planning a backpacking trip

Should you be obsessed with planning your backpacking trip?

Reader Mail: Hello! I’m Ping from Taiwan, I don’t know if I can send you message here to ask you something or I have to send in other application or website, if yes please tell me, thank you so much. Once I read your journey on the internet, it really inspired me! I like your words and your thoughts, I can’t agree more. This year I am going to travel South America for at least 4 months by my own, and this is my first time to travel so far by myself. I wanna ask before you travel to a country (or city) did you do a lot of homework on the internet, like the place you must go, or the food you must try in details? Because in my opinion, I appreciate everything that travel gaves me, I prefer to plan approximately not in details; however, my many of my friends suggest me to do a complete plan if I want to travel for a long time. Can you please tell me what is your opinion? Again, if I need to ask questions in formal ways please tell me.

@ping__0712, via Instagram

A few weeks ago, I hit a dead end – I was on a writer’s block. With this, I published a story on Instagram asking readers on what they want to learn in terms of my travel lifestyle or tips that they seek in such things as planning a backpacking trip. If you have more questions, please feel free to send me a direct message on Instagram and I’ll try my best to answer them in a good post. Again, thank you for helping me in formulating content – you guys rock!

I am leaving for Peru in a week. The trip will last for a month. Up until today, I have no idea about the specific timeline of that one month. The only thing I know is the date of my arrrival in the capital city of Lima. That’s it. My accommodations are arranged for those first 4 nights that I will be staying in the city.

For many, this is an unimaginable thing to do. How can someone go on a one month trip without a solid plan of what’s going to happen? For starters, most of you know I am no stranger to Peru. I traveled Peru in 2015 for 4 months and have gone in and out since. I do not think this is the reason why I am not planning backpacking trip thoroughly.

But I strongly believe in living day by day (as I unconsciously practice now) because through the years I am traveling,  I learned that things will never ever go my way.

This just doesn’t apply in planning a backpacking trip (aka long trips) but try to go back and think about the time when you went for a weekend in Bangkok or 5 days in Barcelona: did every single thing you planned happend? Or there were a lot of opportunities presented before you when you were already there? I can count the many times that my plans were never solid and that I went with the flow. I’ve missed a bus to Bolivia, almost didn’t get in Georgia because of a visa problem, slightly refused entry in Brazil because of not having a yellow fever vaccine – the list goes on and on.

Now I want you to stop reading and think about your past trips: which trip actually worked out? Which trip happened the way you wanted it to?

I am not saying this applies to everyone. I am only talking about me. Some people I know are really good in planning their trips, for example, my sister. My sister is not a backpacker but frequently goes on short trips. I’ve seen the dynamic of how she plans her travels: time, date, place, bookings – everything is in perfect place. But my sister is this type of person even in real life. It is her strong identity to be a meticulous planner, hence, even if she is younger than I am, my family relies to her on all things – family lunches, cousin’s birthday, Christmas, etc. My sister brings our household to order and we need someone like that. It’s just who she is and it’s what she’s with comfortable with. I can never question that kind of life or travel planning though it is very opposite of what I practice.

I say this a lot and I will say it again: we are unique individuals who lead very unique lives. When planning a backpacking trip, you need to identify what you are comfortable with: are you okay with sleeping anywhere because the cheap hostel you wanted to book is full? Are you comfortable with walking in the cold weather or in the rain with your heavy backpack just because you don’t know where you’re going? Are you in for the adventure of not knowing or you really need to plan so you’ll feel at ease?

We plan because it feels good. It feels good to know where we are going and even if we already know that it will never go our way, we stick to that plan because it gives us faith and encouragement to move forward. This, I believe, is the foundation of every long backpacking trip: faith and courage. Personally, I think that’s a good sign because these two things are the most difficult to have when you are thinking of a backpacking trip or leaving your country blinded. Money is always a secondary factor (at least for me) because money is the easiest thing to find. Many people stress about this more but let me tell you that if you need money and that you know how to get it, you will be able to go through.

I thought about the day I was robbed in Rio de Janeiro. It was the first day I got my salary from my old online job and boom – $800 USD down the drain. That’s my one-month budget in Brazil for the World Cup! I was in the beginning of that wonderful journey of being in Brazil for this sporting event that I really like and then all my dreams were shattered when my wallet got stolen. Just to clarify, I wasn’t robbed on gunpoint (thank God!). I wasn’t harmed at all – they just took my wallet without me noticing it. As soon as I accepted that I can never get that money back, I moved forward and planned my next move: how do I get more money? How do I replace that? I knew I had to do something. Good thing I was Couchsurfing that time so the accommodations were not a problem. Food was never a problem too because we all shared food at my Couchsurfing host’s house in the same way we shared the space. Whenever I am in a situation like this out of my comfort zone, I trick my brain to thinking what I have instead of focusing on what I don’t. Then it all falls into place. I got an online gig that same week and was asked by a restaurant to translate their menu in English (properly). They seemed to have a shitty English translation for a top-tier restaurant. I offered my services to them and they said yes. Personally, it was never hard for me to find a job that doesn’t exist. Whenever you want a job, as long as you are tenacious, money will come to you.

But courage and faith? I hardly know people who consider or think about this whenever they are planning a backpacking trip. It’s something that ‘invaluable’ and doesn’t have a price tag on it so we tend to focus on booking the flights, looking for cheap hotels, and all that shenanigan about expenses.

how to look for host families abroad for free

Back in 2013, I was received by a host family in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I stayed with them for over 30 days!

Real talk: I do think about the visa. When I started my backpacking trip in South America, I went to Brazil first. As a Philippine passport holder, I am allowed to stay in Brazil visa-free for 90 days. If you come to think of it, 90 days is a long time to plan but I didn’t do this. I just know that 1-2 weeks before the visa expires, I need to plan my next move. I stayed with a local family in Sao Paulo and Pouso Alegre. Initially, we didn’t talk about how long I am going to stay but I got along with them so much that they didn’t want me to leave. I stayed for over 30 days in this host family and now I consider them as my family, too. Those days were pretty chill as I was living like a family member but they always wanted to take me out. I put the fate of my stay in them. Whenever they have something planned, I said yes. I always participated in their family events. I always hang out with their family friends. I went wherever they went and that experience was something I will not get if I hopped in one place to another every 3 days. While I was with them, I was working hard online to save money for my next move. I barely paid for food but sometimes cooked Asian food for them as a sign of gratitude for making me stay with them for free.

planning a backpacking trip

But if I had money, things would be different. I was in a different financial situation then so backpacking, working in hostels, and staying with local families were the foundations of my backpacking trip in South America. I was received in over 10 homes by over 20 families and I will never forget that experience. Another factor of the difference in my financial situation is this blog. Thanks to you, I am easily hosted by hotels and companies abroad to make all my trips possible. I never have to think about paying for accommodations whenever I am traveling because I can ask. Like many things, I had to work hard to build this blog in order for me to achieve that. However, getting a free stay in big hotels all over the world does not mea it’s free. I need to publish blog posts, I need to help them promote on social media, I need to formulate and suggest marketing ideas for them. More often than not, it’s a lot of work so if I can afford to stay in a hostel, I prefer to pay than to work for hotels. Content creation for hotels is really really hard. Since you’re getting a free luxurious room, they you are their b*tch. You need to do everything they ask for and I don’t really blend well with that.

Securing a place for volunteering is also one of the things that have made my backpacking trip smoothly. Two weeks before my visa in a certain country expires, if I don’t get a local family to host me, I look for a volunteering gig where I can get free accommodations. Food is not included though. I don’t want to say this but since I am really bad with travel planning and I contact really close to date, I often fall in a volunteering opportunity that I am not interested in. I took care of horses in Buenos Aires and I really really hated it. It was a lot of job but at the time, it was the only volunteeering gig available and my visa was about to expire in Uruguay. I needed to make a move. Though I did enjoy some parts of it, I still wished I landed a gig that I genuinely like – not just a form of survival.

One thing I also like a lot about things not going your way is the endless possibilities of surprising yourself every day. There is just no limit. In Japan, I never thought I’d find the best place to eat Okonomiyaki in Osaka by being curious. I was walking in an unfamiliar street when I saw a restaurant with long lines outside. This area of Osaka I was in is not that famous so I never expected to see something like this. I walked in, Googled the place, and to my surprise, it really is a famous Okonomiyaki Restaurant!

Plans, plans, plans: we initiate them, we love them, and in the end, we break them. So do you really need to be obsessed in planning a backpacking trip? I refrain from giving advices like “you only live once,” “go for it,” and “just do it,” because these things won’t help you. But I would tell you that it is okay to be obsessed with travel planning but make sure to be open to possibilities and shitty situations that you will be in. I must admit, nothing bad happened to me by not planning. The worst, and I am not sure if you can say this is really a bad experience was when I slept in train station in Marrakesh and in a bus station in the border of Bolivia and Brazil. Of course, that includes the Rio theft incident. I am always able to do the no planning escapade because my backpacking timeline has no limit. I am not thinking about coming back home for a job or from a vacation so you need to step back and reflect on your circumstance, too. How much time do you have?

So this is my take on planning a backpacking trip. It simply is just personal and subjective. If you really want to plan your travel, check out my long-term travel planning tips. Hope it will help you!

Trisha is one of those people who left their comfortable life to travel the world and learn about life. Her style is to stay in one place she likes for 3 months (or more) to know what it feels like to eat, cook, speak, and sleep in another culture that isn’t hers. She'd like to believe she's not traditionally traveling but she just chooses to be somewhere else all the time. In no particular order, her favorite cities in the world are Barcelona, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Mexico City, and Tel Aviv.

Comments

  • d
    October 23, 2019

    So timely! I’ve been putting off my backpacking trip because of my tendency to overthink and overplan. This is a reminder for me to stop googling everything and start doing it. I shouldn’t let my fear of the unknown hinder me from experiencing The Great Unknown. Thanks, Trisha!

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  • Lana Sorrento
    November 25, 2019

    This is my first time reading you. Thank you. You are truly authentic and I value that you help people untether their lives without force or preaching. On a personal note, I would like to add that, after 25 years of solo, female slow travel, many of my best memories involve “accidental” experiences and unusual events made better by simply joining with the experience. Reading your honest story left me feeling that the travel you exemplify is more art than science. Thanks for all that you do. Lana Sorrento

    reply

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