Travel Essentials for First-Time Backpackers

Written by: Shin Kitane/Thursday, Jan 18, 2018 09:22 AM

If you've been wondering about how backpackers manage to trot the globe with only a backpack (and a huge dose of wanderlust) in tow, well, read on. We talked to our friends over at ZEN Rooms Global, whose travel photos and corporate responsibilities scream #TravelGoals. 

Backpacking is a form of cost-efficient traveling, characterized by carrying one's belongings in a backpack for ease of mobility (thus the name), as well as hiking, taking public transportation, and staying in inexpensive lodging.

ZEN Rooms boasts of budget-friendly lodging across the world that are still clean, stylish, and comfortable. This one's in Chiang Mai.

As opposed to more conventional vacations, backpacking usually lasts for longer periods of time, hence the helpfulness of finding less expensive ways to travel, dine, and explore.

Now before you dismiss backpacking as just for the hardcore travelers, we're glad to have you know that these tips might actually change your mind, especially if you want to travel to more places for less money. These experienced backpackers, who hail from  different countries, will share some helpful advice and tell us stories about their own adventures and misadventures.


The #ZENBackpackerSquad


A team of corporate go-getters who are also weekend warriors; You’ll rarely see them staying at home during their free time, as they’re always exploring their country or traversing different places in Asia and beyond, usually with their most trusted stylish backpacks. They are very wise with their spending, going the road less traveled because according to them, it’s more fun, authentic and most of all, affordable! They stay in the budget travelers’ favorite hotel chain ZEN Rooms because it has everything they need: free fast Wi-Fi, 24/7 service, clean spotless beds, and is accessible to all destinations that backpackers desire.  Talk about quality and affordable stays--definitely a major win for millennials.

Rangga Putra - ZEN Rooms’ Content Executive based in Indonesia who is in love with street food hunting and everything budget! Favorite countries include Japan, Thailand, and his motherland.  

Vidi Prima - ZEN Rooms’ Communications Manager in Indonesia; a petite Indonesian woman who has a big appetite for traveling, surfing, trekking, making friends with locals, and meeting fellow backpackers! Favorite countries are Indonesia, Vietnam, United Kingdom, Japan, and Switzerland!

Sam Combe - to his mother's disbelief, he made the decision to ditch his London banking job and flew out to Manila to work in the Hotel Operations of ZEN Rooms. He has then been in love with the country and has traveled to several islands in Southeast Asia, while trying out canyoneering, trekking, and everything outdoorsy! His fave countries are Vietnam and Rwanda. 

Dani Vitriolo - ZEN Rooms’ Marketing Manager in the Philippines who is in love with her own country. An advocate of traveling local, she made it her personal mission to go to all 81 islands in the Philippines, and trek 30 mountains before she reaches 30! She dreams to retire in Siargao or some remote surf island. Her other favorites include Taiwan, Thailand, and Vietnam. 


Q: What are the top ten travel essentials that you think first-time backpackers should know about?


The Backpack - it doesn't have to be the type that you carry on your back, it can really be any type of bag you like; This is your best travel buddy--it can and should contain everything that you need!

Smartphone - aside from using it as your camera and video recorder, your phone should also have all the apps needed in backpacking, such as a language translator, and the ZEN Rooms app, your one-stop shop for the best quality budget hotels in Southeast Asia.

Neck pillow -  well, you might end up sleeping in the streets or on a hammock during your travels, so a good ol' neck pillow assures you still get quality naps!  

Power bank - because backpacking will bring you to the most unexpected places, such as towns and forests with no electricity and signal, a high-capacity power bank will come in very handy

Resealable Bags - these are a cheap way to keep your electronics splash-proof yet still accessible when doing extreme sports. 

UV sunglasses - a good pair of UV sunglasses will protect your eyes when you end up in sunny spots and will make you instantly look good on camera!

Good book - when all else fails, a good book can be your source of entertainment.  

First aid kit -  we can never predict what will happen while traveling; also, in the event that there isn't a hospital is nearby, it's always smart to stock up on painkillers, bandaids, and vitamins.

Extension cable/ plug adapter -  these are very important if you’re travelling to multiple locations, or are unsure of the outlet types in a certain country/region. 

Ear plugs - very useful for blocking out unwanted noise--maybe an annoying seatmate or the natural sounds in a plane cabin. 


Q: Based on your experience, what are some challenges travelers should prepare for when backpacking?


Strict budgeting pre-travel. Before your trip, you will have to cut down on eating out, shopping, partying, and spending on non-necessities to save up for your adventure! 

Language barrier. It will be a challenge when you travel in places where English isn’t the main language as you won’t know how to ask around when you’re lost or in trouble. It’s sometimes beautiful though to appreciate foreign words even without knowing what they mean!

Physical strength and endurance. Many people get too excited about planning their itinerary that they forget to prepare their body for the trip. When backpacking, we have to prepare for things our bodies don’t normally do such as carrying a big, bulky bag while walking miles just to cut on transport. So, spare your time to exercise at least 1 month before your trip, and don’t forget your first-aid kit!


Q: What are the perks of backpacking compared to other more traditional ways of traveling?


First, it is way cheaper of course.

You’ll also gain more unique and  authentic experiences. As a backpacker, you get to experience a whole lot of things that the average tourist would consider gross or dangerous, such as sleeping in a hammock, eating with locals, walking for miles instead of using Uber.  

Every single place you visit would seem more meaningful as you’ve put extra effort in visiting and exploring these destinations. After your backapcking escapade, you’ll appreciate the simple things in life that you usually take for granted, such as food, airconditioning, or the comforts of home.

You also get to be the captain of your own ship, so to speak. SInce a backpacker doesn’t usually follow an itinerary, being a backpacker lets you freely explore the world the way you want it. You'll still need a bit of planning within a limited time frame, but it feels much more liberating to direct your own trip rather than let somebody else schedule your activities.

You'll also be more creative and strategic, since you always have to think about the smartest move to make your trip amazing with a very limited budget. This mode of traveling also introduces you to many new interesting people with creative minds and adventurous spirits!

Q: Can you share some funny/embarrassing experiences during your own trips?


Vidi: When I was backpacking to Scotland, I stayed at a female dorm room inside a hostel. When I arrived at my room around 4 PM, no one’s there, so I took a bath while singing and got comfortably naked, until I heard a heavy male voice saying, "Uhm, nice voice." 

Turns out, I booked a mixed dorm room. 

Rangga: I wasn’t aware that people are strictly not allowed to answer their phones and talk loud in public transport in Japan so I answered a video call from my friend. After a 2-minute talk, an old woman rushed to me and yelled “Auto turn off ya, Auto turn off!”  with a very angry face. 


We hope you found these tips useful, and that if you ever find yourself searching for a nice and budget-friendly place to stay while traveling, you'll consider ZEN Rooms as your choice. Here are some of their hotel rooms around the world:

Makati, Metro Manila, Philippines

Yogyakarta, Indonesia

Phuket, Thailand

Bali, Indonesia

Taguig, Philippines

Tagaytay, Philippines

About Shin Kitane
Shin Kitane writes to remember and believes that words have the power to heal, inspire, and move others. She dreams of a world where men and women are treated equally, where race, gender, and religion are not measures of one's worth in society. She is also a book-hoarder and a firm believer in re-watching Mean Girls and Harry Potter multiple times a year. Follow her misadventures @shinkitane on social media.
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