So, you’ve come down with a case of itchy feet and just want to hop on the next available plane and get the hell out of Dodge. Sounds great (and it’s what they do in all those Hollywood blockbusters, right?) What could go wrong?
Well, quite a few things to be honest. Before you go, you need to run through a few things to make sure everything runs smoothly, and save yourself, time, money and hassle when you’re there. Don’t worry- I’m here to tell you how to plan a backpacking trip, and fill you in on a few things I’ve learned when planning mine.
It’s true what they say- money makes the world go round. While the universe does provide, you still need to have (or have a plan to acquire) that all important cash before you go away. You also need to have a rough idea how much your trip is going to cost, and have a contingency fund in case of any hidden extras. So let’s get the boring bit out of the way and talk about budgeting for a backpacking trip.
Firstly, you need to know how much you can afford to spend as this is largely going to determine where you go and how long for. Do you have money saved up already in a rainy day fund? Does your job pay enough that you can save up before you go? If not, can you afford to cut back on anything to save up? The classic one is takeaway coffees, but my biggest one is food- I am a nightmare for not being bothered to cook and just grabbing a quick lunch here and there, which adds up pretty fast. Or are you planning on taking out a loan and paying it off once you’re home? Maybe you plan to get a job on the road.
The fun part. Picking where you want to go. This comes down a lot to 1) personal preference and 2) flight prices.
We’ll start off with number one. Maybe you have somewhere in mind already that’s been a childhood dream of yours to visit. Maybe you like diving and want to go to some world-class dive spots. Maybe you just want to go somewhere hot and sunny. Decide what you want out of your trip. This should help narrow it down a little. I picked Costa Rica because I wanted to go somewhere hot (I live in Wales, duh) and I knew I wanted to book the trip for roughly 6 months later to allow myself time to save up. So that narrowed it down to places I could go in January/February. I wanted to go out of Europe, and also wanted to do loads of outdoor activities and go somewhere tropical.
The other way you can choose is use a website called Skyscanner. This site has a really cool search feature which says ‘Can’t decide where? Click here to search Everywhere’. You can enter the date, or just the month, or even just allow Skyscanner to find the cheapest month, and the country you want to depart from, and hey presto it will bring up a list of countries and the best prices around. I’ve just searched for flights from the UK to anywhere in the cheapest available month, and currently the best price going is a flight from London to Bremen, Germany in April for just £9 return. Flights don’t have to be expensive! This is how I found my Costa Rica flights- the same flight on the airline’s website was for sale for £900, but I paid £462 for it through Skyscanner.
I recommend booking the flights first, then organising accommodation- flight prices can vary wildly just days apart, so fit your trip around your departure dates.
How long you want to go for depends a lot on what kind of a traveller you are. Before you get overexcited and click the ‘Pay now’ button on your flights- you need to know how long you can afford to go for. I worked out the main items I’d be spending on out there, how much I wanted to spend on each per week, and that gave me pretty much two months in Costa Rica. My categories are as follows:
There are various ways of doing this. The general cheapest option is hostels- prices vary by country, but you should be able to get a shared dorm for somewhere between $10-15 a night. If you’re going with a friend- Airbnb is a great option, and if you split the costs works out the same price per person as a hostel for a much more upmarket place.
If you want to save more cash, you can try a website called Workaway which offers you the chance to work in exchange for a room- there are quite a few available in hostels, but you can also work on a farm, at a surf camp, yoga retreat… there’s really a lot of options. You generally work around 25 hours a week.
There is also Couchsurfing, which is also a great way of meeting people. Sign up (don’t bother paying the extortionate verification fee) and you can generally find people anywhere you want to go, who will let you stay in their spare room for free. Obviously be sensible, only stay with people with good references, but also be a good guest and don’t just treat them as a place to stay for nothing- cook dinner one night, or bring booze.
All depends how frugal you want to be. I allowed my usual weekly food budget from home for groceries, plus extra for eating out/snacks. It’s good to try and cook a lot of your meals in your accommodation, but you can’t really experience a country unless you’ve tried their food. Plus some days you’ll be tired from whatever activities you’ve been doing and won’t be bothered to cook. Always allow too much.
Have a look at transport wherever you’re going. Costa Rica has an excellent and cheap public bus system so I’ve been using that, but also allowed money for taxis/ubers in hard to reach places. If you plan on hiring a car for all or part of your trip, find out how much it’s gonna be.
What kind of holiday do you want? I know people that stay in hostels and only do free shit so as to extend their stay as long as possible, or some people that like to go on tours every other day. Come up with a list of what you want to do. Find out if you can rent equipment, if you can take yourself, or if there’s really no other option but to do a tour. I personally don’t like tours that much and prefer to find my own way from locals or people I’m staying with, but they can be a good way of meeting people and I did one volcano tour in La Fortuna when I was struggling in my deserted hostel. Also allow for spending money here on souvenirs/presents. I also include a budget for stuff I’ve forgotten/run out of.
Boring but essential. I got cover through my bank through upgrading my account- for £17 a month, I get worldwide travel insurance including winter sports, as well as mobile phone insurance, breakdown cover and 6 free cinema tickets. Winner. Read the small print and make sure it covers all activities- I took out an extra policy to cover rock climbing on my trip.
Do you already have everything you need to go? Have a read through my packing list post, make a list or three of your own of what you want to take, and start scouring the internet for bargains. Don’t forget the little things that add up- suncream, mosquito net, insect repellent… I spent around £300 on extras I needed including a waterproof coat, a few new clothes, a daysack, and various bits and pieces.
Once you know how much you want to spend, and have your flights booked (I definitely didn’t scream with excitement when I got the confirmation email) you can start planning what to do, where to stay and of course, what to eat. As you’ve probably guessed from the title- there is a part two in this series of blog posts, so stay tuned!