Let’s face it, as travelers, we want to be adventurers.
We follow the pursuit of freedom and we all dream of the perfect backpacking trip. We believe that winging it is THE way to go and we have wide-eyed faith that following the spur of the moment is the only way to guarantee that we will make the most of our experience.
This all sounds like a dream, like paradise…
but for beginners, backpacking can and will be tricky.
So it’s a good idea to see what kind of mistakes experienced travelers did, right?!
We dwell in the romantic idea that being spontaneous is the ultimate truth, that the winds will provide us with the most incredible experiences, and that planning and organizing are good for all-inclusive resort vacations only (aka: lame).
Because ladies and gentlemen, we are not tourists.
We are travelers: travelers who actually experience the culture of the country they visit, who let themselves be drawn to the unknown and who are not afraid to follow the white rabbit, which will inevitably led to special connections and to experience situations that will be unique and that we will then claim as our own exclusively.
And while this is all very romantic and true for the most part – you need to leave space for the unexpected when you travel (and in life in general, for that matter) in order for it to become magical.
Yet, there are a couple of things to keep in mind in order to make sure we do, indeed, make the most of this life altering experience.
Also, try to avoid mistakes when booking your hostels.
This may sound pretty basic, but it might be worth mentioning anyway.
No, even after 7 months of traveling, sleeping in jungles and eating local food on the street, our bodies do not become stronger or develop magical shields against water poisoning, and do not become used to the bacteria found in the water of most countries in Asia, Latin America or Africa.
If the travel advisory recommends avoiding non-filtered water at all costs, there is probably a reason for it.
It is a wise move to choose to be safe and not sorry for once, and to actually avoid non-filtered water at all cost.
A very simple step to avoid experiencing frightening stays at strange hospitals in, say, La Paz, Bolivia, and get your system pumped up with antibiotics.
Important: Ask first to be safe
2. Think that you’re too cool for school
While we are for the most part generally dotted with a reasonable survival instinct, we might be tempted to sometimes stray a little bit from the safe path and let’s say, wander deserted squares at night in dangerous parts of capital cities (namely, Montevideo, Uruguay), just because we can.
Here’s a tip, folks: don’t.
Being mugged by an armed homeless drug-addict in the middle of the night is not fun, not cool, not romantic, and best case scenario will leave you with a small trauma and a couple of sleepless nights having nightmares (provided it doesn’t get worse and go terribly wrong).
3. Wait last minute to book your flight in high season
With spontaneity comes a lot of last-minute decisions.
And while we can easily get addicted to the rush of adrenaline provoked by the unknown, it might be a good idea to just double check when the high season rates apply to avoid paying double the price of an airplane ticket, and getting there with all the accommodation options full
Meaning that it is very likely to end up wandering the streets of a packed town at 2am and spend the night on a park bench: no bueno.
Especially in the middle of winter when traveling alone and as a girl.
Rookie mistake as it may seem, this is a very common one, and an easy one to make too.
Once more, last minute is not (always) your friend.
We all want to avoid extra weight charges for check-in luggage on the plane, but what we might sometimes forget, is that for these couple of months of our lives, we have to see ourselves as turtles or snails.
Whatever works for you, remember: we will literally be carrying our life on our back for a while.
And while it usually works out pretty well, remember that backpacking means walking a lot, and the longer you carry a weight, the heavier it gets. Try holding your empty hand in the air for 5 minutes, see how it feels.
While this sounds (and is!) like a lot of fun, it can bring a lot of tension and unnecessary stress at the time of choosing where to eat, at what time to wake up for tomorrow’s adventure, or how to get to the next town (Bus? Train? Hitchhike?).
Nobody wants to be a loner and riding it solo all the time is not all it’s cracked up to be; but it’s a good thing to remember to pick your crew.
Making sure you have the same level of “easy-goingness” as your temporary family will allow everyone to have a lot more fun.
6. Try avoiding mistakes
It is always nice to not doing any mistakes.
But let’s face, everybody does. Always! I mean, how did we all learn to walk? No baby in this world nailed to walk perfectly at first try. We all fell. We all stood up again. And we all fell again a thousands times. Yet, we all walk!
You do learn by making mistakes!
The only thing that really counts is not making the HUGE mistakes that come with a big cost.
For instance, driving a motorbike without a helmet….see the next point!
You can try and prepare as much was you want, you will do mistakes. Trust us, we did a lot too and we keep doing them. And that is okay. In fact, this is actually part of the experience.
Again, making travel mistakes is part of the travel experience!
Relax, slow down, enjoy and use your logic when it comes to odd, new situations.
7. Driving without a helmet
We have seen it all the time: People driving a scooter without a helmet.
This drives us mad! Seriously!
It does not matter if you are experienced with driving scooters or not. It only takes one accident and you could die or fall on your head and get injured really badly.
And I am not talking about a broken arm. This might be the best-case scenario.
If you fall on our head with 60km per hour, that hurts…that REALLY hurts….if you know what we mean!
Therefore, please do not be that guy or girl, driving in South East Asia or anywhere else without a helmet.
It it simply not worth it. Just…just don#t!
I read once this quote I like to remember: Don’t dress for the ride, dress for the fall!
That being said: Renting a scooter in South East Asia, whether it is Vietnam, Indonesia, or Thailand, is awesome! You can rent a scooter as well without any experience and learn it there – but slowly!
Remember, every baby falls when trying out the first time walking.
If you have a scooter-friend at home, ask him or her to show you how to ride a scooter and to prepare yourself a bit.
When we sold out motorbikes in Ho Chi Minh City, we sold them to a German-English couple. The young girl of 20 years had no experience. We showed her slowly how to ride and the mistakes she could do. It went all well!
8. Drugs in foreign countries
Drugs in foreign countries…a really bad idea!
There are many scams, especially in South East Asia that involve a drug dealer and the police on the next corner.
As soon as you purchase the funny powder or whatever you wanted to try out, the police waits for you on the next corner. They might scare you with putting you to jail if you don’t pay an outrageous amount of money.
Therefore, I’d skip that experience…
In Porto, Portugal for instance, you will find many drug dealers in the city center.
They want to sell you backing powder as cocaine and oddly shaped drugs. It’s common knowledge in Porto that these drugs are 100% fake.
So if you fall for this, it’s not the police laughing at you, but your wallet crying for spending money on backing powder. The least you could do now is baking a nice cake for your hostel mates.
So in a nutshell, stay away from this, it’s really not worth it.
9. Fall for every scam
First of all, we think the world is filled with mainly good people. With people that want to help.
However, the world is loaded with scams. Especially tourist destinations. And this beginner backpacking tip goes hand in hand with the one I said before: don’t try to be perfectionist.
I have fallen for travel scams, I really did. I bought overpriced spices in Morocco and a women in Sevilla scammed me for an entrance to a church.
And you know what, that’s ok. It’s “only money”.
I am really sorry if this sounds harsh, but you will fall for a scam too. Sooner or later. And again, that’s totally fine. EVERYBODY does!
Now, I told you I fell for some scams. I am a bit proud to say I avoided way more scams that I fell for. At least, that is what I think…
You will too, trust me! Just keep learning and use common sense, compare and talk to more people to learn from their experience.
10. Go for unsafe hostels
Saving money is important when traveling on a shoe-string budget. Of course!
Sometimes, it is worth it to take the hostel that costs 2€ more per night. Going with the cheapest places in town without reading carefully through the reviews, can get expensive.
Some hostels do not offer lockers.
Some hostels charge extra fees like bed linen and towels.