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Our ultimate guide to backpacking

Backpacking is a rite of passage for many people. Whether you’re taking a gap year, making the most of a sabbatical from work, or adventuring later in life, there’s so much to consider.

Where are the best backpacking destinations? 

With so many places to explore, climates to consider and cultures to immerse yourself in, deciding where to go backpacking is the first tough hurdle. This guide will help you figure out whether to head down under, scale the Andes or trek through Asia. And once you’ve decided, we’ll also help you figure out how to pack for backpacking. 

It can be hard to know where to start as there are so many incredible backpacking destinations. From snow-capped mountains in Japan and dreamy deserts in South America to mouthwatering cuisine in Malaysia, the opportunities are endless. 

Whether you’re planning on following a well-loved route through Southeast Asia, getting off the beaten track in Indonesia or dingo-spotting in Australia, here are some of the best places to go backpacking. 


Tropical and exotic, with stunning beaches and great on a budget. Thailand is often the first stop on the tried and tested Southeast Asia route – which is why it tops our backpacking guide. From braving Khaosan Road in Bangkok to sunbathing on Koh Samui, there’s something for every traveller. 

Enjoy the best of both worlds – bustling cities and glorious sun-soaked islands. Dip your toes into turquoise waters in the Phi Phi islands, hike to magical waterfalls in the north-west of the country and observe awe-inspiring temples along your journey. You’ll soon discover why it’s favoured for gap year adventures, cheap hostels and sensational street food.


Head down under for a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. For a whistle-stop tour of must-see sights in Australia, consider the East Coast. Most trips start in Sydney, and from here you can work your way up the coast to spend your days lounging on beaches and nights under the stars. Finish this route in Cairns with a trip to the glorious Great Barrier Reef.

Western Australia is equally beautiful – and a particularly good place to get up close and personal with the real Aussie outback.


Don’t be put off by staying closer to home – Europe offers some wonderful destinations. You’ve got the choice to travel through Eastern or Western Europe – or both if you’re lucky. 

Interrailing is a flexible – and more eco-friendly – way to travel through Europe. If your travels take you to Western Europe, don’t miss city life in Germany, wine tasting in Italy, shopping in France, or the fairy-tale canals of The Netherlands. Eastern and Central Europe are also special. Venture through the cobblestone cities of the Czech Republic, party in Poland, hike in Slovakia and marvel at the architecture in Austria.


Vietnam offers backpackers a kaleidoscope of experiences. You can spend weeks exploring the jungles, villages and beaches of this beautiful country. In the north, go trekking in Sapa, learn about Vietnam’s war-torn past in Hanoi, and take a trip around Ha Long Bay – famed for its emerald waters and dramatic rock formations jutting from the water.

Stop in magical Hoi An and enjoy mouthwatering Vietnamese food before heading south to discover the hustle and bustle of Ho Chi Minh City and the sun-kissed beaches of southern Vietnam.


From sun-soaked beaches to snow-capped Himalayan mountains, bustling cities and desert forts, there’s so much to experience in India. Most travellers start their journey in the vibrant metropolis of Delhi, but from here, the country’s your oyster. Visit the gorgeous beaches in Goa, observe the Taj Mahal in Agra or embark on yoga training in Rishikesh.

South America

Finishing up our backpacking destination guide is the ultimate adventure. Ignite your senses with rich jungles, extraordinary hiking, otherworldly wildlife and friendly people.

The possibilities are endless. Enjoy the flare of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, hike Machu Picchu in Peru and visit the Galapagos Islands off the coast of Ecuador. Don’t miss your chance to trek through the Amazon Rainforest on your travels too.

How to pack for backpacking? 

Now you’ve got a better idea of possible locations, it’s time to start packing for your adventure. Don’t leave this to the last minute – it can take longer than you think.

Backpacking checklist

Whether you’re a seasoned traveller or it’s your first time flying the nest, follow a backpackers checklist so you don’t leave anything important behind. This list is not exhaustive, but it’s a good starting point to learn what to take backpacking. 

Here are our essentials when backpacking:

The Basics

  • Passport
  • Travel documents – including visa and vaccination certificates (if needed)
  • Your backpack
  • Day backpack (for taking out for day trips)
  • Tent and camping supplies (only if necessary)
  • Currency and a travel money card  

Health / safety

  • Water bottle
  • Water filter
  • Cooking and eating utensils
  • Headlamp (and extra batteries)
  • First aid kit
  • Whistle
  • Compass/ GPS device
  • Any medication you might need


  • Weather appropriate clothing
  • Clothes to suit your trip – walking clothes or activewear if you plan on hiking, base layers if you’re going to a cold climate
  • Cover up / scarf / sarong 
  • Shoes, including hiking boots if needed
  • Swimwear (depending on the destination)
  • Flip flops or sliders


  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Flannel
  • Skin care / makeup
  • Any other toiletries
  • Travel towel


  • World travel adaptor
  • eBook
  • Tablet
  • Mobile phone (and sim card)
  • Camera, battery, and memory card
  • Waterproof camera or underwater phone case
  • Journal and pen
  • Backpacking pillow or eye mask (optional and space dependant)

Currency for your trip

First up on any backpacking packing list should be your travel money. While the currency you need will depend on where your adventure takes you, in most places it’s handy to have a combination of different card and cash payment methods. 

While Travel Money Cards may be accepted in major cities, it’s best to also have cash for small purchases and in areas off the beaten track.

Check the exchange rate and get your currency sorted before you set off.  Sainsbury’s Bank offers currency for over 50 different countries, so we’re bound to be able to help you out for your trip. Our currencies include:

Travel insurance for your trip

Before you head off on your trip of a lifetime it’s important to make sure you have travel insurance to cover you against any mishaps that could happen along the way.

Sainsbury’s Bank offers a range of single, multi and extended trip policies – with optional extras for travel protection while backpacking.


How much money do you need for backpacking?

The amount of money you need depends on where you’re travelling and the type of trip you have planned. A month travelling the East Coast of Australia is likely to cost more than hostel surfing in Asia. It’s always a good idea to have access to more funds than you think you need, just in case of any emergencies.

Is 70L too much for backpacking?

While a 70L backpack would work well for longer trips, especially if you plan on carrying a tent with you, you may be able to get away with a smaller bag. Anything between 40L and 70L will work well for a long trip. The size of your backpack will depend on how long you’re travelling for and the types of climates you’ll be travelling through. You might even need 80L if you’re taking technical clothing for outdoor activities.

With any size backpack, make sure you take the time to pack your things in advance to see if you can manage the size and weight of it. If in doubt, take less – you need to be able to pack and unpack your bag with ease while you’re travelling. And remember – you can always buy suitable clothes when you get to a new destination – in fact, you might want to pick some up as souvenirs.