Travelling comes in many different forms, from travelling for work or business to package holidays; from a pilgrimage to simply going to visit friends or family in other parts of the world. Possibly the most ambiguous, open-ended and adventurous kind is backpacking. Mostly favoured by young people with a little bit of money to spend and no commitments, it can be the ultimate life-changing experience, depending on how you go about it and how you prepare.
But to define backpacking absolutely is virtually impossible. If travel categories were wines, backpacking would be table wine -it covers every region of the world; it can be a little rough until you get used to it; and it's cheap, so it lasts as long as you have the stomach for it. But the ultimate backpacking adventure basically involves going as far as you can for as long as you can, and it's for anyone of any age with itchy feet.
Accommodation and Travel ExpensesSubscribing to this objective requires doing everything as cheaply as possible - the longer your money lasts, the longer your journey lasts, so the more you can cut down on your two greatest costs the better.
Backpackers tend to stay in the lowest quality accommodation. In big cities that's hostels or, if you carry a tent, campsites. Such places offer little security so you should never carry anything valuable that's not essential, however, they are also full of likeminded travellers and there is an unmistakable common understanding that bridges languages and cultures. A few nights in a hostel and you'll learn more about the place than in weeks of research from home and make valuable friends in the process.
As for getting around, you'll find transport in the rest of the world is considerably cheaper than it is in the UK. A lot of people take a flight to their starting point, booking in advance to get the cheapest option, and then using the various overland travel options available - which depends entirely on where in the world you are.
Trains and buses offer a good way to see the landscape by day and a saving on accommodation by night, though in the poorer parts of the world there are often safety issues to consider. Renting or even buying your own transport is an option if you have the money, as is hitch-hiking.
Research and PreparationYou may think it's difficult to prepare if you want to have an open itinerary, but the most important things to do first of all are to sort out what documentation you need (passport, visas, etc.), your jabs and medical insurance, and then research your destinations. Pure saturation is the best way to go about it, just read and read and read as much as you can. Formulate a plan as you go along if you like, but you should be flexible and open to the possibility of changing it once you're on the road.
As well as published literature, you should get onto online travel forums, where you'll find an infinite amount of information and advice from other travellers and if you want to, make contacts and find travel companions.
Destinations and ItinerariesFollowing suggested itineraries may defeat the purpose of backpacking in some people's minds, but if you're looking to join the trail of the armies of backpackers out there, to enter into that wonderful brotherhood of adventurers, then you may like to start with the one of the four most popular regions - South East Asia, India, Europe and Australia.
However, there's really nowhere in the world that is out of bounds to backpackers. To really go off the beaten track, try the Middle East or Africa, though these places can be dangerous and probably not the best idea for first time travellers.
The first rule of backpacking is that there are no rules. The best plan to have is one that is flexible and open to complete and total upheaval at any moment. However, the more you can learn before you set off the better chance you'll have of having a truly fulfilling, life-changing experience.