Over the years hostels have gone steadily up market and many now boast Internet cafes, bars , swimming pools and tourist agencies! A dorm in a hostel used to be the only option for solo travelers except for an expensive, and rare, single rooms (usually at almost the same price as a double). Now however as dorms have got smaller often only 4 or 6 beds it can often suite friends or two couples travelling together. Many hostels now have doubles and family rooms some even with en-suites.

The line between hostels, pensions, guest hostels and their variants in several languages have really blurred. Hostels do generally have some type of self catering facility. In some countries, for example, Australia you may get similar facilities in a caravan park which often have on-site vans catering for non-tent travelling guests.

Its hard to define what backpacking is and quite possibly it is just a state of mind. I’ve felt like I’m backpacking when staying in 3 star hotel in Bangkok complete with pool and room service. At the end of the day I think backpacking is an attitude which is characterized by:

  • Flexible plans, you may have an idea of where you are going and some firm dates such as flights but at the end of the day you might end up doing something totally different depending on random factors such as weather, your health, and what you discover along the way.
  • Paying less for accommodation so you can spend more on everything else. Paying less for accommodation generally gets you closer to the locals and if you are travelling solo is whole lot less lonely as you will meet other tourists. On the contrary I will sometimes pay for first class accommodation just as a break – its the mid-range stuff I am not interested in. Often the only extras your extra US$20 or US$50 buys you in a mid-range place is tackier decoration and bad TV. Spend a bit more though and you can have a real classy spot for not much more than a motel or cheap hotel in the Western world. Some tricks for staying at expensive hotels on a budget click here.
  • Generally setting off with few reservations allowing you to make it up as you go along.
  • Traveling light, taking less luggage, will give you the freedom to take pubilc transport and climb the stairs with your own gear!

Is backpacking for you?:

Backpacking suits those Backpacking is not so good if you
can live with a bit of uncertainty enjoy your privacy
can survive without a private bathroom are a light sleeper
perfect for solo travellers want to meet the locals
good for couples who want to meet others

Best Backpacking Countries

Backpacking works best in western countries where hotels are expensive and a well-developed hostel network have involved, often associated with backpacker “hop on hop off” buses. Classic backpacking locations include: Australia, New Zealand, Western Europe and United Kingdom, Canada and (to a lesser extent) the USA. In South East Asia and India you will probably staying in hotels rather than hostels, except in the biggest cities.

Not-so good Backpacking Countries

Some countries require pre-booking either because of politics – e.g. Russia and some of its former, now independent vassals e.g. Ukraine. Other countries with of limited accommodation you may need to book accommodation before leaving the airport e.g. Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga. Some countries just don’t want to be over-run by tourists and therefore don’t issue visas without a tour being booked e.g. Bhutan, Libya. Some just don’t want you (Saudi Arabia) or are way too dangerous (Iraq).

What has changed in the last 10 years

It used to be the only way to book a hostel was to send an international money order 6 weeks in advance and hope. Today on-line booking services for hostels make it easy and last minute deals for hotels and apartments can offer good value Often too you can read traveler’s ratings of hostels- remember where they are coming from – if an 18-year old gives an Australian hostel a low rating because it’s “too quiet” I would probably count that as a bonus!

Hostels these days have greatly improved facilities e.g. Wireless Internet, Internet cafes, en suites, luggage lockers, cafes,no lock out or secure access for late night returns! Chores are no longer assigned each morning! You are just as likely to meet families and older people as well as teenaged “gapers”. The kitchen will include a microwave as well as stove top. If the climate is right a swimming pool is not out of the question.

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