A backpacking holiday is a great way of seeing loads of sights and getting to know different cultures and people, without spending a fortune.
But if you’re spending a lot of time in countries where you’re not familiar with the language or local customs – and where you don’t have a tour operator’s rep to help you deal with any problems – it’s worth doing your homework in advance to make sure you stay safe and know how to deal with any emergencies.
Getting the right travel insurance policy is also a must.
Plan your trip ahead
Before you head off on your adventure, do some thorough research on your destinations: guide books such as those published by Lonely Planet and Rough Guides are very useful not just in helping you find the most interesting sights and experiences, but also in explaining what potential problems or difficulties you may face.
In certain countries or areas, for example, Western tourists may not be especially welcome – remember, forewarned is forearmed.
Check the Foreign Office website for information about issues in any of your destination countries.
And make sure you have the right documentation to enter the countries you’re planning to visit: some may need a visa. Check also how much time is left until your passport expires – certain countries may not let you enter if your passport is within a few months of expiry.
Work out your itinerary
Your family will be grateful if you can let them know in some detail where you plan to be on your trip and when. This also makes sense in case anything goes wrong – and don’t forget to let them know if you change your plans.
Strength in numbers
Travelling with at least one other person makes you a lot less vulnerable. You may be holidaying as a group, but think twice before making any solo excursions while you are away. If you do, let other members of your party know exactly where you are going, and how you plan to get there and back.
Look after your valuables
Your passport, visa, cash and other valuable belongings will be particularly vulnerable to thieves when you are travelling, so make sure you always take security precautions.
Documents and cash should be carried on your person, preferably under your clothes in a money belt or similar. Don’t let your backpack out of your sight if you can help it, and fasten or lock it to baggage racks when you’re travelling by train or bus.
Avoid being targeted by thieves by trying to blend in – adhere to local dress customs when possible, and avoid standing around looking lost or trying to read a map if you are away from the main tourist trails. There’s nothing wrong with being a little wary of people who offer unsolicited help, although of course most people you meet will not be trying to rob you.
If you’re heading of for a long trip, you will need to get a specialised gap year or backpacker travel insurance package. Most standard travel policies only cover holders for trips of up to 30, 60 or 90 days – even an annual policy does not mean you are covered for a holiday lasting the whole year.
Having a good travel insurance policy while you’re away is essential – after all it could make the difference between you being able to continue the trip or having to come home if you are the victim of theft or need medical treatment, for example.
Make sure you know exactly what you’re covered for: if you’re planning to take part in any extreme sports or dangerous activities such as bungee-jumping, ensure your cover extends to these risks.
The potential cost of medical bills if you need treatment in a foreign country means that travel insurance is an absolute must.
Find out more about travel insurance