10 hidden travel expenses backpackers often overlook

When planning for a backpacking trip, most people try to create a budget of how much they think they are going to spend. While the flight, accommodations, and daily meals are often factored in, there are still many others expenses that still need to be covered. Here is a list of some of the expenses I’ve encountered in my travels that can add extra dollars to your budget.


When backpacking, I’ve tried to get around doing laundry by doing things like:

  • Bringing a small bottle of detergent and creating my own human-powered washing machine by using a giant Ziplock bag, adding water, and shaking
  • Using shampoo and hand soap to wash my clothes in the sink and then hanging them all over the room
  • Trying to forgo washing my clothes as long as I could

Unfortunately, these options never ended up working out perfectly, as they were messy (that detergent bottle always ends up breaking open in my backpack, without fail), inefficient (the clothes are always wrinkled and damp when I put them back into my pack, no matter how long they hang up), somewhat inconsiderate (I’m sure there were people who didn’t like having my dirty socks next to their heads while they slept), and dirty (obviously, not washing your clothes when backpacking doesn’t smell great). The point is, you’re probably going to end up having to go to a laundromat and wash your clothes, or at least pay someone to wash them for you. And, a side note, the laundromat dryers usually take a long time to dry your clothes, so you’ll have to put in a little extra change. Make sure to set aside some cash on your trip for washing, drying, and detergent.Internet/Wi-Fi

Many hotels and hostels will charge extra to use their computers, and even if you bring your own device they still may charge you for Wi-Fi. You also may find yourself having to use internet cafes when computers aren’t available, and while the starting price is often cheap, it’ll still add up depending how often you use it. If you want to get around this charge, I would suggest searching ahead of time for a hotel or hostel that has internet and Wi-Fi included in the price.


If you don’t have a passport and are a U.S. citizen, you should expect to pay $135, plus the money it costs to have your photos taken. And if you travel frequently, you may find yourself needing to pay for extra pages, which isn’t cheap (I just paid $82 for mine). Visas are another hefty add-on, depending on where you are going and what country you’re from. If possible, I would recommend forgoing a visa agency unless you’re really confused or have a special issue, as they often tack on a hefty fee for themselves. For example, a friend and I both recently applied for Brazil tourist visas. While I filled out the application form and brought it straight to the nearest Brazilian consulate myself ($140), she used a middle man to help her ($250). While she paid $110 more than me, we both ended up with the same final product.


One thing I will recommend is to keep a detailed record of all your vaccinations so you never repeat one that you already got. It also matters what form of a vaccination you get, so jot that down too. For example, while the pill vaccination for Typhoid lasts five years, the shot only lasts two. Also, if you’re going to a certified Travel Doctor they often won’t go through your insurance and will charge an expensive fee for the visit. If you only need something small like a bottle of pills, ask them if they can waive the fee, or see if you’re primary doctor can prescribe you what you need. Usually when you call to make the visit the travel specialist office will ask you where you are going anyway, so you can find out before the visit what vaccinations you need. For example, for an upcoming trip I called a local Travel Doctor’s office and told the receptionist where I was planning to go. She looked up all of the destinations in their system and confirmed that I would only need Malaria pills. She also told me my visit would not be covered by insurance and would cost $80. Instead of making an appointment I called my primary doctor who said he could prescribe me the Malaria pills, and I wasn’t charged for the visit.

Cell phone

Using your cell phone out of the country is a sure way to tack on hundreds of dollars to your bill. And if you have a smart phone, you’ve got to be careful to turn your data off or be prepared to pay. During a recent weekend trip to Aruba, I only brought my Android device along to use as an alarm clock, and even turned the Wi-Fi off when I arrived. When the phone bill came, I realized my morning wake-up call had cost me $130 because of incoming data. Luckily, there are a few ways around the cell phone dillemma. For one, buy a phone when you get there and use a local SIM card, or put the local SIM card into your phone. Even if you call home, doing this usually saves a lot of money. There are also a ton of great calling and messaging plans that are very affordable and sometimes even free, like Skype and Rebtel.


I know, who wants to think about something going wrong before you even leave for your trip? However, it’s not unlikely for a mishap to occur, whether it’s someone getting sick and you need to buy medicine, missing a train and needing to re-purchase a ticket, or losing your luggage and having to buy supplies to hold yourself over. When I was backpacking Europe, two pretty big mishaps happened to me that set me back a few hundred dollars. The first was when my backpack got lost on a flight from Berlin, Germany, to Nice, France. While I kept being told it would be delivered to me when found and I could continue traveling, I actually ended up having to take the train from Florence, Italy, back to Nice to retrieve my bag and then back to Florence, all in the same day. And, while I was told I would be reimbursed for my troubles and for the toiletries and clothes I had bought to get by, I never received a penny. The next incident was about a week later when I tried to board a bus in Naples, Italy. The bus driver actually told me I could buy my ticket on board and then, moments later after I had stepped on, fined me $100 for not pre-buying a ticket. While it was absolutely ridiculous, his threats of calling the police kind of (really) scared me, so I paid. The point is, things can happen and you don’t want to let them ruin your trip, so be prepared.


While almost every city has free and fun things to do, you should set aside some money to do activities that really interest you. While it’s a good idea to add budget-friendly activities to your itinerary, if there’s a tour that really interests you, a show that looks entertaining, or an extreme sport you’d love to try, you’re probably going to pay to participate, and should. Make sure you bring extra money so you don’t have to miss out on these fun and cultural opportunities.


This is probably the biggest expense people forget to calculate. If you’re in a country where the water isn’t drinkable, you’re going to need to purchase water bottles. There’s really no way around it, although some countries may have cheaper options. For example, in Ghana they sell waterbags which cost about two cents each and are the same size as a water bottle. Also, if you’re in a country where the water is consumable bring a reusable water bottle and drink from the tap. Many companies, like bobble and hydros, even make filtering water bottles so that you can transform your dull tap water into a fresh and pure liquid.


While you probably calculated your meals into your budget you may have forgotten those in between hours when your stomach starts growling. I’ve never gone on a trip where I didn’t purchase snacks in between meals, especially when the markets in other countries are one of the best places to witness culture up-close. Luckily, shopping at these open-air markets as well as grocery stores can help you buy snacks for cheap. And, if you have access to a kitchen, can also give you inspiration to cook for yourself and save money on meals.

Hostel extras

If you’re backpacking, there’s a good chance you’ll be staying in hostels. While hostels make fun, affordable, and social accommodations, you sometimes also end up paying for extras that are often included elsewhere, like linens, towels, airport pickup, breakfast, lockers, luggage storage, internet, and sometimes even hot water. Before booking a hostel, check to see what’s included and then compare it with other hostels in the area to see who gives you the most for your money.

Himalayan High: preparing for the trek

Trekking to Everest Base Camp is not a trip for everyone. It is, at times, quite a physically demanding experience, and when you combine high altitude with plenty of challenging climbs, you get a recipe for suffering. When I tell people that I’ve made that hike, I’m usually asked two questions. First, they almost invariably ask, “Can ‘normal’ people make the trek?” and secondly they ask, “How did you prepare?” The answer to the first question is yes! Normal, average, travelers can, and do, hike to Everest Base Camp, but the answer to the second question isn’t quite as easy.

The first thing I would say is that by getting yourself physically ready for your trek, you’ll save yourself a lot of grief on the trail. In my trekking group there were clearly some people that were better prepared to deal with the rigors of hiking at altitude than others, and not long after we would start each morning we would find ourselves breaking into three groups.

Out front we had the faster, stronger, more able bodied group. There were usually three or four of us in this pack, and left to our own devices, we would probably have quickly left the others far behind. The second group consisted of hikers who were a bit more slow and steady in their approach. These men and women traveled with a more measured pace, and while they struggled at times, they generally showed up at the next rest stop with a smile on their faces. Finally, the third group was a much slower lot who would physically struggle for the entire length of the journey. They would often lag behind by as much as 10-20 minutes, and when they did catch up to the rest of us, they looked like they they weren’t enjoying themselves at all.If you’re planning on making a trek to Everest, or some place similar, you don’t have to be in that first group to enjoy the walk, but you probably don’t want to be struggling in the third group either. Fortunately, with some planning and dedication, you can improve your chances of completing the trek and enjoying yourself along the way, although the more time you have to prepare, the better.

As an avid runner, who covers in the neighborhood of 35-40 miles per week, I felt like I already had a good base for my physical preparation Still, I wasn’t sure what to expect in the Khumbu Valley, and I knew that altitude can do odd things to people, no matter what kind of condition they are in. Plus, I also knew I would be making some very long, and steep, climbs, so to improve my chances of having a good trip, I started to mix in some hill running to my regular routine. In the weeks leading up to the trek, I would run hills at least twice a week, and these weren’t just ordinary hills, we’re talking six long miles of up and down very steep slopes. When I arrived in the Himalaya, I found out very quickly that all of that training had payed off in spades.

Of course, I realize that not everyone is a runner and for many the mere thought of jogging up and down hills is exhausting. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t things that you can do to prepare for the journey anyway. In lieu of running, I’d suggest taking vigorous walks on a daily basis. Vary the distance and intensity of those walks to prevent boredom, and definitely mix in some hills as well. After awhile, start carrying a backpack equivalent in size to the one that you’ll be using on the trail, and fill it with a light load at first. Over time, add more weight to the pack until you’re essentially carrying the same load you will while on your trek. When ever possible, make those walks on an actual trail to help you get use to the uneven ground and varying conditions that you’ll face while actually on your trip. Did I mention you should also walk a lot of hills?

One aspect of a mountain trek that is difficult to prepare for is altitude. If you already live in the mountains, you’ll arrive at your destination with part of the acclimatization process already completed. But if you’re like me, you don’t live much above sea level, which can be a problem when you’re on your way to 17,600 feet. To help to offset those differences, I once again recommend regular doses of a cardio workout. In my case, that came in the form of running, but for a lower impact, but still highly effective cardio workout, add swimming to your schedule. The regimented breathing that comes along with swimming laps is also a good way to workout your lungs in preparation for the trek. Cycling is also a good workout, but at the risk of sounding like a broken record, you’ll want to mix in plenty of hills to increase its effectiveness.

While physical preparation is incredibly important, it doesn’t hurt to do a little mental prep work too. Before you go on your Himalayan trek, figure out which route you’ll take to your ultimate destination. Then, research what you can expect to find along the trail and what a typical itinerary consists of. The fewer surprises you have along the way, the more you can enjoy the walk. Knowing what is in store for you can be very helpful on a number of levels.

With all of this in mind, I will say that it is still possible to complete the trek without physically preparing, although you’re likely to have a much rougher time of it. By doing a little advanced training though, you can give yourself a better chance of completing a challenging trek and garnering the rewards of accomplishing that goal.

Next: The Gear of an Everest Trek