Preparing to Backpack Across the World: Start Your Journey Right

Backpacker checking her map
Backpackers need good maps.

Ever want to just escape the daily grind and go backpacking across the world? If you have the time and the means, it can be an exhilarating experience. Before you set out on your adventure, you should take some time to consider the various financial and logistic issues you may encounter.


Before leaving for a trip around the world, it's important to read the State Department's travel advisories. Unfortunately, there are some places that are not safe to visit. This is either due to political unrest, a strong risk of kidnapping, or other terrorist actions. Your country's government may also bar you from traveling to some countries due to specific political tensions. It's best to know things like this before you set your heart on a specific place.

Once you've have that information, start dreaming of the countries you would like to visit on your trip. Some favorite destinations for backpackers include:

  • Australia's Gold Coast
  • Northern Thailand's villages
  • Amsterdam, Holland
  • Prague, Czech Republic
  • Bombay, India
  • Athens, Greece
  • The mountains of Nepal
  • Mayan ruins in Guatemala
  • Casablanca, Morocco
  • Cape Town, South Africa

There are also a lot of great backpacking opportunities available inside the United States. For more ideas on destinations, check out

Preparing to Backpack Across the World

Some people decide to begin backpacking across the world completely on the spur of the moment. These are the people that end up stuck at the airport without their passports. To have a more enjoyable and hassle-free trip, start preparing at least two months in advance.


backpack and hiking shoes

No matter what else you bring on your trip, there are always some essential items you should have. Keep these tips in mind.

  1. The first thing you'll need is a good, sturdy pack that is comfortable to carry. Before you leave for your trip you'll want to go on several practice hikes after stuffing it full of everything you plan to bring with you. That way you can ensure that it's comfortable to carry. If it's too heavy, you'll have to leave some nonessential items home. Otherwise, you will end up with a sore neck and back.
  2. You may also want to bring a smaller day pack, since in most cases you will be able to stash your frame pack in a locker at the train station when you're not on the road.
  3. It's also smart to bring pants that have secure, hidden pockets in them. This will help you protect your identification and money from potential thieves during your travels. This becomes especially important in countries where theft from foreigners is commonplace.
  4. You should also look into specific environmental concerns in each place you'd like to visit. For example, visiting Morocco in the summertime would require you to bring different types of gear than you would need if you were visiting Paris in the fall.


Make sure you cover your bases before you set out to another country.

Take Care of Legalities

You should go to to the tourism website of the country you plan on visiting. Once there, you should look for any information you can find regarding visa requirements, and learn about certain country-specific laws. Some countries have laws that may seem very strange to you. So strange, in fact, that you would never have even considered that the law would even exist. For example, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, you can't legally take photos without a photography permit.

Consider Costs

You should also look into the costs that will be associated with your trip. For this, you need to factor in the cost of airfare, hotel stays, in-country travel and other incidental costs. Incidental costs are things that you plan for, although you aren't sure exactly what they're going to be. For example, imagine you plan out the cost of your trip to be $4,500.

It's also smart to add another $500 to $1,000 to your budget to cover you in the event of a lost passport or other issue. This is especially necessary if you become injured in an underdeveloped country. Even though you may have travel medical insurance, local clinics may not even admit you if you don't have the ability to pay upfront.

Pack Essentials

Make sure you have enough of the things you won't be able to get in the destination country. This includes any prescription medications you take on a regular basis and certain other specialized items you need.

What to Pack

U.S. passport

Here are some of the essential things you'll need:

  • Valid passport and required visas for countries you plan to visit
  • Tops: two T-shirts, one dressier shirt, fleece or jacket, thermal top for colder climates
  • Bottoms: two pairs of cotton pants (not jeans, since they are heavy and take a long time to dry), one pair of flannel pants to sleep in
  • Three to five pairs of socks and underwear
  • Trail shoes for hiking and flip flops or sandals for day touring
  • Rain gear
  • Compact tent
  • Prescription medications and grooming supplies packed in resealable plastic bags
  • One or more aluminum water bottles
  • First aid kit
  • Mess kit (plate, fork, spoon and knife)
  • Bedroll or sleep sheet (not a sleeping bag)
  • Sunscreen of at least SPF 30
  • Glasses or contact lenses
  • Insect repellent
  • Digital camera
  • Credit cards and phone cards

Depending on where you're going, Other items you may want to bring include:

  • A head covering to wear when entering religious buildings
  • A swimsuit and towel
  • Shorts or a sarong skirt
  • Tank tops or other sleeveless tops

Just remember that other countries may have different standards of modesty than what is acceptable in the United States. This is especially true in Asia and the Middle East.

Guidebooks and Maps

No one backpacking across the world should neglect to bring guidebooks and maps with them. Bringing a compass, or a watch that functions as one, is also a good idea. The travel guide books published by Lonely Planet seem to cover most of the world. Just make sure to get the latest version because the world changes in the blink of an eye.

Get Out There

While there are a lot of great places to see, some of them can be very expensive to get to. Even if you don't have the resources to take on the most expensive destinations on your list, you can still visit the less expensive destinations as a primer. You may find that the skills you learn on these adventures will go a long way toward making your more advanced trips easier to accomplish.

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Preparing to Backpack Across the World: Start Your Journey Right