Backpacking, if you've never experienced it, is a lot different than booking a weeklong stay at a hotel and keeping your explorations limited to one city. Since you'll be on the go longer and visiting several places, you'll need to be more flexible in terms of your itinerary. While it's a good idea to have an outline of where you'd like to go and how long you plan to spend in each location, try to avoid overplanning and having any hard-and-fast rules. Spontaneity is a part of backpacking, and you don't want to miss out on the feeling of freedom to go with the flow and deviate from your plan on a whim, leave a spot you don't like or stay a few days longer in a place you've fallen in love with.
Since you'll be wearing everything you pack on your back, you don't want to overdo it in terms of what you'll be carrying for the duration of your trip. Research the climate of where you're going and pack accordingly. You can usually find places to do laundry while you’re traveling (many hotels and hostels will send your laundry out or have it done for a fee), so there's no need to pack 10 of everything. Opt for neutral items that all work well together, fabrics that don't wrinkle easily, items that are comfortable and colorful accessories that don't take up much space but that easily spice up your neutral pieces. A rain poncho that you can fold up into your purse is also helpful if you'll be heading somewhere humid with frequent showers.
Make a note: It's also important to research the customs and dress for where you're going. Some countries are more conservative than others, which means no two-piece swimsuits, no bare shoulders, etc.
Backpacking is often done as a way to see the world on a smaller budget, which often means trading larger hotels for hostels and guesthouses. Some of these will offer amenities, such as soap, shampoo and conditioner, but others won't, so it's best to be prepared. A two-in-one shampoo plus conditioner is your best bet to save on space, and sometimes you can even find three-in-one products that can also be used as bodywash. Pack these in large ziplock bags so there's no risk of leaking on your clothes.
Don't overlook hostels just because you think they're only for partying 20-year-olds. Some hostels are full of partying 20-year-olds, but those can be avoided if that particular demographic isn't your scene. Hostels today cater to all age groups, including families, singles and couples. Read reviews online at sites like Hostel World and Lonely Planet, and peruse the Web sites of anywhere you're thinking of staying. You'll usually know right away if that hostel is more about creating a party atmosphere for guests than simply being a more affordable accommodation option. Look for clean, airy rooms, WiFi, common areas to relax in and knowledgeable staff who can help point you to interesting sites.
Not every hostel is created equal, and if you're going to be backpacking, you'll likely be staying in some hostels, but choose your room wisely. If you don't want to share a bathroom, look for hostels with en suite bathrooms. Also think about neighborhood and how loud it has the potential to get while you're trying to sleep. Review sites will help answer a lot of your questions, and also know that you can (and should) ask to see a room before you pay for it.
Whether you're staying in a hostel or five-star hotel, make sure it's close to the attractions you're interested in seeing, or at least near public transportation so you can get around easily. There's nothing worse than spending most of your day getting from A to B rather than enjoying your time in a new city. Also think about restaurants and spots to get coffee — both of which you'll want to have within walking distance to where you're staying.
Backpacking is also a great opportunity to meet like-minded travelers, so don't let opportunities to meet new people pass you by. No matter your age, if you're staying at a hostel, you're likely to see people in common areas, so don't be afraid to strike up a conversation. Meeting interesting people you connect with can go a long way toward enriching your experience.
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