How to Backpack in Central America – A Budget Traveler’s Guide – Part 1

Traveling cheaply is easy to do if you know where to start. And once you do hop on to that “backpackers trail”, you will be exposed to interesting people from all over the world, doing exactly what you are doing! It creates an instant bond and instant friendships. Nothing gets you more entrenched in the local culture than seeking out the lower end deals.How to PackHow you do this will make or break your trip. First, you will need a backpack. And not the one you used for school, but a proper, sturdy, backpacker’s backpack. You can find these at sporting good’s stores, like REI. Expect to pay around $150-280 for a good one. You want one that is durable and can withstand being tossed around by bus drivers. If you wish to avoid this expense, ask around to see if any friends have a backpack you can borrow. I bet you’d be surprised at how many actually do.Now remember that you will be carrying everything you own on your back, so pack only the necessities. A few tips:o bring clothes that don’t wrinkle easily
o toiletries should all be travel sized
o don’t bring a new change of clothes for every day, but interchange and recycle outfits (if you’re in a
new city every 2-3 days, no one will know anyway!)
o don’t forget essentials like bug spray, a flashlight, sunscreen, batteries, and wet wipes
o plastic bags for wet or dirty items
o rolling your clothes instead of folding allows for more room, and less wrinkles
o plug converters if needed
o Swiss army knife
o travel alarm clock
o Ziploc bags
o travel toilet paper
o towel
o small first aid kitWhere To StayHostels are the most likely choice for traveling on a dime. They are abundant and varied, so it isn’t difficult finding one that will cater to your needs, at a fraction of the cost of a hotel. A great resource I frequently use is http://hostelworld.com/.This site allows you to input the country and city of your destination and when you will be there, and subsequently pulls up the hostels with those available dates. Also included is thorough information about the hostel, and booking options.Single, Double, and Private beds are available. When traveling alone or with one other friend, I recommend always staying in the dorm rooms. It is the best way to meet other friends, find who you will be traveling with next, and expand your social network. Private rooms are nice as well, but you will have to work a bit harder to meet other people staying in your hostel.Hostels exist in order to give travelers a respite from expensive hotel prices and to socialize. Because of this, there is always a social area where everyone can gather and have a chat and a beer. I recommend that as you start to travel to various places, talk to the other travelers in your hostel to see which ones they recommend. You will always meet someone who has already been where you are going, and their point of view is often the most accurate and reliable. Books like Lonely Planet are invaluable resources that I never leave home without, but are about 2-3 years out of date when they finally come into print. While the maps and other pertinent information will be accurate, some of the hostels mentioned may no longer exist. Hostels are the ideal money-saving move, dorm rooms costing as little at $6/night, whereas privates can run a bit more pricey at around $25-35/night.I hope this has helped you get started on planning your next budget vacation. Part 2 to follow shortly will cover what to do when you arrive at your destination, and what to expect culturally.