer and dryer and the ones that have are really expensive. So Prepare to hand wash!
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    Sep 01, 2014 2:27 AM GMT
    runnerjc said
    JCSF said
    mindgarden saidOh. Interesting.
    That means something different in the US than it does in Europe.


    Hm... How so?


    Backpacking in the US usually means trail hiking and camping in remote locations.


    Ah...I see what you mean. Actually there's a funny story. I was on the train somewhere in France and was talking to this lady from Minnesota and when I told her I was backpacking and my first stop was Paris, she was so confused, she's like...so, how did you backpack in Paris? I almost was going to tell her I just pretended everyone on the street were animals and trees. Hehe... But I explain to her that backpacking could also just mean travel economically or in my opinion, at minimum cost.

    It's interesting how a same word means differently in different culture. But I think there are increasing amount of people from USA doing international backpacking now too. I met many Americans, Canadians and Australians in hostels.
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    Sep 01, 2014 2:37 AM GMT
    morphic saidGood suggestions! Apart from carrying your own towels, also carry a small lock. In most of the hostals they even charge for renting locks for your locker.

    If you are going to stay in a particular city for like a week or 4-5 days, try to find some weekly pass for the local transport. In general, European cities have good public transport system. Buying tickets for every single journey could be expensive.


    You are right! I ended up purchasing a lock in a hostel. As much as many people are skeptical about hostels' safety, and so did I, I found that most people who stayed in hostels were very nice. It almost felt like there was an unwritten commitment to watch each other's back.

    I also agree on the bus pass especially in a large city and if you are not living in the city center. But I do find that most of the cities I visited were walkable. I pretty much just walked everywhere which not only save money, but also get a better view of the city.
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    Sep 01, 2014 2:46 AM GMT
    BlackCat saidThis is perfect timing...a few RJers and myself are planning (two are confirmed) a trip to backpack across Europe next summer! ^_^ Very helpful!


    You will have so much fun! I suggest you look into Euro Pass which is a train pass that could give you unlimited trips for a certain amount of days during a certain period. There are a few different options and you just have to find the right options for you.

    I ended up didn't purchase the pass but it worked out just fine so it really depends on how you want to travel. In the end, I took quite a few buses as they were so much cheaper.
  • gr8outdoors

    Posts: 11

    Sep 01, 2014 8:15 AM GMT
    Hey JCSF-

    Thanks for sharing. I'm actually leaving for Europe next week, starting out in Lisbon! I'll be backpacking and staying in hostels, and might try some coushsurfing. I plan to explore Portugal and wander in Spain a while, as I speak some Spanish and want to develop my skills further. If my funds last I'll travel north into France/Germany/(insert suggestion)

    I'm 31, so I'll be a bit older than the average backpacker. so I'm glad to hear you had a good experience.

    As far as gear I'll be bringing a 50L pack that will meet most carry on standards, and a sleepsack, instead of a sleeping bag, to cut down on weight. I need to pick up one of those towels!

    Definitely open to any suggestions for cities/experiences/etc! Thanks again!


  • being_human

    Posts: 152

    Sep 01, 2014 11:58 AM GMT
    sounds awesome. a few questions though..
    1. did u travel alone? is it better backpacking alone or in a pack?
    2. did you try doing any mild drugs along the way? is it better to stay off completely?
    3. what was the scariest part of it all, honestly?
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    Sep 01, 2014 4:18 PM GMT
    gr8outdoors saidHey JCSF-

    Thanks for sharing. I'm actually leaving for Europe next week, starting out in Lisbon! I'll be backpacking and staying in hostels, and might try some coushsurfing. I plan to explore Portugal and wander in Spain a while, as I speak some Spanish and want to develop my skills further. If my funds last I'll travel north into France/Germany/(insert suggestion)

    I'm 31, so I'll be a bit older than the average backpacker. so I'm glad to hear you had a good experience.

    As far as gear I'll be bringing a 50L pack that will meet most carry on standards, and a sleepsack, instead of a sleeping bag, to cut down on weight. I need to pick up one of those towels!

    Definitely open to any suggestions for cities/experiences/etc! Thanks again!




    Hey! How exciting!

    I didn't go to Portugal nor Spain this time, rather, I focused on France, Italy and a few countries in central Europe. So I might not be of much help with Portugal and Spain. However, I am sure many other RJs can give you lots tips about these two countries.

    But I did go to Lisbon, Porto and Barcelona in my prior trips and they are absolutely beautiful. The best thing to do in Lisbon is just walk around aimlessly, it's just a beautiful city everywhere you go. But the highlight to me was definitely Alfama district which is one of the oldest districts in Lisbon with beautiful architectures.

    The other highlight is Cabo da Roca. It's not far from Lisbon. You can either rent a car or take the train+ bus to go there. But it's definitely worthy. Cabo da Roca is the most western point of Europe on a breathtaking cliff. And if you do go, I suggest you go late afternoon and stay for the sunset. Just image you are the last person in the whole Europe seeing the sunset that day. If you drive, you can also swing by Sintra which is also beautiful with a couple castles on the mountain top.

    Then if you do end up make your way up to Barcelona, then France is not too far away. Marseille and Nice are both along the Mediterranean area of France. Nice is beautiful with beautiful beach and beautiful people. Marseille is a very interesting city and is probably one of the most diverse cities in France. If you want to make your way up to Germany, I suggest stop at Lyon. I really like Lyon, they have the most beautiful and friendly people and the best food in France.

    The way I did was, I did not plan my trip at all besides just a roughly idea and then just decided where I was going to go along the way. I found this suited me most and was most flexible. You will also get lots tips just by talking to other travelers in the hostels.

    Hope you have a great time and tell us all about it when you are back!
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    Sep 01, 2014 4:28 PM GMT
    being_human saidsounds awesome. a few questions though..
    1. did u travel alone? is it better backpacking alone or in a pack?
    2. did you try doing any mild drugs along the way? is it better to stay off completely?
    3. what was the scariest part of it all, honestly?


    Hey!

    1. I did travel alone. I found there was pros and cons with this. Pros: you get to decide your own schedule and where you want to go without constrain from other people. You probably will make more friends this way. I met many travelers who were travelling alone and have become friends with a few of them. On the other hand, I found many people who travel in groups tend to only hangout in their own groups which misses an important aspect of backpacking trip.

    Cons: you have to do everything yourself from booking trains, flights and buses to booking hostels and they can get confusing sometimes. It gets lonely sometimes especially when you don't speak the language. Safety could also be an issue. When you have two people, you can watch each other's back.

    2. I did not do drugs, not even weed. It's just not my thing. But I did see people even selling them on the street on Amsterdam and Prague.

    3. Scariest part? Hm... I couldn't think of one. I was actually robbed in Paris one night. The guy got away with some cash but all my IDs and Cards were safe. I kinda just laughed at it after. I found it a very interesting experience.
  • Olympus1991

    Posts: 46

    Sep 01, 2014 4:33 PM GMT
    I'm from Europe and I'm backpacking in Canada now.

    Portugal and Spain are both amazing countries, Portugal is by far my favorite country. Friendly people, a lot speak English, its very cheap, its safe country and the place is just beautifull. (Lets not forget that the guys are HOT! hahaha)


    Spain is an amazing country to. Good food, Barcelona end Valancia must be on your to do list!

    I really don't get the France hype. People in France are rude, don't speak english and Paris is the dirtiest city I've ever been (And I've seen some places)

    If you go to Germany Berlin is the place to be (for the clubbing guys, the Berlin nightlive is crazy! It's amazing!)

    For the Netherlands (My Country icon_smile.gif) I'd say you just have to stay in Amsterdam. The rest of the country is boring is fuck. Amsterdam is a fun city (Don't forget to visit Club Church!)
  • mladri

    Posts: 264

    Sep 01, 2014 6:04 PM GMT
    I was also on a backpacing trip across Italy at the beginning of Summer. Italy is amazing!!
    I was also traveling alone, but I hitchhiked from town to town and I was sleeping at places that I found over the CouchSurfing, so my trip wasn't that expensive.
    Italians are very bad with English so it was hard at few points, and WiFi sucks icon_biggrin.gif (sorry guys, but that is true)

    I met so many people from all over the world, and I stayed in contact with them...definitely one of the best trip in my life!


    Did you visit Lecco?
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    Sep 01, 2014 11:28 PM GMT
    My first backpacking trip, if I could call it that, was in 1973, when I traveled the length and breadth of Italy, using a suitcase for luggage. As I define "backpacking" as moving from one destination to another as opposed to a single-destination trip, I did not see my suitcase as too much of a hindrance.

    I stayed in pensions, which were hotels where the bedroom was shared by at least another occupant, but one pension in Florence had a fully fledged dormitory. Travel was by train, with which I had a pass which gave me unlimited travel for the duration of the trip.

    True backpacking, using a rucksack, soon got underway however, and with it took in Israel, Singapore, Australia, Canada and the United States. As others posted above, I stayed in hostels, both affiliated with Hosteling International, and rivals such as Backpackers North America with their Banana Bungalow hostels, as well as privately owned hostels such as found in Israel, Singapore and Australia.

    I have found it to be easy making friends, particularly in the member's kitchen where while cooking your own food, it is inevitable to strike up a conversation with the person at the next stove, from whom I learned of places worthy to spend the following days visiting, which I wouldn't have been aware of otherwise.

    In the USA and Canada alike, Greyhound buses were the most convenient mode of travel, as was in Australia. I held a Greyhound Ameripass, which allowed me unlimited travel across the whole continent. Much of the actual travel I did at night, saving much on accommodation costs.

    In all, backpacking was very challenging, unlike that of a package holiday or an escorted tour. But having to face such challenges, and learning from such experiences had made such independent trips head and shoulders above any other forms of travel.
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    Sep 02, 2014 2:29 AM GMT
    zwolle1991 saidI'm from Europe and I'm backpacking in Canada now.

    Portugal and Spain are both amazing countries, Portugal is by far my favorite country. Friendly people, a lot speak English, its very cheap, its safe country and the place is just beautifull. (Lets not forget that the guys are HOT! hahaha)


    Spain is an amazing country to. Good food, Barcelona end Valancia must be on your to do list!

    I really don't get the France hype. People in France are rude, don't speak english and Paris is the dirtiest city I've ever been (And I've seen some places)

    If you go to Germany Berlin is the place to be (for the clubbing guys, the Berlin nightlive is crazy! It's amazing!)

    For the Netherlands (My Country icon_smile.gif) I'd say you just have to stay in Amsterdam. The rest of the country is boring is fuck. Amsterdam is a fun city (Don't forget to visit Club Church!)


    Awesome! I am Canadian! I think Canada is so underrated by travelers. It's such a beautiful country with so many beautiful places to go. Hope you have a good trip in Canada! Make sure do the one thousand island cruise if you go to Ontario. It's at Kingston and they literally have over one thousand islands!
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    Sep 02, 2014 2:30 AM GMT
    mladri saidI was also on a backpacing trip across Italy at the beginning of Summer. Italy is amazing!!
    I was also traveling alone, but I hitchhiked from town to town and I was sleeping at places that I found over the CouchSurfing, so my trip wasn't that expensive.
    Italians are very bad with English so it was hard at few points, and WiFi sucks icon_biggrin.gif (sorry guys, but that is true)

    I met so many people from all over the world, and I stayed in contact with them...definitely one of the best trip in my life!


    Did you visit Lecco?


    I did not go to Lecco. But it looks stunning from the pictures. Definitely want to do another trip just for Italy as well. Many places I didn't spend enough time I want to do it again, like Rome, Napoli and Sicily.
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    Sep 02, 2014 2:33 AM GMT
    mladri saidI was also on a backpacing trip across Italy at the beginning of Summer. Italy is amazing!!
    I was also traveling alone, but I hitchhiked from town to town and I was sleeping at places that I found over the CouchSurfing, so my trip wasn't that expensive.
    Italians are very bad with English so it was hard at few points, and WiFi sucks icon_biggrin.gif (sorry guys, but that is true)

    I met so many people from all over the world, and I stayed in contact with them...definitely one of the best trip in my life!


    Did you visit Lecco?


    Speaking about Wifi. I did end up purchase an Italian sim card for $10 and got 2G data for 30 days. I found it very useful specially for solo travelers to find a hostel and such. So do an international unlock of your cell phone before travel aboard is quite helpful.
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    Sep 02, 2014 2:46 AM GMT
    NotThatOld saidMy first backpacking trip, if I could call it that, was in 1973, when I traveled the length and breadth of Italy, using a suitcase for luggage. As I define "backpacking" as moving from one destination to another as opposed to a single-destination trip, I did not see my suitcase as too much of a hindrance.

    I stayed in pensions, which were hotels where the bedroom was shared by at least another occupant, but one pension in Florence had a fully fledged dormitory. Travel was by train, with which I had a pass which gave me unlimited travel for the duration of the trip.

    True backpacking, using a rucksack, soon got underway however, and with it took in Israel, Singapore, Australia, Canada and the United States. As others posted above, I stayed in hostels, both affiliated with Hosteling International, and rivals such as Backpackers North America with their Banana Bungalow hostels, as well as privately owned hostels such as found in Israel, Singapore and Australia.

    I have found it to be easy making friends, particularly in the member's kitchen where while cooking your own food, it is inevitable to strike up a conversation with the person at the next stove, from whom I learned of places worthy to spend the following days visiting, which I wouldn't have been aware of otherwise.

    In the USA and Canada alike, Greyhound buses were the most convenient mode of travel, as was in Australia. I held a Greyhound Ameripass, which allowed me unlimited travel across the whole continent. Much of the actual travel I did at night, saving much on accommodation costs.

    In all, backpacking was very challenging, unlike that of a package holiday or an escorted tour. But having to face such challenges, and learning from such experiences had made such independent trips head and shoulders above any other forms of travel.


    Very well said! I couldn't agree more with the last part you said. It's a challenge on both your mind and your body. However, once you strip out the 5 star hotels and fancy restaurants, it brings out the true meaning of travel, which is people, culture and nature.