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Urban backpacking

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Urban backpacking

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Urban backpacking is a form of travel focussing on flexibility and low cost, usually sleeping in hostels and other budget accommodation.

For information on hiking in areas away from civilization, sleeping in tents or cabins, see wilderness backpacking.


The term "backpacker" most commonly refers to the budget traveller, student or Gap Year participant who is spending an extended period of time travelling, and sometimes working, overseas.

Backpackers are renowned for carrying their belongings in large rucksacks on their backs, and remain mobile and interested in a grassroots style of travel, usually staying in hostels which provide dormitory style facilities or in other types of similarly low-budget accommodation.


Backpackers know no borders and can be found travelling all parts of the globe. Famous destinations include Australia and New Zealand, Europe, South America, India, and Thailand.

New backpacker hot spots now include Eastern Europe, China and the South Pacific.

Get around

Backpacking works best in areas where public transportation is readily available, both between cities and within them (such as much of Europe). Where private automobiles dominate (as in much of North America) or transport in general is sketchy (as in much of the developing world), you'll depend more on hitchhiking to get from place to place, which can be less dependable and less safe.

Backpackers are renowned for their desire to travel large distances at the least expense possible. Popular means of travel include:

  • Rail
  • Boat
  • Bus
  • Backpacker Tours
  • Hop-on Hop-off transport



Unlike the business traveller who can expect his upmarket hotel to provide full services, you need to carry:

  • a towel and soap
  • a clothes line for your laundry

A sarong is lightweight and remarkably versatile — beach blanket, wrap, furniture cover.


Backpackers often purchase raw ingredients locally and cook their own meals, as this is the cheapest option. Many hostels have kitchens and cooking utensils for this purpose. Kitchen etiquette demands:

  • Don't dominate shared resources, such as refrigerator space, stove space, pots, etc.
  • Don't steal shared cookware.
  • Wash pots, pans, dishes, silverware, etc. immediately after you use them.
  • If you have food, utensils, or anything else you don't need anymore, consider donating them.
  • Write your name on anything you put in a shared refrigerator, and don't leave it there to get moldy.

Some hostels provide food to their guests. This may be included in the price of a bed, or it may be an additional purchase.

Backpackers also patronize street vendors and inexpensive restaurants. Some establishments give discounts to guests of nearby hostels.



Backpackers favour cheap hostel and hotel accommodation. Other popular ways of travelling and saving on accommodation costs include all inclusive coach tours, camping and hiring a campervan.

Accommodation standards in the backpacker price range vary for each region of the world. Europe and Australia have some of the best types of backpacker hostels, whilst America is yet to embrace the backpacking culture and motel accommodation is more common.

Asia is relatively cheap and backpackers favour staying in hotels or local homestays.


Youth hostels and budget hotels are the best bets for inexpensive accommodation. You may give up some privacy with shared bathrooms and even shared rooms, but it also gives you a chance to meet fellow travelers. Backpacking has gradually started changing from being very basic to more "resort-like" purpose built-residences also known as "flashpackers".


Bringing a tent and camping out can bring a backpacking trip down from "affordable" to "cheap". One problem is that campsites tend to be on the outskirts of cities far from sights you might want to see, and may not be served well by local public transportation. They often have all the natural charm of a parking lot and the all the modern comforts of... a parking lot. OK, usually with a group bathroom and showers, laundry facilities of some kind, and maybe a place to get snacks. In many places, most of your camping neighbors will be car/caravan/camper users, but some sites will have an area set aside for tents. Ask about rates before booking a stay; they may charge you as much for your 2-person tent as for a 30-foot RV.

Stay safe

See staying safe.

See also pickpockets for information on security measures.

Stay healthy

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