11 essential tips for the first time backpacker
I was 23 years old when I first donned a rucksack and jetted off to South-East Asia and Australia. Despite some gems of advice from friends, I really had NO idea what I was doing.
In a way, that's a good thing, as you realise just how much you grow up when you're on the road. However I would have liked some simple tips that, looking back, never crossed my newbie mind.
SEE ALSO: The 11 best first time solo travel destinations
1. What to pack for your first backpacking trip
Looking back, I packed such bland clothes. Why? This can't really be helped if you choose to go for the zip-off walking pants (I did, and never zipped them off once - I bought some cute shorts in Bangkok for $3 instead). Pack some colour - clothes you would wear at home. But do pack light. Which leads me on to...
2. You will throw most of your backpacking clothes away eventually
If you're travelling for a few months or longer, chances are your clothes will probably succumb to sun factor, dirt and sweat before long. Buy replacements as you go. 3 t-shirts, a couple of singlets and 3 pairs of pants is enough. Make one of them jeans, one practical hiking pair and one super lightweight comfy pair for long distance flights / hot countries / lazy days. Throw in a pair of shorts, a warm layer, and you're set.
3. What not to pack when backpacking
You will not use any of these items: Hairdryer, hair straighteners, multiple styling products, a lot of make up, heels. They will annoy you by taking up valuable packing space.
4. Try to disconnect when travelling
If at all possible, leave the devices at home. I know I sound like a complete dinosaur, and yes, my first trip was back in 2002, pre smart phone, but please, resist the urge. Buy a basic cheap model and get a sim for the country you're in. If you disconnect from Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat will you really miss anything? Write a journal and use an internet cafe once a week and your clearer mind will thank you.
5. When arriving as a solo traveller, land in the morning
I've managed to arrive on my first day of travelling in zero style and maximum stress in both Guatemala City and Dubai. I booked flights that were due to land mid afternoon. On both occasions, there were delays. In Dubai, at midnight, my airport pick up had given up on me and gone, and the taxi driver had never heard of my hotel. And in Guatemala, I had missed the last shuttle bus, and the airport was starting to close, so I had to take my chances with a man who offered me a ride in his pickup truck for $25. Not what you want after 26 hours of travelling.
SEE ALSO: Step by step solo travel planner
6. You will have hard days whilst you are backpacking
Long-term travel is not like taking a holiday. Some days are awful. You may get sick, have a sleepless night in a noisy hostel, miss home or just get super tired. Just sit it out and the next day will be better. Always.
7. The most important tip for backpackers: research, research, research
I know this may sound patronising but doing the research before you arrive will give you a head start. Being aware of local culture and customs, and learning a few words of the language will make your trip so much more rewarding and immersive. And who knows what might happen? I ended up with an invite to a wedding in Vietnam and as part of an hour long gossip session with a group of women whilst we were stuck behind a road block on our bus on Bolivia.
8. Say yes more
Surfing lessons, multi-day hikes, sand boarding.. so much fun, yet so daunting at the outset! I am SUCH a soft city girl and do not have an outdoorsy bone in my body, but the best experiences are always the ones that scare you at first.
9. Once in a while, treat yourself
Sleeping in dorms or shared accommodation is great for saving money, and for meeting people, but if you need your own space for a night or two, just forget the budget and enjoy the simple pleasure of your own private room and a bathroom all to yourself. What bliss!
10. Be open to changing your ways, and your plans
Maybe you want to go away for some solitude and space, but meeting people is inevitable. And you may well make a life long friend. This sounds a bit cheesy, and the first time I went away, I didn't really want to end up hanging out with 'new friends' who (I thought) would annoy me. You'll probably have so much in common with fellow travellers that you don't mind the company for a while. And chances are you may meet up further down the line. Some you will never forget, like the girl in Antigua, who, when I arrived with no luggage (it was lost in transit), she offered me shower gel, shampoo, cereal and tea. Simple acts of kindness make life a little easier with a friendly face.
Secondly, be prepared to change your plans. Maybe you have a tight itinerary to stick to, but whats the harm in sticking around a little longer if you're really enjoying it? Or visiting a country that you weren't even planning on? Sometimes the spontaneous trips are the best ones.
11. When you're on the road, don't forget your common sense head
You will always have to take risks, sometimes on a daily basis, but trust your gut feeling. And don't forget to pack a torch!
I would love to hear your tips for the first time traveller. Please leave a comment below with yours. Thanks :)