So, you’re about to head out on your first backpacking trip. You’re super excited and don’t know what to expect. Because you’re new to it, you’ve probably missed a couple of things when planning, or done some things that’ll make you stand out as a first time backpacker. Backpacker mistakes happen, especially when it’s your first time! It happens to us all, even the most experienced backpacker made mistakes on his or her first trip. Here are eleven common backpacker mistakes to avoid on your first trip:
1. Packing Too Much
It happens to us all. Even with all the information on what you need out there, you will pack far too much. And after two weeks you’ll realise you didn’t need half of what you brought and, even worse, at the end of your trip you’ll find, in the deepest darkest pocket of your backpack, a handful of t-shirts that you forgot you owned!
Most first-timers are so proud that they’ve managed to fit their entire wardrobe into one rucksack. Yes, well done. But have you ever thought about having to carry your wardrobe? It’ll happen when the hostel turns out to be a ten minute walk from the train station (and it’ll be an hour with your wardrobe) or your room is on the top floor and the lift is broken, enjoy those steep stairs. You’ll come to hate your backpack, instead of loving. Not to mention the entertainment you’ll give everyone else when it takes you five minutes to shoulder your bag!
Do you really need your favourite heels? How often will you really go for a night out? Can’t you just dress up your more comfortable shoes? Do you really need a year’s supply of toothpaste? You’re going abroad, not to the moon! If you’re travelling for a year, you don’t need to pack a year’s supply of toiletries! Believe it or not, even under developed countries have toiletries! They may be different than what you’re used to, but they are what they are.
My advice (and what I did), lay everything you want to take out on the bed. Now half it. At least. I still took a little too much on my year out, but you learn by mistakes (or taking advice). Ideally, your backpack should only be roughly one half to three quarters full, that way you can buy stuff on the road too. Not to mention it won’t be a headache every time you have to pack again! But you really will be amazed at how little you need to pack!
It’s a difficult to get the perfect balance between packing too much or too little, but every one’ll get there in the end. Just remember you have to be able to carry your backpack.
2. Packing The Wrong Gear
So in all the excitement you ended up packing for a solo trek in the deepest Asian jungle for six months, but aren’t you visiting cities? On the run up to your trip you went to an outdoors shop and bought everything the shop assistant advised you to. You don’t need rations, that super first aid kit that you don’t even know what half of it is for!
If something comes up and you do need something that you thought you didn’t, you can always buy it on the road. You also decided that you needed a beach towel as well as a microfibre – do you realise how much room a beach towel takes up? There are some essentials I’d take just incase, but you’ll find what you personally always like to have after a few trips.
Some backpackers pack for the wrong weather too. Yes, you’re going to Africa, so it’ll be hot, but did you realise it’s rainy season too? Find out what you need and take what you need!
3. Cramming Everything In
The first time backpacker can be spotted by their rigid itinerary, where every second of every day can be accounted for. There’s no flexibility. Trying to cram in India, Thailand and Australia in one month, it’s not going to happen. You’ll spend most of your time in transit and not actually experiencing the countries. Everything will blur together and you’ll have no idea what you saw! And then even worse, that one bus was delayed and now your whole plan has been thrown out of the window! Go for quality experiences, not quantity. The longer you stay in a country, the more you’ll see, although a balance must be met, you don’t want to spend your year out in one country.
Experienced backpackers plan for the unexpected and don’t have a rigid plan that can’t be changed. You may fall in love with a place, but need to move on as you’ve already paid for your accommodation in the next city. Then again, you may hate a place and need to move on. Another traveller may tell you about a great waterfall that’s just a day trip out of town, but your itinerary doesn’t have the flexibility. You may arrive two days before a festival starts, you don’t want to miss that!
I’m not saying don’t plan at all, just make sure you have some flexibility. Don’t forget, travelling is tiring, you may want a day or two to recharge your batteries in the hostel! And you can never be sure when you need to recharge!
4. Not Buying Insurance
Alright, no one likes buying a piece of paper that you hope you’ll never use, but it’s much better to have it than not. I’m amazed at how many people don’t buy insurance, it’s essential. You’ll be doing some adventurous activities on your trip, don’t think you won’t get scraped! You may even just fall down a curb and break your ankle! You never know when you’ll incur medical expenses, and these don’t come cheap. In some countries you won’t even get to hospital unless you can prove you can afford the bill!
Just missing a bus and having to pay for another journey is just a funny story. Having a serious injury whilst on a hike and not being able to pay will ruin your trip. And no one wants to have that phone call to Mummy/Daddy asking for money as you broke your leg doing something they told you you shouldn’t…
5. Forgetting About Health Issues
Alright, you got caught up loosely planning your route and activities, so you forgot about the health advice. Don’t. I know it’s not the best part of planning a trip, but it is essential. You need to plan early. It’s advisable to go to your GP or travel clinic AT LEAST 6-10 weeks before travelling. You may need a course of vaccinations a few weeks apart. It’s not exciting, but neither is actually catching Hepatitis B!
6. Messing Up The Budget
Always over budget. So you’re going for cheap accommodation and cheap food, but what about activities? What happens when you get to a hostel and find that there are only 4-bed dorms left and you wanted the cheaper 12-bed? You thought you’d coach surf, what happens when you get to the city and receive a message that something’s come up and your host can’t have you? You didn’t budget for accommodation here! And those surcharges from ATMs can really bite you in some countries! There’s always a newbie backpacker that ends up living on the free breakfast for two weeks until Mummy/Daddy send some money.
My advice, over budget. And over budget some more.
7. Having No Financial Back Up
Stuff happens when travelling. Wallets/purses get stolen, things go wrong. In some places you can only pay cash. Your bank may block you because you forgot to tell them you’re travelling. Always have a backup stash of money hidden away for emergencies. And make sure you tell your bank.
8. Relying on WiFi
Your from a developed country and are used to WiFi being everywhere. Sometimes this just doesn’t happen (and not just in undeveloped countries). Make sure you either take a screenshot or print out (although you’ll have to pay) any visas, tickets and reservations. You don’t want to be denied access to a bus you’ve paid for because the confirmation is on your emails and there’s no WiFi!
9 .Being A Backpacker Sheep
New backpackers tend to make the mistake of following the guidebook religiously and clinging to other, more experienced backpackers. Yes, research, make friends, go to the backpacker hotspots and see the tourist sights, it’s what you’ve come to do. But don’t be afraid to step off that beaten track and explore yourself! If you only wanted to talk to people who share the same first language and experiences, you shouldn’t have wasted your money travelling. Go to local hotspots, try to communicate. You can have a simple conversation with no common language! You wanted experiences right? Well, go out and find them!
10. Dressing Wrong
Most travellers are from developed countries and so are used to wearing whatever they want. However, in some countries there are rules, especially at religious sites. Make sure you respect these rules, you’d expect the same of a traveller in your country. You’ll be insulting a lot of locals if you dress inappropriately, or you may not even be let in!
Many of these rules are conservative. In many countries shorts, short skirts and even bare shoulders are massive faux pas! Always make sure you have a pair of shorts or a skirt that covers your knees and a scarf to cover your shoulders in your day bag.
11. Getting Angry Or Upset When It Goes Wrong
Your travelling, yes you’re meant to be having loads of fun and making people back home jealous, but stuff will go wrong! That 6 hour bus journey ended up being 26 hours and you were stuck next to a local farmer with a cage of chickens that entire time! That top rated hostel has changed hands and is a building site!
You can tell a first time backpacker when this stresses them out for a time. Yes, when stuff messes up everyone gets stressed at first, but experienced backpackers don’t let it get in the way, they brush themselves off and get on with it. The newbie sulks in the hostel room for a few days and maybe even throws in the towel.
Believe me, in a few days, the big drama is laughable. The biggest messes make the best backpacker stories back home! Learn from the experience, don’t stress.
Everyone makes mistakes the first time they backpack, some experienced backpackers even make the rookie mistakes. I still find it hard limiting the amount of clothes to take! But you will learn. The main mistakes come from over- and under-planning. But the worst mistake is to let disasters get to you, don’t run back home, keep at it. It’ll all work out in the end and you can laugh about. However, there are some backpacker mistakes you really should avoid – insurance and health. I hope this list helps you to avoid some common backpacker mistakes!