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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. Lots of mistakes are waiting.
Update: 39 easy travel safety tips for backpacking the world.
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. We summed up our best 15 tips for booking hostels (websites to use and scoring discounts). These are very useful, and essential for a beginners guide to backpacking.
Besides avoiding the following travel mistakes, have a look on the useful travel topics below:
- What NOT to pack when staying at hostels
- +109 travel quotes
- 7 Types of hostels to understand and avoid bad hostels
- the ultimate travel packing list
- The best search flight engine on the internet you will love – Skyscanner
- How to book hostels the cheaper way – (hint: with Hostelz.com)
10 Most Common Backpacker Mistakes (we are all guilty of)
Here are a couple of situations, which can easily happen and result in exhausting, useless and even dangerous mishaps and can clearly be avoided by keeping and eye open and a sharp inner compass.
Other than these 14 worst travel tips, these listed 10 things to avoid as a backpacking beginner and newbie are always a good idea to keep in mind.
Turn on the backpacker music, and let’s get started:
1. Drinking the tap water
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).
Therefore, ask at your hostel just to be safe.
Read: How safe are hostels?
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.
Read: Are hostels safe? 13 safety tips
Paying double the price of your plane ticket will not get you anywhere faster or make your seat on the plane more comfortable, either.
The best flight search engines out there are Skyscanner.
Good to know: Sign up for newsletters of flight search engines. This can be a great way to score some sweet deals!
Also good to know: Same goes for hostels!
Many of these great hostels out there are usually fully booked during high season.
If you will get a space to stay, it’s likely you don’t have much options for the different hostel room types.
Sure, it’s great to stay spontaneous. However, as soon as you have your travel dates fix, we recommend to get your hostel reservation done.
3.1 Refused entry to your destination
Wait, what?! Yes that’s right, it’s possible to be refused entry to a country, or even on to your flight if you do not prove your onward travel schedule (in certain circumstances).
You may need an onward travel ticket depending on where you’re going. So, always check this in advance!
We use Onward Ticket as a reliable resource for finding $12 flight tickets, solely for use as proof at the check-in counter.
Here is our full review of Onward Ticket for your guidance.
4. Pack too much stuff
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.
Also super important: Know what things you can actually skip and leave at home. We also wrote a list of things NOT to pack for travelling.
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.
Every gram counts.
What do we use?
Matt travels with the Lowe Alpine Lightflite 40 Pack.
It’s extremely light and you can open the entire backpack. This makes it super handy for organizing it and packing and unpacking, especially in combo with packing cubes.
Have a look at the packing list for Hostels.
The golden rule for packing light is simple: Pack your backpack…and then remove 50%. That will be all you need!
5. Travel in herd
This is a tricky one: part of the fun and the magic of backpacking, and of hostel life, is that we make really deep connections, fast.
Read: 18 Hostel rules and etiquette to build lifetime friendships in hostels
Some of the connections made during a backpacking trip can turn into real friendships, which will surely last forever.
There is something so unique about what we do, about finally meeting like-minded people, that it’s easy to just forget about everyone’s individuality and see the whole hostel as close family.
There is nothing intrinsically wrong with it, in the contrary.
Where this can get delicate though, is when you suddenly discover that six of you are headed the same way at the same time, and you decide to all travel together for a while.
Most importantly: Try to find your own travel style.
A great way to get an idea of the different styles of travel are travel blogs.
Have a look on the 11 bloggers sharing their secrets.
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. Avoid mistakes? Always a good idea, no doubt. But let’s face, everybody does mistakes – even if it just once in a while.
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.
Read our guide: 39 SMART tips to stay safe while exploring the world
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.
Oh and if you’ve read this, check out as well our big big big guide to the best party hostels in the world.
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.
Read: Best Solo Travel Quotes to push your confidence
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.
- Some hostels charge, well, for everything.
Good tip: Sort all reviews by “worst” and read those. The worst reviews give you a really good idea on what to expect and what not.
Always try to pick a safe hostel and there are many out there.
Also, ALWAYS lock your valuable belongings in the locker provided by the hostel.
If you’re traveling with something you don’t want to lose (like that passport we reminded you to take – you’ve still got it, right?), then it’s a good idea to keep it locked up somewhere safe.
A padlock is also a great idea for traveling. You can also lock your backpack or suitcase in the airport, or even when walking through the city.
We always travel with 2 padlocks!
Summary Backpacking for Beginners
Making mistakes when traveling is part of the experience.
So, before anything, try not to be scared of making mistakes. Have a look at all our Short Travel Stories.
Many of them simply happened thanks to mistakes.
UPDATE: we put together 39 important and simple travel safety tips
For us wanderers and backpackers, traveling is one of the most rewarding things there is to experience and it can be so amazing they can literally change your life.
Think about how many of us made a drastic move when going back “home”, by either moving abroad or switching for a totally different lifestyle!
But there is no need to make the same mistakes everyone else go through if you can avoid them: it just takes a tiny bit of planning to make this experience one of a lifetime!
Go out there, and star exploring!
More Useful Tips
We collected some more useful recommendations for you.
- 15 hacks to book hostels so you can save plenty of money
- +112 design hostels to fall in love with
- 51 simple tricks to travel Europe cheap
- The best hostels in the world to have an EPIC time
Do you have another backpacking for beginners advice?
Help fellow travelers avoiding the common backpacker mistakes; share it with us in the comments!