Solo backpacking is a rewarding challenge. There’s no better feeling than taking in the world's beauty uninterrupted and independently, for example, sitting atop a mountain peak looking over a valley. And on top of it all, the immense freedom that reassures us this is what travel is all about.
But the effort it takes to solo backpacking is not minimal. It’s certainly not the kind of journey you decide to embark on in the heat of the moment. Whether you’re a complete newbie to the world of solo backpacking or have had experience with backpacking in general, it’s important to plan and prepare your journey carefully, from equipment to budget.
Here’s a guide on how to solo backpacking that will help you get the best travel experience of your life.
Is It A Good Idea To Backpack Alone?
Solo backpacking is for the free-spirited globetrotters.
Looking for a whole new liberating experience on your next adventure in, let’s say, the majestic Europe? Or, wanting to be immersed in the breathtaking landscapes of Asia? It’s such a treasure to be able to share those moments with friends. But it’d still be equally magical if you can feel it all yourself.
That is one of the top reasons why people choose solo backpacking - the freedom of being able to experience the most out of your adventures.
You can plan your own itinerary, travel at your own pace, and pick whichever beaten path your heart desires. A 3-day solo camping trip in a mystical forest or a 2-week getaway island-hopping.
Beyond that, solo backpacking is also a chance to train yourself. You will have to rely on your own resourcefulness and problem-solving skills. It’s transformative. You will learn to embrace the ups as well as the downs.
The magic of solo backpacking also lies in the friends you make along the way. You will meet like-minded explorers from all walks of life, hear fascinating stories and learn amazing knowledge.
First Steps On How To Solo Backpacking: Prep And Plan
The “solo” in solo backpacking tends to scare people. Of course, when you’re alone, your troubles might be even bigger than when you’re with friends. Getting lost is bad; getting lost on your own is worse.
Sharing the work of handling bookings, money and belongings with friends? Okay, it sounds easy enough. Doing it all on your own? Well, it can certainly be overwhelming for some.
But it doesn’t have to be that way! Any trip that is underprepared and poorly planned can go wrong, solo or not. With careful preparation and planning, solo backpacking can never be as scary as it sounds.
Choose Your Destination For Solo Backpacking
You’re probably eager to just grab your backpack and go anywhere. If you’re an experienced solo backpacker, choosing a destination won’t be an issue. But for a newbie, this can be a make-or-break factor.
It doesn’t matter if you’re a total newbie to the world of backpacking or are making the leap from group backpacking to solo. Here are some questions you should ask yourself before deciding on the best destination for solo backpacking for you.
Is_________safe for solo backpacking?
This is one of the most important questions you should ask before deciding on a place. Sometimes, a destination is stunning with all the forests, wildlife and mountains. But it’s not always recommended for solo backpacking.
For example, conflict zones or countries with high crime rates should be crossed off of your list. You can get yourself into serious trouble.
Also, some places are perfectly safe for guided travel but can be unsafe for solo adventuring. Some remote and isolated parts of the Australian outback, for example. While their landscapes are mesmerising, many areas remain unmarked (not explored or fully explored) and outside the reach of emergency services.
Is_________solo backpacking friendly?
Some destinations are more accommodating to solo travellers than others. Look for places that have established backpacker trails and affordable accommodation for one person.
The reason you should consider this is that many places, while beautiful and diverse, tend to cater to family holidays. A resort town with lots of restaurants and attractions might not be what you’re looking for.
Fun fact: The most affordable cities for backpackers in the world as of June 2022 include Vientiane (Laos), Luang Prabang (Laos), Pokhara (Nepal), Chiang Mai (Thailand, and Hanoi (Vietnam).
Research Everything Solo Backpacking
Gather all the information you can before your adventure.
From weather and geography down to the how and why of everything related to solo backpacking, do as much research as you can. Take notes of important things related to the destination you’ve chosen to plan and pack better.
Knowledge is power. So it’s better to learn more than you’ll actually need than to miss the essential information. Join solo backpacking online forums. Read articles on the subject. Read books and watch videos about solo backpacking and your route.
If you want to research specific trails, AllTrails, Worldpacking, and TheTrekkingProject are good starts. They provide difficulty levels, length, scenery, and unique aspects of a certain trail.
Planning Your First Solo Backpacking Trip
Once you’ve decided on your destination, a good backpack for your adventure and a packing list, it’s time to look at what exactly you will be doing and how you can make a plan out of it.
When crafting your solo backpacking itinerary, think of:
- Budget: this helps you narrow down a lot from the long list of accommodation, food options and transportation.
- Ways of getting around: in Europe, one of the best ways is to by train. In fact, travelling by train is not just for convenience and cost, but it’s also an authentic way to explore the continent. Similarly, in many Asian countries, the locals have their unique version of “taxi” (such as tuk tuk in Thailand) that is much cheaper than regular taxi cabs but more fun to use.
- Determine the time for each stop: will you be staying in one place the whole time, or will you explore here and there? Thinking of the amount of time you should spend at each stop helps you plan better.
- List all activities: solo backpacking gives you the best sense of freedom, but it’d be such a waste if you travel to a place and just have nothing to do. Think of all the must-see places. Go read about all the famous attractions to help you decide what to do.
- Flexibility: not all plans will work out 100%. Allowing your itinerary to have room for last-minute changes is a good way to avoid disappointing yourself.
Once you’ve found things to do and how to get around, start integrating other factors into it, such as a meal plan, clothes change plan, and gear check-up. For example, a day 1 schedule in a 3 day hike plan should look something like this:
What to do
Gear to bring
It’s just an example. You can always add more details, such as visiting the local village along the way, stopping to journal, or meeting up with other backpackers.
Accessing Your Fitness And Health For Solo Backpacking
Hiking, trekking, climbing, walking, manoeuvring, and heavy carrying - things you do while solo backpacking. To do so, you need to have a certain level of fitness. Physical preparation is just as important as mental.
Getting fit for solo backpacking allows you to travel for longer and further. And honestly, more comfortable, too. What’s the fun if you get exhausted and just want to spend the whole day resting halfway through your adventure?
If you feel like you’re not fit enough for solo backpacking, it’s time to do some training. We don’t mean to get super ripped or sculpted like a Greek statue. One of the best things you can train yourself on is physical endurance and strength.
The simplest form of exercise you can do is running. Run for an hour around your neighbourhood or in the gym. Try climbing stairs with a backpack on your back.
According to REI, you should start training at least 8 weeks before your solo backpacking trip. Again, baby steps - start small with exercises that fit your skills and physical capabilities. Know your limits and don’t try to overdo it - you’ll get there eventually.
Is 40 Too Old To Go Backpacking?
The average age of backpackers is 20 to 25, and these young adults take up the biggest portion of backpackers. However, the number of older backpackers (we’re talking 35 up) has been gradually rising since 2002, and it doesn’t seem like it’s going to stop. So, statistically speaking, you’re not too old to go backpacking.
Personally speaking, 40 is also not too old to go backpacking at all! Age is not a barrier to enjoying adventures and making it a fulfilling experience. There are so many fabulous ways to go backpacking. It’s not always about conquering strenuous terrains and challenging conditions.
However, it’s important to keep in mind that different terrains require different fitness levels. Always be mindful of what your health allows or doesn’t allow you to explore. Choose an appropriate destination and prepare well physically and mentally.
Consider Budget And Personal Preferences
Budget is important. You’re travelling alone. There may not be splitting the bills on meals or sharing the costs. It’s just going to be your responsibility and yours alone.
And don’t just pick a place because it’s what everyone’s talking about. Take your personal liking into consideration. Do you prefer solo backpacking in cold or warm climates? Are water activities more your cup of tea or mountain hiking? After all, it’s your own adventure. You want the experience to be what your heart truly loves!
Solo Backpacking On A Budget - How To Find Cheap Flights?
Flying to your destination can be quite expensive, especially during peak tourist season. The best way to find cheap flights is to go online. There are many sites that compare fares from multiple airlines as well as offer discounts.
Skyscanner is one of the most popular flight booking sites. Google Flights is also very well-organised and easy to use. It also has an “anywhere” option that allows you to see the possible lowest fare of any country in the world.
On the same note, make sure you have the right travel documents and visas for your destination. Plus, always, we mean always, buy travel insurance - a fundamental for any trip, solo or not. You’ll thank yourself later when things go wrong.
Solo Backpacking Safety Strategies
Remember to always practise safe travel while solo backpacking. Credit: Ági Szabadi
One of the most asked questions about this form of travel is, “Is solo backpacking dangerous?”. Yes and no. The answer depends on how well you plan and how cautious you are, which applies to any kind of travel, as a matter of fact.
Keeping yourself safe on your solo backpacking trip starts even before you leave the house. It should not be something you do at the last minute or after you’ve arrived at your destination.
And the number one rule is to use travel common sense, regardless of where you are. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the safest places in the world; you should always practise safe travel.
Do Your Homework
It starts with doing your research. And we can’t stress this enough. Research. Research. Research. Especially when you’re solo backpacking, do even more research. Day hikes are generally more recommended, but if a night hike is available, pick a safe and trusted route and campsite.
Start Small With Somewhere Familiar
Start close to home if you’re new to the game. Your first solo backpacking trip doesn’t have to be overseas. Or, you can pick a destination you’ve backpacked to in a group or travelled with family and friends before. This can give you a sense of “practising” for future bigger and better adventures.
Inform Family And Friends
Another important thing to do is let people know you’re going to be travelling alone. It means sharing your itinerary with your family and trusted friends. This includes letting them know your arrival and departure time. Also, check in with family and friends regularly.
Be Mindful Of Local Customs
Also, listen to the locals and respect their rules and regulations. If they tell you a place is not to be trespassed, it’s best that you respect that. On the same note, pay attention to the local culture. Don’t do anything that can yield negative impressions, such as wearing offensive clothing or bringing up controversial topics unprovoked.
Stick To The Well-Beaten Path
As you’re venturing further and further down the road filled with natural wonders, you can easily get distracted from the map. And in the blink of an eye, you’re lost in the middle of nowhere. Or, you are so fascinated and curious about a place you just want to go out of your way to explore it. Even if it means you’ll be the first one to do it.
Well, we hate to break it to you, but real-life solo backpacking is very different from Hollywood movies. You might get lost or, worse, injured on the road. Being on unmarked or isolated roads means there is little to no accessible help and emergency services. And there can also be wild animals that are not very friendly to humans.
So, to stay safe, stick to marked trails. These trails are recognised and accessible by emergency services and local authorities. There are fellow backpackers who will be travelling along the roads as well.
Connect With Others
When you connect with other people, you will have a support network in case something goes wrong. They can help you seek medical assistance, provide guidance or contact local authorities if needed.
You can make friends with local people or backpackers who are very knowledgeable about the area. They are oftentimes familiar with any hazard that isn’t talked about online. They can also be a great source of information about what’s the best route to take or where the view is the best.
Another thing to mention is that it gets lonely sometimes when you’re on the road all by yourself. Making friends with other backpackers is a great way to give yourself an energy boost when you feel a little down. You can share your stories, experiences, or resources to help one another out.
How To Pack For Solo Backpacking
Packing is the make-or-break factor of solo backpacking. Credit: Kyle Lambert
Packing enough is not enough. You need to have a strategy to keep your belongings organised and, most importantly, things inside your backpack don’t get messed up while you move. This happens more often than you’d expect to.
Solo Backpacking Done Right
Being alone 70% of the time means you need to put a lot of effort and care into packing. To begin efficiently packing, consider the following factors:
- The right backpack: it’s your best friend on the road. You don’t want one that’s too small, doesn’t have enough compartments, and is not great for wearing for long hours.
- The ten essentials: Navigation, lighting, protection, first aid, tools, fire, shelter, food and water, clothes, backpack
- Pack light: Be realistic. Bring what you essentially need to carry out your trip.
- Bring a phone (or two): Always bring your phone as it’s one of the fastest ways to reach for help when needed, and it can act as many things at once: a map, a camera, a music player, and a guidebook. Some people advise bringing an extra phone (ideally a cheap one that can only call and text with no personal stuff in it) to use for emergencies.
- Climate: pack clothes suitable for the weather. Opt for clothes that can be layered if you’re solo backpacking somewhere cold. Prioritise breathable fabric for hot climates.
- Length of your trip: for short trips, opt for travel-sized toiletries. For longer trips, consider leaving things you can buy at home at your destination, for example, toothpaste, to avoid overpacking.
- Activities: Will you just be walking and camping? Or doing other activities like swimming and snorkelling? Pack according to the activities you’re planning to do.
How To Pack Efficiently For Solo Backpacking
Here are some useful tips to help keep packing hassle-free and space-saving.
- Use smart packing methods: roll your clothes instead of folding them to avoid wrinkles as well as save space. Rolled-up clothes can be stacked horizontally or vertically or stuffed in between other items.
- Stay organised with packing cubes: packing cubes separate items. You can fill one packing cube with clothes, another one with toiletries, and the other one with electronics.
- Pack heavy items at the bottom: Heavyweight items can be a good foundation for laying other items on top. This also keeps your shoulders from bearing the majority of the weight, which is not a good thing to happen when wearing a backpack.
- Place non-essentials in your backpack first: They are things you might not need immediately once you arrive at your destination, such as a sleeping bag and towels. Then pack essentials later. Doing this can save you a lot of time rummaging through your stuff just to fish out that one that you need at the bottom.
Choose The Right Backpack For Solo Backpacking
ADV backpacks are simple but functional.
First, think of the function. All backpacks can be used to pack. But not every backpack is designed specifically for backpacking travel. You need to find one that can store your gear as well as can handle the weather. Go for a backpack with a high water-resistant rate.
Second, when choosing a backpack for solo backpacking, look at its design. Do you imagine that backpack sitting comfortably on your back for hours? Are the straps soft and durable, or are they thick and stiff?
Compartments are also what you need to keep in mind. More compartments mean you can categorise your essentials better. When you’re solo backpacking, especially in the middle of nature, you’ll always need to have your water ready. Opt for backpacks with a reachable water bottle pocket.
CabinZero’s recommendation: Our ADV backpacks are the go-to backpacks for adventurous travellers. They’re made specifically for wondrous and wild getaways. A special feature in the ADV collection that can give your back some needed relief is a stow-away waist belt.
If you’re thinking of bringing a laptop on your adventure, try the ADV Pro line. It comes with padded laptop sleeves and has more quick-access compartments to store more essentials.
The standard CabinZero’s 32L ADV-ADV Pro backpacks are perfect for moderate hikes, like 2-3 night trips. If you need some extra space, you can go for the 42L ADV bags.
For less challenging terrains, we recommend the Military collection. Military backpacks have front webbing for gear and spacious compartments. Made with military-grade nylon, they are perfect companions for extra adventurous trips.
Solo Backpacking Packing List
Not all solo backpacking trips are the same, and so are their packing lists. You will need to personalise, expand or narrow them down according to your preference.
One thing to keep in mind is to categorise your packing list in order of importance and keep it concise. Think of your trips and all the possible scenarios instead of packing everything and saying, “Well, just in case.” You’re always going to regret overpacking.
But don't rush through it either. Packing can make or break a solo backpacking experience. Here’s a sample solo backpacking packing list for reference:
- Moisture-wicking underwear and socks
- Quick-dry t-shirts or tops
- Long-sleeve shirt for added sun protection or warmth
- Lightweight pants or shorts
- Raincoat or waterproof jacket
- Hat for sun protection
- Swimwear and other related items (if necessary)
- Outerwear (pack according to climates)
- Hiking shoes
- Flip-flops or sandals to wear when you’re not hiking
- Socks (bring extra pairs)
- Travel-size shampoo, shower gel, conditioner and soap
- Toothbrush and toothpaste
- Insect repellent
- Wet wipes, tissue paper, and hand sanitiser
- Feminine hygiene products
- Phones and charger
- Camera and charger (if needed)
- Powerbank (in case you’re in an off-grid place)
- Extension cord
- Earphones or headphones (if needed)
- Speaker (if needed)
- Passport (if you’re abroad)
- Copies of IDs (if needed)
- Cash, credit cards, emergency contact information
- Sleeping bag
- Sleeping pad or mat
- Camping stove and utensils
- Headlamp or flashlight
- Multi-tool or pocket knife
- First-aid kit
- Medication (if needed)
- Water bottle or hydration reservoir
- Snacks or lightweight meals for the journey
- Maps, a guidebook, or GPS device
- Portable clothesline and detergent for laundry
- Packing cubes for organising items and protecting valuables
Is 30 Pounds Too Heavy For Backpacking?
The weight of backpacks can vary depending on your physical strength, the duration of your trip, and the terrain you will be exploring.
But there’s a general rule to determine how heavy you can pack your backpack. The total weight of your backpack should not exceed 20% of your body weight.
For example, if you weigh around 150 pounds, a 30-pound backpack is a bit heavy. For short hiking trips with just plain walking, this won’t be a problem. But for longer trips or difficult terrains, you might need to leave a few things at home.
A good trick to test if your backpack is too heavy for you is to try wearing them while doing stuff around the house. You can even wear it while working out at the gym if you can.
- Can you sit down and stand back up comfortably?
- Can you walk up and down the stairs easily with it on your back?
- Is anything digging or tugging painfully?
Also, make a realistic and personalised packing list to avoid overpacking. Stick to the essentials, and pack efficiently using the right travel gear to make it easier.
Ready For Your First Solo Backpacking Gig?
Learning how to solo backpacking is not a day’s work. It takes a lot of research and practise.
Not all first solo backpacking trips are textbook perfect. Even pro and hardcore backpackers don’t even say all of their trips are 100% flawless. But just by being well-prepared and carefully planned, you’re already halfway there.
Remember, the core of a good solo backpacking trip starts with these factors: plan well, pack right, and practise safe travel.
If you find this article useful, don’t forget to let us know in the comment section or reach out to us via social media. More than anything, we love to hear all about your amazing travel experience.
Nguyen Tran Gia Khanh