10 Best Backpacking Tips for Beginners

We have been backpacking in Southeast Asia for 10 months straight, which was the biggest adventure of our lives so far. Since then, we go on regional backpacking trips through Europe because we want to become more sustainable travelers. Having spent so much time on the road, we made so many valuable experiences. But to save you from the most common backpacking mistakes at the beginning of your backpacker life, we thought we would share our 10 best backpacking tips for beginners with you.

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Among other things, you will also find out how we saved over a hundred Dollars just using the right credit card and how we saved Anni’s life with the right medication (okay, this might be a bit exaggerated, but read for yourself)!

The cool thing about backpacking is that anyone can do it everywhere in the world. It’s the most simple way of traveling and a great way to experience the natural wonders of our planet. But especially as a backpacking beginner, you quickly make some basic (but really avoidable) mistakes, This is why we put together some essential tips and hacks that will ensure you make the most out of your backpacking trip.

Excited to go backpacking in Southeast Asia and want to find out what’s the best of the best in the backpacker’s paradise?
Read our top 10 thing-to-do in Southeast Asia!

The most common issues and questions of backpacking beginners:

  • How much should I pack?
  • What should I consider before I go on a backpacking adventure?
  • What is important but nobody really thinks about?

Disclosure: This page contains affiliate links, meaning we receive a commission if you decide to make a purchase through our links, but this is at no additional cost to you.

1. light luggage

What to pack? How much should I pack?
Our first and best backpacking tip for beginners: Less is more!

Reasons or light luggage

During the best time of your life, you don´t want to worry much about your stuff, right?
Minimizing your luggage makes traveling cheaper and safer for you. Traveling with “hand-luggage” only helps saving money on transportation – not only on flights. In addition, there is a lower risk of losing or breaking something, as you do not have to check in your bag or deposit it in the underbody of a bus. Always having everything “on your body” has multiple advantages.

Comfortable and efficient backpacking with light luggage

It is way more comfortable to have just a light and a small backpack when hopping on/ off trains or buses. In addition, it will make packing and unpacking more efficient so you will have more time enjoying your journey. When we started backpacking, we wanted to be prepared for everything (thinking of “Murphy’s Law” or “You never know”! However, packing too much is a pretty common rookie error! Afterward, we regret packing so much unnecessary stuff because backpacking is simply more fun with less to carry around.

On the road, we met backpackers, who were even traveling with a maximum of 8kg (16lbs).

Comfortable and efficient backpacking in practice: Figure out what is really essential and what is additive luggage!
To give you an example, we have put together our essential packing list for backpackers who travel to tropical destinations:

2. Pick the right backpack

One of the most important decisions is whether you have a front opening (also panel-loading or clamshell) or a top opening backpack. Make sure to pick a high-quality backpack which should last for several years. Good backpacks are a bit more expensive so don’t be too stingy, because this is the most important investment for your trip.

Our tip (not sponsored!): We made really positive experiences with the backpacks of Osprey and Deuter, but there are also several other good brands.

Trekking bags "Xena" and "Xenith" from Osprey
Our backpacks from Osprey

3. FIT yOUR BACKPACK

Fitting your backpack is so important, especially when you plan to go on longer trips.

Even though there might be attractive online sales and smart apps to configure the fitting of your backpack, we definitely recommend going to a retail store. So you can test it for wearing comfort, fit, size, etc..

4. Pack in Units

Easier said than done.
Smart packing of a backpack is a real challenge. Nevertheless, it so much easier to be master of the mess when you pack in units. Like this, you’ll be able to separate things to relocate them easier and faster. For example, we had a toiletry bag, a bag for underwear and socks, a bag for our beach stuff, one for electronics, etc..

Still, you need to figure out what needs to be reached when and where. Don’t worry if you don’t know this advance – that’s learning by doing. 

5. the right credit card

There are plenty of providers for “travel credit cards”, which seem to be very beneficial at first sight. Unfortunately, there is a catch in it usually. Most banks have annual fees or a minimum turnover.

Numerous credit cards in a jeans pocket
Choosing the right credit card can be really difficult

After tons of research, we decided on two different VISA cards – one of the German bank DKB (Deutsche Kredit Bank) and another one of Santander, which is a Spanish multinational commercial bank. Both of them have no hidden fees and are free of charge to use abroad.

There is still one problem remaining:
The transaction fees of foreign banks are the biggest enemies of backpackers. In many countries, foreign banks charge you a certain amount on every withdrawal (usually between 2-7$ per transaction).

Our solution (not sponsored advice):
The VISA card of the Spanish Santander bank!
The Santander bank refunds you even the transaction fees of foreign banks.

All you have to do:
Send a photo of the receipt to Santander via mail. Santander will compensate the fee in the next accounting.

We literally saved hundreds of dollars with the credit card of Santander in Southeast Asia and therefore highly recommend it!

In practice: We used the Santander for cash bills and the DKB for online and credit card payments, whenever they were without an additional fee.

6. vaccination and medication

It is important to plan vaccinations sufficiently far ahead before you go on your backpacking adventure. Depending on where you go and what kind of vaccinations you need, at least a few months before your date of departure!

Please talk to your doctor and check your vaccination certificate.

Basic vaccination is essential for travelers

Routine vaccinations are:

  • measles, mumps, rubella
  • tetanus, diphtheria, pertussis
  • polio

In addition, we took a bunch of essential medicaments with us, including antibiotics (saved Annis life once).
We wrote a whole article on essential medicines for travelers: What to put in a first aid kit for travelers?

Antibiotics saved us in Vietnam once. Sometimes the next hospital is out of reach.

For more information about vaccinations and travel health tips have a look at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

7. travel insurance

Do I need travel insurance?
The answer is: YES, you do!

But NOT those weird “extra insurances” for everything you didn’t even know that it could have been a risk at all. Keep in mind the industry is earning money “playing” with your fears.

The only insurance we recommend is general travel insurance (from an authentic insurance company).

In order to travel on a low-budget, we have never had any additional insurances and luckily never needed them. The monthly costs for normal international travel insurance should be around 40$/35€.

Picking the right travel insurance depends on a few considerations. To choose the right travel insurance we recommend visiting this blog post from ytravelblog.com.

OUR TRAVEL INSURANCE TIP (again, not sponsored): We have travel insurance from Allianz and we are really happy with their service.

8. WHERE AND WHEN to travel

Some of the most popular questions we hear all the time:
Where should I go and when should I go?

We spoke to many backpackers and wondered why their opinions differ so much about the countries. With time we realized that it depends very much on the respective ideas, expectations and interests whether someone perceived a country as beautiful or not. Therefore, you should definitely think about what you would like to see/experience (beach, mountains, jungle, desert, cold, hot etc.) and then see when is the best time to travel.

Therefore, answer yourself the following questions:

What Type of Backpacker am I?

  1. Culture vs. beach
  2. Adventure vs. luxury
  3. Nature vs. cities
  4. Hidden-gems vs. popular spots

when should I go?

  1. High season vs. low season
  2. High/low-seasons for special animal encounters
  3. Check the dates for festivals and (local) holidays!
  4. Are there any upcoming political conflicts and predictable geological events during my stay?

9. Visa application

Important travel tip: Make sure to get trustful information.
Say what?
BUT: On the way, we met some backpackers who got false information and even fake visas on fake websites. In the worst-case, your money is gone and you can’t enter a country… that can really mess up your trip.

The ministry or department of foreign affairs of your home country should be a good address when it comes to fees and deadlines for Visa applications.

We have collected a list of common ministries and departments of foreign affairs (or the equivalent) for you:

For more countries visit the list of ministries of foreign affairs on Wikipedia and pick the country you need.

10. BRING yOUR REUSABLES

Our last tip is already on our packing list for backpackers (1.light luggage), but since we place special emphasis on sustainable tourism, it is important to highlight this topic especially.

Four reusable drinking bottles standing on a dark surface
Avoid plastic whenever possible

We all should strive to travel more responsible and sustainable. Avoiding single-use plastic is an easy step for any backpacker to begin with.

Interested in responsible and sustainable traveling?
Read our full blog post about responsible and sustainable tourism.

So don’t forget your cutlery, lunch box and reusable bottle when you go on your next backpacking adventure!

Summary

This is our personal selection for backpacking tips for beginners. Of course, there is so much more to pay attention to but we believe if you follow our tips your trip is very unlikely to fail.

This is it! We hope you enjoyed reading our backpacking tips for beginners. If you have any further questions leave us a comment because we are happy to answer anything for you!

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