8 Lessons I’ve Learnt Backpacking

After 32 countries, more than 9 months on the move and countless budget flights, hostels and sleeper trains: I’ve discovered more than few tricks of the savvy traveller. Some will save you money, others will save you time, but they’re lessons worth knowing before setting out on a trip.

1. Don’t queue for security

Lines at airport security are known to be nothing less than horrendous. I’ve spent more than an hour waiting to pass through body scanners and past the x-ray machines. Doing so is a waste of time. Airports don’t want you to miss your flight, it means more hassle for them and their staff. Wait for the departure boards to say boarding, then head to security. Generally planes start loading 30 minutes before takeoff. When you get to security make a member of staff aware you’re there, you’ll be ushered through while everyone else stands and waits, fiddling with plastic bags and passports.

2. Fly to a less popular airport, it can be considerably cheaper

In Summer 2015 I wanted to go to Albania. Like all my trips, it was a last minute thing. My dates were right in the middle of the summer holidays when flights are at their most expensive. British Airways fly direct to the capital Tirana, but being the only airline to go direct from the UK they have a monopoly over the route. Instead of fork out hundreds of pounds, I flew to Ohrid in Macedonia. Wizz Air fly from Luton airport once a day, return flights cost £23. I then took a bus to Albania, its capital city is just two hours away from Ohrid and a pleasant ride along a newly built motorway through the mountains. Yes, it took a little longer but I had an extra £200 for my trip.

3. Fly budget

For trips to the continent budget airlines are the same as national carriers like BA. Get over the budget air shame and do it. It’s two hour of your life. Ryanair do flights as cheap as £4 each way, just take your own food and entertainment. Use Fare Finders on airline websites, you’ll find the best fares that other people aren’t finding and get inspiration to go to places you normally wouldn’t have thought of visiting.

4. Your hand baggage isn’t weighed

I have never had my hand baggage weighed. Regular flyers will have noticed airlines are more concerned about whether your bags will fit in the overhead lockers than how much they weigh. Limits vary between airlines on how much you can take with you as hand baggage, most will give you a 15kg allowance. Pack well, you can fit everything you need for a week (or two) into a small bag and should never have to pay for hold luggage. If you regularly fly from the same airport, buy something at duty free before you board and keep the bag. If you can’t fit everything in one bag you can put it in the carrier bag and it’ll look like a purchase you made at the airport.

5. Be a chatty Cathy

Talk to EVERYONE, you’ll be surprised how far it can take you.I once had dinner with the family of the winner of the Montenegrin version of X Factor after meeting him in a shared taxi. Being friendly and talkative can bring about some amazing experiences. I always make an effort to get to know the hostel owners and staff. Free beers and better rooms are common, plus you make some great friends.

6. Avoid airport ‘express’ services

They are a rip off. End of. There is always a cheaper way to get to the airport. Recently I flew from Gatwick. Forking out £35.50 for a return ticket on the ‘Gatwick Express’ ticket from London Victoria was never going to happen. Finding myself in the middle of the capital, I made my way to London Bridge and opted for the much cheaper Thameslink service. For an extra 15 minutes on the train I saved £26. Plus I got to see sunny Croydon as we trundled slowly above its suburbs.

7. There’s an app for that

On my phone I have no less than 23 airline, public transport and accommodation apps;  they are invaluable. The best for finding cheap flights is Kiwi. If you’re not sure where you want to go it’ll show you the cheapest flights to everywhere from all airports within a 250km radius of your location.

DBahn is the best for trains on mainland Europe. The app is run by Germany’s train operator and is ridiculously efficient. It will only show you prices for journeys starting in Germany, but is useful for looking up times for journeys outside it. The app shows you who operates the trains so you can go and book the tickets yourself. It covers most countries in Europe.

8. You don’t need all that stuff

The biggest mistake most people make is taking everything they own. You don’t need that much stuff and it makes you so much less flexible when you have a huge bag. I always aim to take enough clothes to see me through four days.I never stay anywhere much longer than that so nobody sees you wear the same outfit twice, and it’s enough time to be able to wash clothes and get them dried again. When it comes to clothes make sure each item goes with at least two other items you’re taking – if it doesn’t leave it at home. It’s often cheaper to buy clothes abroad so always leave some room. About half of my wardrobe is made up of clothes I bought in Serbia during the summer for half the price of what they would have been in the UK.