4 people sat on a large rock, on a mountainside, looking off into the distance
Articles

The moment I fell in love with backpacking

3 minutes

Not sure backpacking is for you? We chatted to three backpacking lovers about the moments that got them hooked.

All you’ll need is a well-packed light bag and a sturdy pair of boots (though not if you’re barefoot trekking – more on that later), and you’re already a step in the right direction. 

  • 'Wow' moments that turned backpacking into a passion
  • Three backpacking pros share their tips for the best adventures
  • Already a fan? Why not try ‘wild camping’ and barefoot trekking?

It’s the height of summer, and many teenagers will be looking to celebrate the escape from school and exams with a backpacking holiday (and, if your kids are among them, they could be covered on your travel insurance if you add unaccompanied children cover to you policy).

But they shouldn’t be the only ones having exhilarating adventures, especially with what’s on offer.

The moment I fell in love with backpacking

The Barefoot backpacker

Ian (@RTWBarefoot) travels to far-flung locations on just the soles of his feet, and not for any spiritual reasons. His shoeless voyages are ‘simply because my feet get hot’ – although, he warns, ‘my feet are now so dry I could probably cause forest fires if I rub my heels together’.
At the end of March this year, Ian left his job of twenty years, enabling him to indulge his passion for backpacking – something he’s been devoted to since a ‘wow moment’ in 2006. 

‘I was in Mongolia. As I stood in Sukhbaatar Square, the sky was turning mauve, the architecture unfamiliar, I had a brief but powerful feeling that’s stayed with me forever. 
 
‘Backpacking allows me to explore things first hand, including the completely obscure.’ Ian’s highlights include Kyrgyzstan: ‘It’s not on everyone’s radar, but it’s very beautiful and friendly, with wilderness for hiking and horse-riding.’ 

‘Neighbouring Uzbekistan is less scenic but more historic, from its Silk Road days to being the ‘front line’ between Russian and British interests. I’m fond of its ‘dark history’ too.’

Another favourite, he says, is Benin.

‘It’s virtually unknown, even in Africa, yet has everything from animal safaris, sweeping beaches to voodoo!’ 
 

Ian’s top tips:

  • Travel isn’t always an Instagram moment. There’s a lot of waiting in the middle of nowhere for buses that take the best part of a day.  
  •  If you’ve never been out of the country before, go for a short break – somewhere you think you’ll be able to cope with the culture and the language. On the next trip, push your boundaries and go for longer.
  • 'Backpacker’ trails are great but don’t feel obliged to visit everything. Pompeii is only interesting to fans of ruined buildings and history.
  • Be prepared: knowing where to buy a ticket for an airport bus will set you on the right foot straight away.
  • Learn the basics of a language: if nothing else, greetings, thanks and numbers are vital for buying anything.

The moment I fell in love with backpacking

The backpacker breaking records 

James (@Jamesmforrest) could be seen as a backpacking pro, but he admits that he’s ‘far from a highly-skilled adventurer’. In 2017, he climbed all of the 446 mountains in England and Wales in just six months. Oh, and in the fastest ever time recorded... And around his everyday job.
 
‘I walked over 1,000 miles, climbed five times the height of Everest and slept wild in the mountains almost fifty times. I absolutely loved it.’ 

He may make the rest of us feeling pretty lowly by comparison, but James has had his fair share of ‘calamitous mishaps’, like being attacked by angry Welsh farm dogs, or waking up at 3am face-down in a swamp in the Brecon Beacons after a storm had snapped his tent poles.

‘I was battered by heavy rain on 48% of my hikes! But the glorious summits, sun-drenched ridges, escapism and isolation are incredible, and made it all worth it.’

James’s love for backpacking was sparked on his first trip after university.

‘I went to New Zealand for six months, living out of my backpack. I climbed mountains, hiked hut-to-hut through Lord of the Rings landscapes and did the compulsory bungee jump. It was a life-affirming journey.’
 
James ‘wild camps’, taking everything he needs with him.

‘I love going off the beaten track and heading to wilder parts, escaping the modern trappings of life.’

Sound a bit hardcore? 

‘I don’t take myself too seriously; mistakes are part of the adventure. I’ve been lost in a thunderstorm in the deepest darkest depths of Transylvania’s mountains, and had to sleep in an eerie, derelict mountain hut. I really thought Dracula was going to turn up!’

James’s top tips

  • Pack your bag with everything you think you need. Then empty out 50% of it: now you’re ready to go. 
  • Get a backpack with a good hip belt – it will save you a lot of backaches.
  • Try wild camping: there’s nothing better than camping in beautiful, wild places. 
  • When looking at an epic sunset, be in that moment. Don’t try to take 137 selfies. 
  • Keep a bag of sweets handy: there’ll be a time when you need them. 

The moment I fell in love with backpacking

From walk-hater to walk-lover

Cyclist, walker, wild camper and lover of a good beer, Andy Bennett (@BennettAndyJ) grew up in Devon, surrounded by coastline and countryside. His parents would drag him and his siblings out for walks and, like most children, he didn’t really enjoy it. 

‘By my mid-twenties, I found myself doing it through choice. My friend and I would often head to Dartmoor National Park and soon we got to know the area well. But the real thing that got me hooked was how satisfying it was to explore an area on foot and tie it all together to create an image of that area in your mind.

‘That happened when we did our first two-day trip together, crossing Dartmoor from North to South, carrying everything with us! We managed it – we were exhausted, but we did it!’

Now living in the Lake District, Andy often slings on his backpack and heads out to wild camp, where he can take in views of England’s highest mountains, the Scafell range.

‘I’ll never forget the mountainside highlighted by a pink setting sun. I sat there sipping hot chocolate – marvellous’.

 

Andy’s top tip 

It’s easy to get too obsessed with the weight of your rucksack, but when in the wild, you’ll appreciate some luxuries like an inflatable pillow, a Kindle, a small bottle of wine, spare socks and chocolate.