Roving Reporter Steph N gives us her tips for making it through a backpacking adventure with your friends and finances intact.
Backpacking, it seems, has never been hotter. Whether we're craving the spice-scented beaches of Goa or the culture and sophistication of Rome, young Aussies everywhere are clamouring to experience the adventure that is independent travel.
But with all this manic jet-setting going on, is life out of a backpack living up to our lofty expectations? Fresh from my very own whirlwind Eastern Europe stint, I thought I could impart some insider tips to surviving sightseeing on the run.
Where to from here?
Settling on a destination can be both the most exciting and the most heart-wrenching part of planning a trip. How can we be expected to choose between Pad-Thai in Thailand and Paella in Spain? Each place will have its own unique charms. In my opinion, pre-travel research is the key.
Bang down your travel agent's door, stockpile guidebooks and brochures, talk to other like-minded travellers and try to find out as much about your desired destination as possible.
For those with an ultra-intrepid spirit, heading towards a particular continent may be enough of a plan to suffice. In that case, you can fill in the details as you go. But for mega-organised freaks (myself included) some form of itinerary comes with the territory.
Daydreaming of your ultimate backpacking holiday is all well and good. But getting through red tape should be your first priority. All the important (but utterly unromantic) stuff such as flights, visas, currency, insurance and passport are best organised far in advance.
Think immunisations and first aid kits, as opposed to beachside margaritas! Take a photocopy of your passport in case it gets lost. Remember, however, that flexibility will be one of your greatest assets on the road. If things don't go quite to plan, don't fall to pieces.
Your improvised trip may turn out even better than expected. Take it from a girl accustomed to working off a daily itinerary!
The trouble with travel partners
Friendships are made and broken in the backpacking world. If you're flying solo, the experience can be daunting and a little scary, but that's where the beauty of backpacking kicks in. Hostels provide fertile ground for mingling with other travellers of all nationalities, where making friends becomes a cinch.
On the other hand, travelling in a group provides that added sense of security. Beware, however, that backpacking can be extremely stressful at times. Often, being glued to the hip of a travel partner 24/7 can threaten one's sanity! I would recommend taking on an easy-going travel-mate, who you have a good relationship with.
Then again, some of the most tenuous of friends have been known to become best mates on the road.
To pack or not to pack?
Among the most important items to pack are a sense of humour and an adventurous spirit. Checking out new cultures and places the no-frills way requires some thick skin.
In terms of your pack, just remember you have to haul that thing with you wherever you go. The lighter it is the better. Only pack the bare minimum clothes and essentials such as sleeping bag and toiletries.
Note: eyelash curler does not qualify as an essential. I have made this mistake before!
Backpacking can be loads of fun and an unforgettable way to meet people and experience new places. Just remember, your personal security and safety should be your number one priority.
Keep in regular contact with friends and family back home. Take important phone numbers with you (and don't forget that all important phone card!).
Don't carry around large amounts of cash or valuables. Most hostels and hotels offer safe facilities. It is also a good idea to avoid being out alone at night.
Taking the above into account should help you to bring your overseas dream trip that little bit closer to reality, and stop it from becoming a nightmare. Wishing you all happy travels from this very envious roving reporter!