You’ve got a backpack and your passport is ready to receive some serious stamping. All that’s left for you to decide is where you’re headed, and what you’re going to do when you get there. Studying a few maps will help with the first problem, but won’t do much for the second – so allow us to provide a dash of inspiration.
Here are ten ideas for an incredible first backpacking trip.
Circumnavigating the globe is the classic way to throw yourself into backpacking. Travelling along well-trodden routes like the hippie trail might be more difficult these days, but there are still countless different ways to travel around the planet.
Crisscross entire continents or hop from one place to another with a cheap round-the-world flight ticket – the only real rule is that you start and finish in the same place. And even then, who’s checking?
Buses and trains are an important part of the backpacking experience – but when it comes to sheer wind-in-your-hair freedom, nothing beats a road trip.
Some countries are better suited for driving than others. Try Australia or New Zealand with a campervan (surfboards optional), or head to the USA for cheap gas and fast food.
The faster the mode of transport, the smaller the world gets. With half a day and a jet plane you can whizz between continents. Meanwhile, 12 hours will barely let you scratch the surface of the world’s best walking routes.
The epic Appalachian Trail in the USA in is an astonishing 3476km long, while the Everest Base Camp trail in Nepal takes around 16 days to complete.
Just starting out? You can always break in your hiking boots a little closer to home
Fancy joining a turtle conservation project in Costa Rica, or teaching school kids in Madagascar? Volunteering (provided it's done responsibly and sustainably) is a nice way to meet new people, give something back, and add a little bit of structure to your backpacking trip.
Stepping out into the big wide world can be a scary thought. So why, why, why would you want to do it alone? Well, flying solo means there’s only one person to please (that’s you). It also forces you to think on your feet; only you can decide where to go next, or how you’re going to handle tricky situations.
Best of all, travelling alone makes it easier to find friends. A good tip is to start backpacking in the country that you feel most comfortable with and then move on from there – that first stop could be a place with the same language you use at home, or a country that already attracts a steady stream of backpackers, such as Thailand or Peru.
Despite talk of "finding themselves" or "going on a spiritual journey", plenty of backpackers wind up drinking beer in the safety of their hostel bar. There’s no need to be teetotal, of course – but there are places and experiences that will help you learn more about yourself.
Try rock climbing in Thailand, go free-diving in the Maldives, or just get lost in downtown Tokyo – anything that puts you a little outside your comfort zone will help make your journey richer.
Instead of splashing your cash on a round-the-world plane ticket, consider an overland trip instead. That doesn’t mean you have to be stuck on air-conditioned buses for weeks on end; you could try cycling from London to Rome, or joining a hare-brained adventure such as the Mongol Rally, which sees people driving 10,000 miles across Europe and Central Asia in clapped-out old cars.
Just because most of the world’s backpackers head to tropical idylls, that doesn’t mean that you have to follow the herd. Cold countries are no less beautiful than hot ones, and most have the added bonus of being relatively crowd-free.
How about hiking in Sweden, watching the northern lights in Russia, or even polar bear spotting in Svalbard, Norway?
From Portugal to Papua New Guinea, people love eating. So instead of doing the usual tour of museums and landmarks, why not fit your trip around food? You could spend years getting to grips with the street food scene in Southeast Asia, for example, and that’s before you even start on the restaurants.
Maybe the thought of leaving your home comforts behind for months on end makes you feel a little edgy. The good news is: there are no rules about how long you have to go away for.
To get your backpacking career off to a soft start, try a few days of camping and hiking near home, or maybe do a week or two of hostelling in a country with a culture similar to your own. If things work well – and you don’t drive yourself too crazy – you can start planning a bigger adventure.
Compare flights, find tours, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to buy travel insurance before you go.