My first backpacking trip was a fair few years ago now, but the lessons I learnt while exploring the madness of Morocco have stuck with me. It was a learning curve and I have continued to pick up advice from other backpackers and from my own experience since. You can’t beat backpacking for pushing yourself and testing your limits and that’s part of what people get addicted to! But being prepared is never a bad thing and there are some things I wish I’d known before my first backpacking trip which I think would have helped me and could help others on their first trips. So here are 10 things I wish I’d know before my first backpacking trip. Hopefully you find these little insights useful!
HOSTEL RUN ACTIVITIES ARE THE BEST WAY TO MAKE FRIENDS
In fact, hostels generally are the best way to make friends when backpacking, be it a solo or group trip. You end up making friends with room mates, at the bar if there is one and on all the hostel organised activities. When I was in Vietnam, it was in the hostels that I made some of my best friends on the trip and collected people to travel with as I went. I love staying in hostels and recommend them to all new backpackers. It may seem a bit daunting at first but everyone is so friendly and in exactly the same boat, just looking to have a good time.
FLEXIBILITY IS KEY
Planning your trip to a strict schedule never works. You end up making friends, falling in love with a town and wanting to stay longer, missing flights or buses. I could go on but the thing to keep in mind is that flexibility is key to a great backpacking trip. This is one of the main things I wish I’d known before my first backpacking trip. I planned and planned before hand and even though having a good idea of the best ways to get from A-B and the best places to stay in each area was helpful, it really became clear how important flexibility is.
I now like to book my first nights accommodation so I know where I’m going once I get off the flight and don’t have to worry about finding somewhere when I’m tired and jet lagged. But then I like to leave things up in the air with a rough idea of where I’m going and when I need to be there if there is a flight I need to catch. Maybe this won’t suit everyone, you can be flexible to a degree that suits you. As long as you don’t miss out on something because you have to leave earlier than you’d like.
HAVING A LIGHT RUCKSACK IS A GODSEND
Over packing is such a nightmare! I wish I could tell my past self not to worry. Wherever you are in the world, it’s pretty likely you’ll be able to get your hands on everything you need to survive. And dreading carrying your rucksack isn’t a nice feeling. You want to be flexible (see, keeps coming up doesn’t it!) and mobile, especially when you have a lot of countries to see. You’ll find yourself marvelling at how light other people have packed and maybe even end up a bit envious!
LOCALS ARE FRIENDLY AND WANT TO HELP
Very rarely have I ever encountered someone truly unhelpful whilst travelling. In fact, in most cases people actually want to help and are happy to do so. I wish I could tell my younger self this and also encourage her to approach locals when in need of advice or help. These days I love chatting to locals and getting their insight on what is best to see and do in the area they live in. Often you’ll end up with some great stories and meeting really interesting characters.
KEEPING TRACK OF YOUR SPENDING IS A GOOD IDEA
Even on a short backpacking trip it can be hard to keep track of your spending, especially with confusing foreign currencies. I use Trail Wallet to set budgets, record spending and make sure I have enough money for the entirety of my trip. If only I had known about this app back in the day, I’m sure I would have saved myself a lot of money. Not that I had a smart phone on my first trip but those of you about to embark on your first trip most likely will!
PEOPLE LOVE TO TALK SO START CONVERSATIONS
Be it with a bus driver, hostel staff or fellow backpacker, be the one to start a conversation. Humans are social creatures and the worst that can happen is you’ll be brushed off and that’s only a shame for them! One of the things I love most about travelling is making friends with people from all over the world. But that initial introduction can be difficult, especially if you’re a bit shy. When you’re backpacking you can be your best, most outgoing self and it’ll only make the trip even more enjoyable.
I love to travel solo but never expect to spend the trip entirely alone. I also look forward to conversations with new people, potentially making friends and spending time with them on the trip. It’s a really liberating feeling being the person to start a conversation and I recommend you do it more. I think it’s probably the main thing I wish I’d known before my first backpacking trip. Not to be shy!
CHEAPEST HOSTEL DOESN’T MEAN WORST HOSTEL
It works both ways, most expensive hostel doesn’t mean the best hostel. Make sure to read reviews and get advice from people who have been where you are going. Also listen to recommendations from people you meet as you go. I have stayed in some really grotty and quite expensive hostels, mainly in New Zealand! While the hostels in Vietnam and Thailand were much cheaper and really lovely.
EYE MASKS AND EAR PLUGS MAKE A GOOD NIGHTS SLEEP
An eye mask and ear plugs have to be top of your packing list. They’re life savers on long haul flights and in busy hostels. I love when hostel beds have little curtains to pull across your bunk, blocking the light. But it’s inevitable that you’ll be woken up by room mates at some point on a long trip. However, having these necessities makes it more likely that you’ll get a good nights sleep.
BACKPACKING ISN’T VERY RELAXING
Ok, generally speaking that is. But if you’re really wanting to relax on holiday then make it a holiday, not a backpacking trip. Backpacking can be really tiring. When things go wrong and you aren’t getting much sleep situations can get a little stressful. Don’t get me wrong though, backpacking is my favourite way to travel. It’s cheap, you meet lots of people and tend to see more of a country. But I like my holidays too, city breaks where I focus on one place. These trips are far more relaxing in comparison to longer backpacking trips so as long as you know what you’re getting yourself into, it’ll be fine. This is one of the main things I wish I’d known before my first backpacking trip
HOLIDAY ROMANCES ARE ALWAYS FUN
I love holiday romances! When you’re away and you know you might not see someone again, everything is intensified. I’m not saying you should seek a holiday romance out. More that if an opportunity presents itself, feel free to go for it! You’re a free person and backpacking is all about enjoying yourself.