There are a few important things that I learnt before I went backpacking that came very handy and a few things I learnt during my travels that I wish I knew before I went. If you’re planning to go backpacking and want to get the most from your experience, and more importantly, enjoy it, it’s worth taking note of the following:
I was told by many to not do much research before going backpacking and ‘wing’ it. I’ve always been organised, especially when it comes to trips, so this was something I was going to find hard. I didn’t want to organise it too much, and I did want to go with the flow, but I wanted to know a bit about where I was heading to, and what to expect.
I looked at the culture, what’s allowed/not allowed, and ideas of what to do, what not to do. And some would say this is far too much research. It isn’t. It actually helped my trip go a lot more smoothly and certainly made it more enjoyable. I met people along my travels that knew nothing, and they had missed out on so much and clearly weren’t enjoying the experience as much. I would say don’t go as far as organising your trip day by day, because that is too much, and you’re never going to stick to it, so you’ll only be disappointed. But have a good idea of what you want to do. This will change slightly along the way, because you’ll meet people that may have found different things, which are probably more interesting things to do. But I think it’s important to know a little about where you’re heading to. It’s less stressful, and you’ll probably see a lot more, so you won’t be kicking yourself when you get home and you realise you missed out on quite a lot. Plus it’s handy to know a little about the culture, so you don’t get into trouble!
- Learn a bit of the language
Everyone asks if it’s hard travelling in a country that doesn’t speak English. Honestly, not as hard as you think. Because most people know some basic English, and have it as a second language. Even if you’re out in the sticks, where they probably don’t speak any English, it’s still easy enough to get about with hand gestures, and showing people the map of where you want to go. (Important thing to carry with you – google maps is no good when you’re in the middle of nowhere with no signal, plus it’s cheaper than the phone bill you’ll receive when you get home.) It’s important to learn the basics. I’m useless with languages, and something I’ve always struggled with, but I’ve always tried to learn the basics. Hello, thank you, and most importantly, toilet. Toilet isn’t toilet in every language, something we forget. Until you’re stood desperate for the toilet, trying to explain to 5 foreigners, and do the actions. Trust me, it’s worth knowing. Plus saying things like thank you in their language, even if they speak good English, they’ll appreciate you making the effort.
- You ain’t indestructible!
Get travel insurance. It’s simple. It’s fairly cheap, and is nothing compared to the expense of putting a broken leg right in the middle of Vietnam, or worse. Everyday I was travelling, I was given a reason to be grateful for taking out travel insurance. Every day I heard about or saw someone that needed travel insurance and unfortunately, saw and heard about the consequences for those who didn’t have travel insurance. You think you can get away with it because you haven’t needed a hospital visit the past few years back home? Wrong. Think about the things you’re doing while you’re travelling, and think when do you do them back home? You more than likely don’t. Don’t be stupid, take some out!
- Don’t be afraid to be cheap
When you’re shopping for a holiday with your family/partner/friends and you see a room for £3 a night, you’re going to assume it’s an absolute sh*thole and somewhere to avoid. Places like that when you’re backpacking, are usually the best and are the places to go. It’s far from the grubby room you have in mind and makes your trip less lonely. You’ll meet like-minded people and you’ll make some of the best memories. Some of my best travel stories have been with people whose names I cannot recall, in very cheap hostels.
- Make contacts
The people you meet at the hostels will be the ones who are likely doing a similar route to yourself. Therefore some will have been places you’re planning to go to, and will be the ones to listen to about what hostels are decent/where to avoid/what to do. Swap travel stories. Most people you meet in hostels, you’ll meet again a few weeks later in a new place. It’s nice to see familiar faces. Facebook is great for adding people and staying in touch. Some people I’ve met while travelling, I’ve then got home, and gone travelling again with them. It’s great to know like-minded people, especially if your friends don’t quite understand the whole backpacking malarky and would sooner watch paint dry, than go with you.
- Have a little bit of cash
Everyone says it’s better to exchange money once you’re there, but honestly, there’s not that much difference in exchange rates. Take a little bit of cash with you. You’ll need it for the taxi from the airport, and will save you faffing about trying to get cash out after a long haul flight.
- Be aware of ATM charges
Even if you have a card that doesn’t charge you for taking money out abroad, some countries charge anyway for taking money out at an ATM. It’s usually no more than a couple of £’s but worth knowing, as obviously this soon adds up. Especially if you’re only taking out £50 at a time. Worth taking a couple of hundred £’s out, and get more for your money.
- If you wouldn’t do it at home, don’t do it abroad
That person that’s offering you a free ride in their car sounds a great idea doesn’t it? Or those strangers you’ve just met that are offering you a bed for the night? Or offering to take you to some “after party”? Take 5 seconds to think about whether you would do it at home, and if the answer is no, don’t do it. It’s not worth the risk. Travelling is quite safe, but it can also be dangerous. People seem to forget this, especially if they’ve been travelling a few months with no problems. Most stories I’ve read or heard about, 99% of the time, it’s partly down to the persons stupidity for getting into the situation. They did something they wouldn’t at home, and wonder why it’s gone so badly. It ruins your trip, so not worth the risk.
- Invest in a bumbag/money belt
I wouldn’t have been seen dead in one of these before I went travelling, but honestly, they are the best invention. Especially if you’re on an overnight bus/train, it’s worth wearing one while you sleep and putting your phone/money in it. It’s less likely to get stolen, as you’ll probably feel someone going in that, whereas you wouldn’t feel someone going in your backpack that’s in a cage above your head, while you’re asleep. Plus when you’re walking through a busy city with a backpack on, you don’t know who’s going in your bag. Whereas if your phone and money is in front of you, you can see it at all times.
- You will come home and hate everything
That job you had before you went away that you didn’t think was that bad? Yeah, you’ll hate it when you come home. People will still be the same, and it’s annoying. You’ll ask for gossip, what’s happened while you’ve been away, and nothing. Yet you have a million stories to tell, and people are moaning at you for always talking about travelling. They don’t understand, and probably never will, until they do it themselves. You’ll straight away be tempted to get back on a plane, and every time you go near an airport, or see a plane in a sky, you’ll get depressed, instantly. And you’ll hate going on facebook, seeing your new travel buddies still out there travelling, and you’re stuck at home. You name it, you’ll hate it! Travelling is addictive.