Going overseas to backpack
Many Australians consider backpacking as a rite-of-passage. Like all travellers, backpackers are not immune to risks. Risks to backpackers can be serious due to the low budget and 'off the beaten track' approach.
This page provides general tips on travelling as a backpacker. Explore this page for general advice about:
Read this page in conjunction with the travel advisories for your destinations, and the Consular Services Charter.
Planning your trip
Do your research before you go
Your first step when planning your trip is to do your research. There's useful information on travel websites, blogs and social media for backpackers.
No matter how adventurous your travel is, chances are someone has done it before. They have likely shared their experience about it online. Always check sources and references. Do not assume they are authoritative as laws and destinations change.
Find out about visas
Due to the multi-destination nature of backpacking, ensure you have the right visas and travel documents before you go.
Countries with a shared border could have different entry requirements for Australian travellers.
We can't tell you what visas you need. Check with the embassy or consulate of the country you plan to visit for up-to-date visa information.
Read more general advice and information on visas.
Organise your money
Check with your bank about the best ATM card options for travellers. Many major banks offer debit/credit cards with lower ATM fees and exchange rate surcharges than their standard cards.
Carry an emergency cash reserve in a major international currency (USD, Euro) in case something happens to your card.
If you run out of money overseas, you'll need to seek help from your family or friends. The Australian government can't give or loan you money.
Get your travel insurance
Take out the most comprehensive travel insurance. Even if you don't plan on any risky activity. White-water rafting, hopping on a scooters or bungee jumping may tempt you!
Make sure your travel insurance policy covers all the countries you plan to visit and transit through. You may need to pay for extra cover for increased risk activities.
Think about mobile phone rates
Check with your phone provider about data roaming charges and international call costs. It may be a better option to buy a local prepaid SIM card from the country you visit.
General packing and planning tips
- Be realistic about what you pack, because whatever you take, you’ll have to carry. You might even buy more things as you travel.
- Leave an itinerary – no matter how basic – with someone at home, and plan to keep in regular contact.
- Scan or photocopy your passport and important documents (your insurance policy and tickets). Leave them with someone you can contact in an emergency.
- Subscribe to receive travel advice updates for the countries you plan to visit.
Making sensible travel choices
Staying safe getting around
Cheap transport options are available but pose risks to the ill-informed backpacker.
- Arrange transfers in advanced to avoid unlicensed and illegal operators at transport hubs.
- Use only officially-licensed and reputable transport companies.
- Sit in the back seat when travelling with a driver and avoid train carriages in which you're the only rider.
- Sit with your belongings within arm's reach to avoid theft. An unsecured car boot, bus luggage compartment or end of a train carriage is not ideal.
- Don’t hitchhike.
When travelling alone with a driver, act as if someone is expecting you and will raise an alarm if you don't arrive. Make a phone call or mention to your driver that someone is waiting for you at your destination.
Read more advice on getting around safely.
Staying safe in your accommodation
Staying in budget accommodation can be a great way to meet other backpackers on your journey. Keep in mind the following tips to ensure your safety:
- Book accommodation before you get there. Especially if you're due to arrive at night.
- If travelling alone, avoid accommodation in isolated areas. Checking online reviews and maps for the location. A little extra money for a more centralised location goes a long way.
- If staying in dorm accommodation, make sure you specify whether you want to be in a single-sex or mixed room.
- If your accommodation is secure with a safe only you have access to, lock your valuables in the safe.
- Unless locked in a safe, avoid keeping all your valuables in one location. Keep copies of your passport.
- Avoid rooms on the ground floor as these are the most prone to break-ins.
- Note emergency exits and emergency contingency plans so you are ready to act in an emergency. Evacuation procedures and building standards are often less rigorous overseas than in Australia.
- Ask staff to write down the address and phone number of your accommodation in the local language.
Avoid sharing accommodation with strangers or people you have just met, particularly if you are travelling alone.
Staying in someone's house (including arrangements to rent a spare room or couch) can leave you especially vulnerable. Offers of free accommodation are almost always too good to be true.
Read more advice on staying safe and avoiding danger.
Going out and partying
- Don’t drink to excess or take drugs that might make you more vulnerable or impair your decision making. Some countries have drugs laws that seem harsh by Australian standards. Penalties can include imprisonment or the death penalty.
- Never leave your drink unattended or in the care of a stranger or new friend. Drink-spiking is common around the world.
- Be careful about what information you share when out in public. Keep your accommodation details and whether you are travelling alone to yourself.
- Avoid walking alone after dark or in isolated areas.
- Be aware of cultural standards. For example, in some cultures, women shaking hands with men is unacceptable. Simple gestures such as eye contact with a man or sitting in the front seat of a taxi may seem a sexual advance.
- If you are visiting new friends, have independent control over your travel options.
Read more general advice on partying safely.
Staying health conscious
- Recognise your limits. Backpacking often has more adventure and less downtime than you’re used to. Excessive partying can impair judgement and have longer-term consequences than a hangover.
- If you are travelling alone and become ill, get to a health facility as soon as you can.
- In some countries, supplies of contraceptives, including condoms, can be unreliable or unavailable. It may be best to buy these in advance.
- The risk of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV, is much higher in some countries than in Australia.
Read more general advice on taking care of your health.
- See our advice for school leavers travelling for schoolies.
- See our advice about volunteering overseas.
- Advice for lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans and intersex (LGBTI) travellers.
- Learn about travelling with a mental health condition.
- Learn about looking after your health.
- Stay safe and stay within the law.
- Read our advice about partying safely.
- Reduce the risk of sexual assault overseas.
- Read our advice about the risks of carrying or using drugs.
If you're going overseas to get married, this page provides general advice about getting legally married overseas.
At any time there’s around one million Australians living and working overseas. Properly preparing for a long stint will make the transition less stressful.