This is a term that came into use during the 1960s and 70s to describe self-organised adventure travel when only provisional plans are made in advance.
In the early years, 'hitchhiking' by thumbing lifts from the side of the road was the usual way of getting around. This was a very popular way of travelling and exploring for the young on a tight budget and was usually safe if sensible precautions were taken.
Backpacking in one’s own or nearby countries was very popular but now that air travel is freely available and relatively cheap, other countries such as in South and East Asia have become common destinations.
They may then be more likely to wander into areas of political or civil unrest. Pre-travel health advice may be difficult if the backpacker is uncertain of their likely itinerary.
However following the advent of widespread access to the internet and mobile phones, regular advice on safety is easily available through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s website.
Travellers who are likely to changing or adjust their itineraries while away can access health advice during the trip from the FitForTravel website
Though an exciting and challenging way to explore other countries and cultures, backpacking can be exhausting and a degree of culture shock is almost inevitable.
Spare money for the odd night in comfort to recuperate is a good idea and can also cover the option of an early return home if required.
In the past accommodation was usually arranged on a day-by-day basis in youth hostels or camping. This is less so now with the advent of mobile phones and on-line advance booking.
Being prepared to buy, often cheap, additional items en route can prevent setting out with an unreasonably bulky and heavy rucksack.
Items such as water purifiers and mosquito nets may be necessary.
Some backpackers go on organized routes and their luggage is transported for them at a small charge by road to their next stop.
There seems to be more fear nowadays than in the past regarding safety issues when hitchhiking
This fear applies to both to the hitchhiker and the driver who offers the lifts. Whether this apprehension is based on fact is unclear but may be due to more publicity when things go wrong.
A sensible precaution to reduce the risk of assault or mugging is to avoid travelling alone and politely refuse a lift if a motorist stops and there is anything to suggest there may be problems (e.g. asking for payment).
More commonly backpackers now travel using cheap public transport on a day-by-day basis.
Backpackers can risk of being involved in and causing serious accidents if they are hitching for lifts close to the side of busy roads.
Common health risks include diarrhoea, accidents and sunburn.
Since the standard of accommodation is likely to be unpredictable backpackers may be exposed to more food poisoning than the package tourist. Self-cooking can reduce this risk if care is taken.
Sleeping in unprotected accommodation or tents can lead to exposure to insects such as mosquitoes and ticks. Fever in countries where malaria is present needs immediate attention
Comprehensive travel insurance including repatriation cover is essential.
Backpackers often have the opportunity to meet up with similar like-minded travellers
Those specifically intending to mix with locals and visit isolated communities should realise their is likely to be a difference in the local culture, customs and values from that with which they are familiar and this should be respected, Female travellers, for example, should be advised to respect local dress code such as covering legs and shoulders, and be careful about casual contact or conversations which could be misinterpreted.
Sometimes travelling alone can lead to loneliness and 'drifting' into unfamiliar and possible dangerous communal lifestyles. Peer pressure can lead to activities such using unsafe motorbike transport, drug taking and unprotected sex.