5 Tips for Air Travel While on a Backpacking Vacation
Hiking and backpacking trips offer the possibility of endless adventures all over the world. Flying to your destination, however, creates the need for a few adjustments to the normal check baggage routine, ensuring you get the most out of your trip.
I flew from Georgia to California, to Maine, and all the way to Africa with all of my personal hiking gear. These excursions taught me several tricks that made the planning easier and strategies for the best way to pack and carry gear.
Explore the following tips for flying while on a hiking or backpacking adventure so that your trip is made of good memories, and not travel nightmares.
Snag a Cheap Fight
When planning for your next adventure be sure to keep some money in your pocket by doing your best to snag a cheap flight. For my travel, I used all of the usual search engines, but these are the five that I used the most and had the greatest success with: Kayak, Skyscanner, Airfare Watchdog.
Another way to lower costs is to fly from a larger city. Consider looking for flight tickets to and from nearby airports, where you could save hundreds of dollars if you’re willing to drive an extra hour or two.
If your plans are flexible with no set destination in mind, consider signing up for a cheap flight and travel deal finder subscription service. You will get notified whenever a great deal crops up, perhaps one that you might not have even thought about. This is a great way to get inspired to visit exciting destinations and enjoy incredible adventures.
Frequent Flyer Miles
If you travel by air frequently, be sure to sign up for your preferred airline’s loyalty program. Frequent flyer miles are rewards that typically accumulate by a set amount of miles based on how far you fly or how much you spend on your credit card. These rewards can then be used to buy flight tickets.
In the airline miles world, you can get rewards two ways: by signing up for a service through the airline itself or by signing up for a credit card that offers reward miles. Some credit cards work on any airline, others are for specific airlines. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Either way, the good news is that you can use both at the same time.
Every airline has its own frequent flyer program usually billed as a loyalty program. These are free, and you can accumulate miles by flying with specific airlines. You can sign up for a frequent flyer account with several different airline carriers and you’ll earn frequent flyer miles for most flights. Here are the links to sign up with four U.S. airlines:
- American Airlines (AAdvantage)
- Delta (SkyMiles)
- Southwest Airlines (Rapid Rewards)
- United (MileagePlus)
These services are very straightforward: you earn miles for each flight you take, and when you accumulate enough, you can redeem those miles for a free flight on that airline. Typically speaking, these miles don’t expire as long as you’re using your account.
Your Backpack is the Best Carry-On
When I travel on a hiking or backpacking adventure, my backpack essentially holds everything I can’t afford to replace at my destination. I don’t let it leave my sight so it’s never checked as baggage.
Treating a backpack as your carry-on takes some thought and planning and getting needed gear into carry-on condition may require a few adjustments. I’ve never found this to be difficult to do, even when I traveled to the other side of the world to climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
Before stuffing your backpack with your essentials, make sure to check your airline’s carry-on bag policy to confirm the size and weight limitations that must be met. Then, shake down your gear to ensure that you are only packing essential items.
While not a fun thought, you can always find a laundromat at your destination so don’t pack more than a week’s worth of travel-friendly clothes. Consider performance fabrics that are easy-care, breathable, and wrinkle resistant with neutral colors and subtle styling.
If you are flying to a faraway land or an off-the-beaten-path location for hiking or backpacking, consider using your backpack as a dedicated gear bag. When I traveled to climb Mount Whitney in California, Katahdin in Maine, and Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa, my backpack carried everything that was not easily replaceable. I prefer ultralight backpacks over the more standard models since weight can be an issue for me. I used the ULA Ohm 2.0 pack and it has served me well on all of my adventures.
Flexibility is a Plus
Whether you are a precise travel planner who prefers to schedule every moment of the day in advance (raising my hand here), or you lean more toward spontaneity when you’re away from home, you should leave some of the planning to do on the fly. This is hard for me, no doubt, but I find I have a much better experience when I include activities that come up unexpectedly.
When you can’t wait to land and need to get directions to your Airbnb or want to check out the live-music scene your seatmate told you about, there are options to purchase wifi before you head out to the airport.
A Gogo Flight Pass gives you online access for the duration of your flight (wheels up to wheels down). If you have a connecting flight, you might prefer an All-Day Pass, which gives you all-day access on Gogo equipped flights. Currently, there are six domestic flight carriers and nine international carriers that offer Gogo online access.
Shut-Eye is a Wonderful Thing
If your flight leaves at the crack of dawn or earlier, or includes an overnight connection, consider staying at the airport overnight. No pricy fancy hotel needed if you are a bit adventurous. Just find a quiet corner with ample seating options and stake out your temporary homestead claim. Grab your eye mask, your earplugs, put on an extra layer to ward off a chill and get comfy.
Since your essential gear is in your carry-on backpack, make sure you lock it as best you can to help protect your belongings or use it as a pillow to ward off potentially curious travelers. Don’t forget to set an alarm on your phone so that you don’t miss your flight.
Are you ready for your backpacking or hiking adventure? Follow the five tips above and you’ll be on your way to a grand adventure of your own.
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Great Post! I’ll have to try Airfare watchdog for deals in the future.
Thank you! Yes, Airfare Watchdog is a good one!
What awesome adventures you’ve had, Bibi! I love frequent flyer miles. We’ve have used miles to travel to lots of cool places. I don’t understand why everyone who flies isn’t sighed up.
I don’t get it either Steve. Two of my daughters and I will be traveling together soon…two of us on miles and one on a companion pass so the trip will be virtually free flying from the east coast to the west coast and back!
Some great ideas here! I particularly like watching out for the deals and saving up air miles x
I’m saving points too and will be cashing them in for a ticket across the country soon.