Responsible Backpacking Tips

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A while ago on our Backpacker Travel Facebook page we asked you what you wanted more of. The overwhelming response was for more backpacking tips and pictures worldwide.

Each year thousands of travel lovers, like you, decide to backpack our way through various countries in search of excitement, adventure, and freedom. Twenty to thirty years ago, backpackers were predominantly white, middle-class young people, though this has now changed considerably.

Here’s our list of ways that you can backpack more sensibly, safely, and responsibly – to find a balance between having fun, returning home safely, and positively contributing to local communities so you have a better all-around backpacking experience.

Backpackers hiking in the mountains
Backpackers hiking in the mountains

Before You Go

  •  Don’t pack your valuables. Any non-essential items that are worth anything can stay at home
  •  Purchase travel insurance or at least make sure your credit card has a sufficient policy
  •  When you’re backpacking (or flashpacking) be discreet about your expensive items. Leave those designer clothes at home. Buy a cheap pair of sunglasses and a $5 watch
  •  Do a bit of research before you leave. It always helps to have a brief idea of your proposed route, so you’re more informed. Know where the dodgy areas of the cities you plan to visit are
  •  Read up on the local customs, laws, and culture so you’re less likely to offend locals or get involved in an argument
  •  Find out if you need a visa or not
  •  Learn a few phrases in the local language. The locals will appreciate the fact that you are willing to try and speak their language and are usually more willing to help you out

While You’re Backpacking

If you’re backpacking with a group of your friends, take it in turns to be a designated “responsible” one, so when you’re out drinking in an unfamiliar place, someone is always on the lookout for trouble and makes sure everyone gets back to the hostel safely.

The best advice we can give is to use your common sense, but also make sure you don’t listen to all the horror stories you hear or you will never leave your hostel room.

Here are a few basic points of advice from the Foreign Office:

Keep in touch with friends/family

So easy to do in this day and age as most places have internet cafes or offer WiFi. Worst case, use a telephone.

Use a guidebook

You may think it’s hard to get away from the tourist trail if you're basing your trip on Lonely Plant or any of the other guide books but being prepared can help prevent you from getting in trouble. They can be vital for providing maps when you first get into cities, allowing you to be prepared before you arrive and aware of scams and no-go areas.

Avoid poorly lit streets

Seems pretty obvious, but especially true in South American cities apparently.

Leave valuables in the hostel or guest house safe

If you don’t have valuable possessions to worry about you’ll be able to relax and have a much better time.

Carry a minimum amount of cash

Obviously don’t carry all your cash with you, we used a Nationwide Debit card as they're one of the few who don’t charge you for transactions abroad. We found traveler's cheques increasingly useless though they were of use in some of the more remote areas.

Do make sure you have some money though, if someone does try and mug you they may get pissed off if you have nothing to give them. We also suggest you carry a “dummy wallet” with small change and any additional kept in a money belt. There’s nothing more obvious than going to pay for a snack in a market and then sticking your hands down your pants flicking through wads of cash.

Never resist violent theft

No one likes to lose possessions but it is important to remember these are only material things, nothing in your bag is worth risking your life for. Get insurance then it won't matter!

Do not tell strangers where you are staying

If someone asks simply play the dumb tourist card and say you can't remember!

By simply following these basic principles, you are already one step ahead of most travelers out there and well on your way to a worry-free journey.

For even more in-depth tips, check out our Backpacker 101 Guides.

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Michael Glass

Michael is the founder of Backpacker Travel. He also runs walking tours in San Francisco and is a freelance travel writer. Michael is extremely passionate about travel and loves to explore festivals around the world.

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