Hikers in Chile. Photo by Toomas Tartes, Unsplash

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Solo backpacking, travelling to places you’ve never been is an amazing experience. It gives you the opportunity to experience new places, cultures, food and people.

It allows you to expand your understanding of the world around you and challenge your views and allows you to question your place in the world.

It is a wonderful experience, and yet like everything in life, it does come with its share of difficulties and challenges so here are 10 useful tips to help the aspiring backpacker.

Best Tips & Tools to Plan Your Trip

Woman standing at the beach in Italy. Photo by Cristina Gottardi, Unsplash
Woman standing at the beach. Photo by Cristina Gottardi, Unsplash


As one will quickly find out, the money people use in different countries is usually pretty different from our homelands, and can get very confusing very quickly, especially in South East Asia where the notes come in large denominations, giving any newcomer a headache.

So how best to try and get your head around these new bank notes and ensure that you aren’t accidently overpaying?

First, learn the exchange rate, there are plenty of useful currency exchange apps that can assist you in wrapping your head around what all these notes are actually worth in comparison to your pounds or dollars.

Thankfully most South East Asian countries have done travellers a slight favour in having very colourful bank notes, so instead of trying to remember all those zeros, colour code your wallet. This makes it slightly easier to keep track of the notes. Just be careful the onset of night will change how these notes appear.

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand. Photo by Oliver Sjostrom, Unsplash
Phi Phi Islands, Thailand. Photo by Oliver Sjostrom, Unsplash


In South East Asia, cash is king so getting acquainted with the local ATM’s does become very important. These machines, while spitting out lifesaving pieces of coloured paper are not perfect savours of modern convenience. However, as they do charge large fees and an exchange rate that won’t favour the average backpacker and slowly eat up that tight budget. The average ATM in Thailand for instance charges $9 for every withdrawal, this can add up.

So how best to mitigate these rates and save your wallet some unintentional damage?

Calculate a rough budget that will cover you for a few weeks, at least up to two and withdrawal that from the ATM.

ATM’s charge a flat fee regardless of the amount so minimising the amount of times you have to visit the cash machine will save you a bit in fees.

Exchange rates

ATM’s as well as charging that withdrawal fee, there is also that exchange rate to deal with.

There has been a growth in online financial services like Wise, Payoneer, revolute, etc. A lot of these services offer pretty decent exchange rates and the possibility to hold different currencies within one account. Converting your dollars into a local currency using these services and then withdrawing from the ATM gives you a fairer exchange rate.

Siargao Island Philippines. Photo by Rolands Varsbergs, Unsplash
Siargao Island Philippines. Photo by Rolands Varsbergs, Unsplash

Avoid Putting All Your Eggs in One Basket

In South East Asia, cash is king, this means you will be carrying quite a bit of cash on your person. Theft or even simply misplacing your wallet can be terrible at the best of times, but when you are backpacking, the consequences can be disastrous.

A simple tip is to split up your cash and cards and avoid ‘putting all of your eggs in one basket so to speak’. I’ve seen some ingenious methods on my travels, one fellow traveller would hide his cash in an empty M&Ms container.

He explained to me that most people wouldn’t look twice at it, though he had to be careful to not accidently throw it out of his bag.

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Dealing with Police

The stories are endless and the stereotype of the corrupt police officer fleecing travellers of money are all too commonplace. However, South East Asia receives millions of travellers every year and most will most likely never encounter such an encounter.

However, should a backpacker find themselves in such a situation a useful tip to keep in mind is to never lose your cool. Having a hot head and a temper can land you in far more serious trouble.

In my experience of crossing borders and dealing with police I’ve found it’s a wiser idea to be polite and even friendly but always assertive. These situations can be scary and frustrating but taking the calm approach has served me well.


If there is one thing much maligned by tourists it is touts hassling them to buy souvenirs or tours. There is an attitude amongst tourists that these people are nothing but an annoyance, ruining their picture perfect holiday.

And it’s understandable, it can be overwhelming and annoying. So question comes how do you deal with these people who are very insistent that you buy their goods?

First off, it is very important to remember. They’re just people trying to make a living and most would prefer to be doing something else, but this is the job that they have. They don’t want to annoy you and most have no intent to do so.

Keep this simple fact in mind, do your best to politely decline and treat them like people. Learn from your interactions with them and perhaps just maybe you come to understand a little a bit more about the cultures and people who inhabit the places you are a guest in.

Village on the water. Photo by Unsplash
Village on the water. Photo by Unsplash

Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteering on your travels is a great way to immerse yourself in a location and really get to know the people and culture of a certain region. It is also a great way to reduce your expenditures as most volunteer positions offer free accommodation and food.

They also come in a variety of different fields from teaching English, to hostel work, animal sanctuaries, the list is endless.

Aside from the cost mitigation factors which are incredibly helpful for backpackers on a tight budget, the chance to take a break from the road and settle in one location for a bit affords you the opportunity to get a real insight into communities and cultures that most other tourists and travellers would never see.

Bag of Choice

When it comes to packing for your first travel adventure it can be tempting to pack for every perceivable situation. Speaking as someone who over packed for his first adventure, learn from my mistake.

Most of the things you think you need, you probably don’t. Instead follow the advice my father gave me (Which I ignored and only really understood a month into my trip), put everything you plan on taking and place it on a bed, good and now cut it in half and once you’ve done that do it again.

Cut back as much as you can, you won’t need it and if you do, you’ll be able to pick it up on the way.

You’ll be thankful for the extra space and less weight.

Kyoto Japan. Photo by Sorasak, Unsplash
Kyoto Japan. Photo by Sorasak, Unsplash

Eating Locally

Why do we travel if not to experience other people’s cultures, to gain an understanding as to the ways people live in different parts of this planet we all call home.

For the first time backpacker this can be a daunting experience, to throw yourself into situations where the languages spoken around you are completely unfamiliar and the smells and taste are completely foreign to you.

Embracing the unfamiliarity is not an easy thing, but the rewards are bountiful! If you are truly looking for an insight into the true culture of the places you are visiting, there is no better place to begin than at local restaurants, the food might not always be to your liking or it might be the best thing to have ever passed your lips, there is only one way to find out.

Eating locally allows you the chance to interact with the people and pick up a phrase or two. You don’t have to worry about becoming fluent in the language and you aren’t expected to, but just learning at least a little bit shows a token of effort.

Local people will react to you differently as being able to utter a phrase or two will separate you from the slightly more entailed tourist who expects everyone to speak English, they will appreciate the effort.


Sometimes it is just as simple as that, putting a smile on your face has an amazing affect not just on your own attitude but also in regards to how people around you will react.

The people of South East Asia are famous for their kindest and friendliness, there is a reason why Thailand for instance is known as the land of smiles.

They project a positivity to the world around them and it’s important to acknowledge this, putting a smile on your face and demonstrating an acknowledgment of the people around you will be beneficial and allow you to experience true genuine interactions that you’d otherwise never experience if your face reflects a flat indifference.

And if not to project a positivity to the world around you, do it for yourself. When the going gets tough, and it will. Travel, true travel is not always sunshine and rainbows despite what your favourite Instagram influencer has sold you.

It is difficult on the path and when your spirits are low and the frustrations build, take a moment, take a deep breath, shake off the worry and doubt and put a on a smile.

It will help give you some positive energy to get on with the day and that energy will grow when your smile becomes reflected in the faces of the people you pass and you might just find yourself in an interesting place with an interesting conversation.

Backpacking is a beautifully amazing experience and yet it is also daunting, that is part of its charm. It is always useful to take advice and listen to tips, but as any seasoned backpacker will tell you, you will learn along the way and hopefully be better off for it.

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Author Bio: Ben Hallam is from New Zealand and currently based in Bali,Indonesia. He is an experienced backpacker and adventure motorcyclist awaiting his next adventure.

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