In January 2018, I set off on the epic solo backpacking trip of a lifetime, traveling around Southeast Asia for two months before making my way down to Australia and New Zealand, where I spent a year in each country thanks to their respective Working Holiday Visa programs.
For most of that time, I carried everything I needed in my trusty purple backpack and a smaller carry-on sized bag for my laptop and other important items. I embraced the backpacker lifestyle, keeping only what I needed and buying clothes I’d get a lot of use out of. Gone were my days of overpacking, since I knew I’d have to haul it around.
While backpacking isn’t for everyone, there are a few things you can do to make your first time out a lot easier. Here are three things I learned during my long-term adventure that you can apply to any backpacking trip, even if it’s just a few weeks long.
Looking back, this is something I probably should have done more research on at the time, but I managed to luck out with. After reading a ton of articles and reviews online, I eventually decided on beautiful purple 55-liter female-frame High Sierra backpack I bought for $75 on Amazon. I bought packing cubes—which let you fit so much more in there, especially if you fold and roll your clothes—and tested it out on a shorter trip a few months before I left.
Backpacks come in all shapes and sizes, ranging from 30 liters to 80 liters, so you really need to think about how much you want to carry. They can also get pretty pricey depending on how many bells and whistles you want. REI’s website was a great resource for learning about the different types of frames, belts, straps and other structural details that go into making your backpack as comfortable as possible. You can also try some on in the store to get a better idea of how to size things correctly. Pick the one that works best for you, get used to wearing it before your big trip, and you’ll be good to go.
Hotels are great for shorter trips, but if you’re traveling solo, things can get pretty quiet. Not staying in hotels—either by camping, opting for hostels and shared Airbnbs (instead of renting out the entire place) or house sitting—opens you up to meeting more people and having some truly memorable travel experiences. By doing this, I learned to slow down, connect with my fellow travelers, befriend the locals who shared their homes with me and the neighbors I met while pet sitting, and most importantly, to let my trip unfold instead of trying to plan every single second of it.
Not only that, you’ll likely have a secure place to stash your backpack no matter what time you get there. Most hostels have lockers or other secure areas for this exact purpose, while hotels typically offer something similar if you arrive before check-in or need to stash your things after you check out. Hostels almost always have a laundry room, too, so that’s one less thing to worry about during your big adventure.
Saving money is always a good thing, but it’s okay to splurge every once in a while, especially if it’ll greatly improve the quality of your trip. Instead of suffering through a bumpy night on a cramped overnight bus, see if there’s a roomier option like a train that’ll get you there, even if it costs a little more. If you’re tired of dealing with noisy hostel roommates, spring for a private room so you can still enjoy the atmosphere but get a better night’s sleep. While I wouldn’t advocate doing this a lot, it can be a real sanity-saver in the long run, especially if you only have so much time in each place.
Above all, enjoy yourself—this is your solo travel adventure after all— and remember to give yourself some grace when things don’t go according to plan. Anything can happen, so it’s important to learn to roll with the punches and make the best of things, wherever you are.
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by Lacey Pfalz Last updated: 7:00 AM ET, Sun May 28, 2023