You can always spot the brand new backpackers. They’re the ones with beautiful backpacks, no holes in their clothes and a mixture of fear, anticipation, and excitement in their eyes. They’ve got big hopes for the trip ahead of them, but are simultaneously petrified.
In an ideal world, you’d launch straight into your first big trip and do everything right, straight off the bat. Unfortunately, no one’s perfect and neither is life, so you’re not likely to get through your first months on the road without committing a few basic blunders.
Much as these things can make for cracking stories and I’m all in favour of people learning as they go, it can’t hurt to be forewarned about a few things.
If you’re a newbie, about to head off on your first trip, then you’re in luck. Here are a few of the blunders that many of those new to the road tend to unwittingly commit.
1 Being too practical
When a lot of people pack for their first trip they focus on the outdoor adventures they’ll be having and pack accordingly, with lots of highly practical clothing and shoes.
What they don’t stop to think about is that they might come across a city now and again and fancy a night out.
Don’t go overboard, though. For the guys, throw in one nice shirt, and have one pair of jeans and nicer shoes. Keep it simple, improvise if you have to but try not to take a few extra pair of jeans or formals.
2 Being too impractical
There are plenty of people that seem to go far too far the other way, and only bring attire fit for a beach club, and then find themselves shivering at the top of a volcano somewhere. So make sure you pack accordingly or keep a checklist for your travels.
Both sexes need to make sure they’ve got active gear for any adventures they might end up on, and don’t forget what your mum told you about layering!
Even if you’re planning on sticking to the tropics, make sure you bring a lightweight jacket, a jumper and at least one pair of long trousers, and preferably a scarf too.
You never know when you might end up somewhere colder, and the conditions on planes and buses with AC can sometimes resemble the arctic.
3 Being Shy
I know, it’s not easy. When you head out on a big trip, especially if you’re travelling alone, walking into a hostel common room and striking up a conversation with someone can seem like the most daunting thing you’ve ever done.
Unfortunately, there’s no escape! Whilst you might well be lucky and have some gregarious soul immediately take you under their wing at some hostels, there will be times when you have to bite the bullet, swallow your pride, and say hello to your fellow travellers.
After all, experiences are far more fun when they’re shared, and travelling is as much about the people you meet as it is about the things you see.
4 Trying to be someone you’re not
Some people you’ll come across on the road tend to overcompensate for their shyness by putting on some kind of persona and hiding behind it.
Much as travelling is an opportunity to reinvent yourself a bit, if you’re not being true to yourself then people will sense it, and you won’t end up bonding with people that you really have something in common with.
You might feel the pressure to be a gregarious party animal, but if you’d actually prefer to stay in the hostel having a quiet chat over a game of cards, that’s okay! This is your chance to do whatever you want on your own terms, embrace it.
5 Rushing it
This is probably the biggest mistake you can make on your first big adventure. If you try and cram a quart into a pint pot, it won’t be long before you burn out.
Although it can be tempting to see as much as possible in as short a time as possible, if you’re sleeping in a different bed every night then you don’t give yourself time to really enjoy anywhere.
You’ll quickly get tired and ill, and, although you can theoretically tick a place or a country off your bucket list, you won’t actually have SEEN the place. Give yourself a couple of days in each destination and plan in a few rest days.
6 Be flexible
As much as you can, try not to have a strict itinerary, as if you have to be in such and such a place on such and such a date, you might end up missing something along the way. Leave time to explore the unexpected finds along the way, whether it’s enjoying an unscheduled night out with new friends, wandering a fantastic local market, or taking a refreshing break by a mountain stream.
7 Do your research
On the other hand, as much as it’s good not have a set itinerary, don’t just turn up somewhere with absolutely no idea what there is to see and do.
Before you set off, it’s wise to consult the internet, but remember Google can only provide so much. Personal recommendations can tip you off to hidden gems that won’t make it into the top search results. You probably don’t have unlimited time in each destination, so you should decide the main things you’d like to see, so you can prioritize them.
8 Getting wet
What you definitely need, no matter where you’re going is some good waterproof gear.
Even if your backpack says it’s waterproof, take that to mean showerproof, and make sure you wrap things that you need to keep dry, like electronic devices and sleeping bags. A couple of heavy-duty rubbish bags are great for this.
Make sure your waterproof jacket and walking boots are up to the challenge, so your torso and feet are at least kept dry and warm in a downpour.
One of those plastic ponchos also can’t hurt as you can stuff it in your bag when you’re off on a day trip in case of emergency.
9 Taking too much
When you’re packing, consider each item you put in your backpack carefully.
Although having lots of clothes with you may seem appealing, when you’re trudging from hostel to hostel looking for a room or running for a bus you’ll be glad you packed light, and your shoulders will thank you for it.
If you can’t lift it onto your shoulders easily, then it’s probably too heavy, and a few items need to be culled. Remember, you’re definitely going to want space for a few souvenirs.
This list is by no means exhaustive, and there are plenty of things other newbie backpackers get wrong, but they’re all lessons you can learn on your own. None of them will kill you, but they’ll definitely make you stronger.
If you’re prepared for anything, open, genuine, and take it slowly, you’ve got an excellent foundation for the trip of a lifetime. Happy travels!