Backpacking is one of the most exciting experiences that a person of any age can undertake. The freedom to travel from country to country, unhindered by possessions and property, making friends from every background imaginable and collecting memories that will be with you for a lifetime – these are the things that attract people to the backpacking lifestyle.
However, it’s worth noting that travelling with few possessions, often with little money and sleeping in the cheapest accommodation you can find is not without its dangers. This guide shouldn’t dissuade you from taking a backpacking trip, but rather encourage you to prepare for the risks involved so you’ll be ready when something unexpected happens.
Criminals operate in every country in the world, and tourists – particularly those travelling solo – are always going to be a tempting target. Avoid carrying large amounts of cash on you at any time and spending conspicuously in bars and shops, which is likely to attract the attention of thieves. Don’t be afraid of asking the locals for help, but be wary of being too trusting: if you feel you’re being pressured to part with money against your will, try to remove yourself from the situation and get yourself somewhere public.
It also helps to read up on some of the most common scams in your destination, as some of them are clever enough to fool even seasoned travellers. Backpackers have fallen for fake taxi services, fake currency exchange kiosks and even fake police officers alongside the garden-variety passport thieves – don’t be one of them! A sound knowledge of local exchange rates and the typical prices in the country you’re in will help to stop you getting ripped off.
Most people know never to take a bag or “present” from a stranger at the airport, but a surprising number of people still fall for it every year. Never take anything you didn’t pack yourself on a plane, and avoid anybody who offers you suspiciously cheap passage over the border – it’s best to book all flights and transport through licensed providers.
It goes without saying that you should take care of your possessions at all times. If you’re staying in hostel dorms, it may be worth paying a little extra to rent a locker for the night. Protect expensive equipment such as cameras with insurance, and keep your wallet on a chain attached to a belt loop to guard against pickpockets.
Unfortunately muggings are also a danger for those travelling alone, and men are just as likely to be targeted as women – the best advice is not to be a hero, as your own safety is much more important than any amount of money. Immediately report any such crimes to the police, and keep your bank’s phone number handy in case you need to cancel your cards in a hurry.
Finally, as much as sex and drugs may be part of the lifestyle for some backpackers, it’s worth remembering that local police won’t look kindly on this. If you get involved in illegal or seedy activities abroad, you’re putting yourself at even greater risk than you would be at home – and you’re unlikely to get any help from the law if you get into trouble!