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 Barefoot backpacker
‘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.
‘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 backpacker breaking records
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.’
‘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.
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.
‘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