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Essential Guide to Backpacking

Here at Allianz Global Assistance, we know a thing or two about backpacking – we’ve been covering travellers for more than 60 years.

Whether you are putting the final touches to your trip or you are looking for a little inspiration, our Essential Guide to Backpacking is a guide to some of the best places to visit, and best practices to make sure your trip runs as smoothly as possible.

South East Asia

Best for: Exploring temples, idyllic island-hopping and sunset to sunrise parties.

Top sights: Cambodia’s Angkor Wat, Bagan Plain in Myanmar, the Vietnamese Mekong Delta, Thai temples in Bangkok.

Cost: Food and good accommodation is a fraction of the price you’d pay in the Western World, with shared dorm rooms rarely costing more than £10 a night and street food for as little as £1 a meal.

Timeframe: Two weeks per country you plan to visit is a good benchmark.

Australia and New Zealand

Best for: Expansive natural landscapes, daredevil adventures and beach side cities.

Top sights: Uluru (commonly known as Ayers Rock), the Great Barrier Reef and Sydney’s Harbour Bridge and Opera House; New Zealand’s natural wonders include Milford Sound, Bay of Islands and Abel Tasman National Park.

Cost: In Australia and NZ, everything costs. Make sure you’ve budgeted for meals and transport in advance, and look to hostels and Airbnb to lessen the cost of accommodation.

Timeframe: Australia is vast, and moving from place to place can take days, especially if you don’t want to fork out for connecting flights. If you’ve only got two weeks, stick to one region. If you’re hoping to cover both Australia and New Zealand, six weeks is a minimum.

Europe

Best for: Cosmopolitan cities, historic architecture and bustling nightlife.

Top sights: The cultural hubs of Rome, Paris and Barcelona, Slovenia’s Lake Bled, the Plitvice Lakes national park in Croatia, unforgettable nightlife in Berlin, Amsterdam and Budapest, island hopping in Greece.

Cost: The cost of travelling in Europe varies vastly depending on the city. £100 in Krakow will go a lot further than £100 in Paris! Head to the east/south east of the continent to get the most for your money.

Timeframe: Inter-railing between cities is usually the most time-efficient way to get around. A month gives you time to explore four or five countries without rushing.

Central America

Best for: Colorful Latin culture, jungle adventures and getting off the beaten track.

Top sights: Guatemala’s Tikal ruins and national park, jungle adventures in Nicaragua and Costa Rica, diving and snorkeling in Mexico, Belize’s ‘Great Blue Hole’, the Panama Canal.

Cost: Exchange rates vary from country to country; those on the outer edges (Mexico, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama) tend to be more expensive, with money going further in the middle/central countries. Transportation, hostels and food are consistently good value.

Timeframe: As the region is relatively compact, you can cover a lot of Central America in a 6 week trip. If you have a few months to backpack, use Mexico as a starting point, working south through Central America and beyond to the countries of South America.

South America

Best for: Spectacular trekking, lush rainforests and party cities.

Top sights: The Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, the Amazon Rainforest, Igazu Falls, the Rio carnival, Bolivia’s salt flats, the mountains of Patagonia.

Cost: The cost of accommodation varies significantly across the continent. As ever, capital cities will put a drain on your reserves, so if you’re planning to spend a long time in Rio, start saving your pennies. You’ll find better value accommodation in South America’s more rural areas.

Timeframe: If you want to traverse the continent, three months is a minimum. As the continent is so vast, be sure to factor in the time it takes to travel from place to place.

Don't forget your travel insurance

The consequences of neglecting to take out adequate travel insurance when travelling internationally could be dire if you found yourself in need of medical attention. A medical emergency can completely wipe out your savings.

Do your research

The FCO website should be your first point of call, for health and safety advice and any travel warnings. There are endless blogs and review sites which will help you plan your travels, so take the time to do a little research before you lay down your plans. .

Plan your travel days

Always overestimate how long it will take you to travel between destinations. Enjoy the travelling – it’s part of the backpacking experience! – but try to break up your travel days as much as possible.

Get talking

The old adage is true: backpacking is not just about the places you visit, but the people you meet. Chat to fellow travellers in hostels or on buses and share tips and plans with them – they may have discovered somewhere you would never have thought to visit.

Be flexible

Leave room for flexibility in your travel plans. You may decide to stay in one place longer than expected, or to travel somewhere different than planned with friends you meet along the way. Most hostels can be booked at the last minute, so don’t feel the need to book accommodation for every night of your trip before you go.

Take your time

Be realistic about the time you have. Cramming 10 ‘must-see’ sites into a week-long trip will leave you exhausted! The longer you spend in one place, the more you’ll get to know its true character.

Talk to the locals

Try and learn a little of the local language before you travel (easier in some countries than others!). You’ll gain a more authentic view of the country from talking to local people about their lives, and the history and culture of their country, than you will from museum exhibits.

And finally...Expect the unexpected!

Be aware that things won’t always run exactly to plan. Prepare yourself for standards of transport, accommodation and food that may not be of the standard you would expect in the UK. Travel with an open mind to get the most out of your backpacking experience.