Guest post from Claire Williams, a former "student backpacker" who has travelled Europe and parts of the US on a budget on various backpacking trips by train, bus and air. Top Tips for Student Backpackers
We all deserve a break from months of studying for exams and how better to spend your well-earned vacation time than picking up a backpack and setting off on an adventure? A budget backpacking trip can end up being the best experience of your life and there is no better time to do it than now. With all the freedom and independence that backpacking brings, it's also important to make sure that you stay safe and are well prepared.
Here are a few top tips to help you plan your trip.
Safety First: Make sure you are covered by travel insurance! Many companies, such as StaTravel.com, offer cheap insurance deals specifically for students that start from just a few dollars a day. Be aware of your surroundings especially at night! Try to arrive in a new place in the daytime especially if you are traveling alone and it's a good idea to arrange at least one nights accommodation beforehand. You can pick up maps and leaflets at tourist information points and ask for the best way to get to your destination.
It sounds obvious but keep an eye on your stuff! So many travelers make the mistake of letting their guard down, leaving their belonging unattended or flashing around their expensive cameras and other valuables. Lock up your luggage and important documents when you can and it's also a good idea to wear a money belt to avoid carrying all your cash in your wallet. Be respectful of the locals and their culture. You are a guest in their country so try to behave and dress in an appropriate manner. It's never a bad idea to learn a few key phrases in the local lingo.You'll often find people are more open to you if you are making an effort to communicate in their language.
Planning: Good planning is essential, not only where to go but when to go. Do your research! Companies like Rough Guide or Lonely Planet have many guidebooks available but make sure you have an up-to-date copy. If you don't have enough money to buy a guidebook, there are many resources available online for free that can give you tips on how to plan your route, where to go and what to watch out for. Consider getting an international student card which will open up lots of discounts especially for you.
Budgeting: Doing some research into local prices before going will give you a realistic idea of how much money you need to take with you. Calculating your expenses by day based on accommodation, transport and food can really help you plan your finances. Consider alternative free activities rather than sticking to the typical mainstream tourist sights. You can find many budget companies offering discounted flights and transport. In Europe for example, you could buy an Interail train pass or consider using international bus companies such as Eurolines to save even more money. Before leaving for your destination always shop around for the best deals.
Choosing the right accommodation is another way you can make big savings. There are many ways to cut down on daily sleeping costs. Consider renting a room in an apartment where you can prepare your own food for the day or stay in a hostel that provides free breakfast. There are lots of options available for backpackers these days such as 'Couchsurfing'. Other social travel companies such as Wimdu.com make it easier and cheaper to stay in private rooms or apartments where you have more security and independence. Booking things like transport or accommodation in advance could save you a lot of money too.
Packing: Being efficient with what you pack is key to being comfortable on the road. Remember that whatever you take with you, you will be carrying around in your backback, so be ruthless and leave non-essential items at home! Some essential items include a towel, a pair of light-weight comfy shoes, flipflops, some first-aid items, a day bag and a universal power adapter. Social games such as a pack of cards will also help you make friends along the way. Pack light, you can always buy something on the way if you really need it!
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