Backpacking is an exciting, budget-friendly way to travel that allows you to connect with local communities and the world around you. And the best part about backpacking is it’s the most diverse way to travel! Warm or cold climates, islands or mountain tops, solo or part of a group; here are Gabby Beckford of Packs Light’s best destinations and experiences to tick off your backpacking bucket list.

Backpacker Gabby takes a selfie on her first day of the trip backpacking the Landmannalaugar trail in Iceland in 2013
Gabby backpacking Iceland's Landmannalaugar trail in 2013 © Gabby Beckford / Lonely Planet

Live the legend at Tiger Leaping Gorge, China

This hike will suit those starting out or looking for a more relaxed adventure. In Tiger Leaping Gorge you’ll walk along the famous Jinsha River for roughly 10 miles. One of the deepest river canyons in the world, this trail attained its name in typical Chinese-folklore fashion: legend says that a tiger was being chased by a hunter when it escaped by making a daring leap across the 30m wide river.

Be slightly haunted by a shared accommodation experience

Hostel/shared accommodation life is standard on long-haul backpacking trips. It’s practically an initiation rite to stay in a dorm and see something you can never unsee. Ask me about the guy in Georgia who drunkenly brought a stray cat into the room in the middle of the night to sleep in his bunk…

A young woman stands at the top of Mount Abraham, along the Appalachian Trail in Maine's western mountains on an overcast day
Fully hiking the Appalachian Trail takes 5-7 months © Chris Bennett / Getty Images

Appalachian Trail, USA

Passing through my home state of Virginia, the Appalachian Trail hosts some of the most beautiful autumn colours you will ever see. The entire trail takes around five to seven months to complete so this isn’t a simple walk in the park – but it could include a pass through Shenandoah National Park, as well as 13 other states, Civil War battlefields, interesting rock formations like McAfee Knob, and many small mountain towns.

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Everest Base Camp, Nepal

Climbing Mt Everest in the Himalayas is a dream of most avid outdoor adventurists. A much more affordable, attainable, and safe option is to hike to Everest Base Camp, which can be reached from both Tibet and Nepal. The 5000ft ascent hosts incredible views and the opportunity to experience Sherpa culture via experienced guides.

Make instant best friends with a fellow backpacker

You know how it is. You stop to rest and someone else is already there. You get to chatting and next thing you know you’re laughing and sharing trail snacks like you were best friends in the third grade. You both know it’s temporary, as short as that snack session, but there’s no denying the energy! That ability to instantly connect is one of the best aspects of backpacking.

A view of of the colourful, cluttered houses on the Cinque Terre backpacking trail at Manarola
View of the famous Cinque Terre © Gabby Beckford / Lonely Planet

Cinque Terre, Italy

You’ve likely seen these colourful stacked buildings everywhere from Instagram to magazines. The coastal villages are connected by a network of trails worth exploring, the most popular of which is the Sentiero Azzurro. Some may come to Cinque Terre for the photos and Aperol spritzes, but those who take the time to backpack the trails have a special experience of ‘The Five Lands’.

The Avenue of Volcanoes, Ecuador

At the Avenue of Volcanoes in Quito you’ll experience the turquoise-green waters of Lake Quilotoa, the hardened lava from the chain of volcanoes linking Chimborazo to Cotopaxi. With all of the beautiful natural landmarks you’ll encounter, the friendly locals will be the cherry on top of your backpacking experience. 

Collect money from every country you visit

Magnets are a cliché, clothes take up too much space, and postcards get crumpled. Money is an effortless (often accidental) trip reminder to keep hold of that has historical, cultural and monetary value from the respective country. And, of course, it can simply be fun to compare the different art and colours between each country’s currency!

Plevenon, Bretagne, France. A family hiking along part of the GR-20 trail through purple heath meadows on the Atlantic Coast
Take in the sights, sounds and smells on the GR-20 trail © makasana photo / Shutterstock

GR-20, France

Corsica, France is the ideal location for those wanting a classic romp through the French countryside. GR is shorthand for Grand Randonnee, meaning ‘great trek’ – this trail isn’t afraid to toot its French horn. GR-20’s 112-mile hike is not for beginners, but rewards those who scale the 7300ft elevation with snowy peaks, vast craters, lakes, and forests.

Simien Mountains, Ethiopia

This underrated 83-mile trek takes travellers through Ethiopia’s Simien Mountains National Park, a Unesco World Heritage site. Plan to spend around 10 days soaking in the diverse landscape with a local guide and, if you’re lucky, see a few primates in their native habitat.

Forget something extremely important

Oh, you’ve just set out on a three-week backpacking trip and realised you’ve forgotten to pack socks? Or toilet paper? It’s inevitable – just sigh and take it on the chin. By the end of your trip, you’re guaranteed to be more resourceful than when you set out.

A photo of a hiking trail knows as Path of the Gods in Italy. Terracotta roofs are just about visible on the side of a forested mountain.
It's easy to see where backpacker trail Path of the Gods gets its name © Gabby Beckford / Lonely Planet

Path of the Gods, Italy

From personal experience, I can tell you that Path of the Gods has earned its name. Sentiero degli Dei will make you feel that you’re walking on Mt Olympus from ancient Roman mythology. Walking through fields of cairns left by fellow trekkers (please don’t participate in this, it disturbs the environment!), past walls of bougainvillea, lemon trees, and a few stray goats and cats. Maybe it was the altitude, but I swore I could hear Nessun Dorma playing in the breeze.

Overland Track, Tasmania

Cradle Mountain to Lake St Clair, this six-day-ish path is one of the best in Australia. Looking to extend your backpacking trip? The Overland Track has multiple side trips to explore and stay overnight in huts. 

Experience summer in Laugavegur, Iceland

This trail was my first backpacking experience! For my fellow newbie trail chasers, it’s best to tackle the Laugavegur Trail in the summertime. Despite its name, Iceland has an impressively varied landscape that time of year. I went in August and recall ice fields, glacial paths, geothermal pools, obsidian rock piles, mossy hillsides, thick brush, and of course, the occasional sheep.

Man Walking on Boardwalk through Forest, West Coast Trail, British Columbia, Canada
The West Coast Trail in Canada earns serious bragging rights © Radius Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The West Coast Trail, Canada

One of the more difficult trails in Canada, the West Coast Trail will take you through 75km of rainforest, beaches, mud, rivers, and up more than 100 ladders. Expect to take five to seven days to finish this trek around the southwestern edge of Vancouver Island. The work is worth the views – and bragging rights!

Almost reach your breaking point

You’ll know you’ve had a successful career of backpacking if you’ve come close to or actually quit a trip completely. Maybe an illness hit you out of nowhere, or maybe you bit off more than you could chew as you were trudging completely soaked in 30°C weather with 15 more miles to go that day. It’s all a necessary part of the journey, and those stories end up being just as fun to tell as the successes later on.

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