My Backpacking TipsTuesday, 6 September 2016
This post is definitely a little different from the norm, but it's actually been something I've been thinking about writing for a while now! I think it started when Facebook memories started showing me posts from 2012 when my friend and I embarked on a three month backpacking trip of Europe and the USA, and whilst also feeling very nostalgic, it also got me thinking about the trip a lot - what we did, the lows, the highs. I've also talked to a lot of people recently who have gone on their own trips and they've asked for advice, and so I thought, why not make a post about it?
Obviously, backpacking trips are going to be different for everybody. You will make your own experiences, and see things differently, so this is just my own views and my own experiences. You have to do what you're most comfortable with!
While you may not have plans to ever backpack, I think a lot of these tips apply to travelling in general anyway. I hope they're at least a little helpful!
1. Invest in a good backpack.
I wish I knew this when I was shopping for mine. Seriously.
I was on a pretty tight budget, and absolutely did not do enough research. I just thought it was a bag - who cares! WRONG. You will be carrying this on your back for god knows how many months. You will re-pack this baby everyday. You will sometimes even use it as a pillow. Spend time shopping around, and girls - you don't need a big pack for all your wardrobe. I will touch on this next. I bought a HUGE backpack that ended up being ridiculously heavy, uncomfortable, and about a month in one strap broke. Two months in, both straps were completely warped. Three months later, I was counting down the number of times left I had to haul it onto my back. Good riddance.
2. Pack the bare necessities.
When you haven't backpacked before, you don't really know what to expect. The expectation is having multiple cute outfits with interchangeable shoes, and being able to maintain your usual beauty routine. The reality is that you will get sick of your clothes - no matter how many cute tops you bring, you will HATE THEM ALL one month in. You will be seen in the same top in every tenth photo. So there is no point stuffing your bag full of outfits - narrow it down. You only need one jumper - chances are you are backpacking in a warm climate. You only need 1-2 pairs of comfy shoes and maybe some dressy sandals - optional, as Europe is pretty slack in it's dress codes (it's the greatest). As for beauty? Simple is best. I swear half my pack actually ended up being makeup and shampoo. You will find you will wear less - if any - makeup. Keep to your essentials. Now, I can't tell you what skincare to pack, however if you can get away with it, leave your five step routine at home. Unless your skin will horrifically break out without it, I don't think it's worth taking your chemical exfoliants and serums. There is something about being on holiday that I think is great for your skin - fresh air maybe? Less stress? Who knows. Less is best, friends.
3. Learn the language.
I made sure I could say 'Please', 'Thank you' and 'Hello' in every country I visited. I think that's the least you should do, as it's only polite and not very hard. I think there's nothing worse than tourists who don't take a second to actually absorb the culture around them - how hard could it be to learn one word, and be a little respectful? I think it's also fun - I love learning new languages. The only one I couldn't grasp was 'please' in Dutch - sorry, Amsterdam.
4. Say Yes.
This is so cliche, but it's true. Why travel far and wide if you aren't going to go outside your comfort zone and try something new? Not saying you need to go leaping out of a plane or anything (unless...okay, that would be a totally cool story, though) but if an opportunity arises - do it! Don't overthink it, chances are it will actually be kind of great. Like the time we decided to go bike riding from San Francisco to Sausalito - despite the fact I hate bike riding and have a bad knee, and it was about 16km long, and it resulted in me dislocating my knee at the very end - I had a great day! Push yourself, do something you wouldn't normally do back home. Stay out till 6am (you won't have a choice in Europe, that's how it works) and eat and drink all of the food - all of it. Even the haggis. Just do it.
5. Hostels don't have standards.
You're going to have to learn to not be picky about your accomodation. Some hostels were great, others had us laughing at how terrible they actually were. You don't always get what you pay for, and most of the time the bathrooms are questionable. We were lucky we didn't come across bedbugs the entire three months we were away - there was a lot of talk about it though, so be aware.
Remember at the end of the day, the hostel is literally just a place for you to sleep. You don't tend to spend a lot of time there so don't worry too much if it's not perfect. They're also a great way to meet people - even though I'm not super outgoing, we ended up making friends almost everywhere we stayed. You just don't get that in hotels! We had some of the best experiences staying in hostels, so don't be afraid. Just be aware, and be careful - don't leave anything important or expensive behind, and you'll be okay. You will also get used to people having sex next to you - yep.
6. Always over-budget.
You can be a fanatical budgeter, and have everything narrowed down to the $ (or the €) but I'm telling you now - have a 'Miscellaneous' fund. There's nothing worse than realising you are running out of money overseas. Things will happen - good things, bad things, and you need to prepare for them. You don't want to be turning down amazing opportunities because you can't afford them, and you don't want to be going home early after paying for something unexpected. I hate that money is as important as it is, but that is just the way of the world, and we have to accept that you will be a lot more comfortable knowing there's a few dollars in your account at the end of the day, just in case.
7. Prepare for the worst.
And by that, I mean germs. I'm telling you - it will happen. Ever heard the phrase 'Contiki Cough'? It's a real thing. Whether you go on a group tour or not, you are bound to catch something. Late night, lots of drinking (or not, but still), lack of sleep and being in close proximity to people means you are probably going to get sick, and it's going to suck. I got sick after Greece and spent the next two months suffering. I still went about and did everything I would have done anyway but it got hard sometimes. Having to visit a pharmacy in Nice, France and try and ask for cough medicine in my broken French was not fun, and neither was hacking up a lung in a room of 12 people. Pack some painkillers, pack some antibiotics, pack whatever you think you may need. I wish I knew this.
8. Take a break, at least once.
Not everyone will feel the need to do this, but we certainly did. Maybe it was the sickness finally wearing us down, but we decided once we got to Las Vegas (near the end of our trip) that we would splurge a little and spoil ourselves. It was easy in Las Vegas, as it's pretty cheap to stay in a hotel there, and it was well worth it for the proper beds and a private bathroom. We did something similar in Scotland, which was at the very end of our two month European tour. We could only afford a hostel, which was fine, but we treated ourself to a proper pub meal which was amazing after months of cheap, stodgy street food. Sometimes you just need to take a breather, and refresh yourself. It's important to know it's okay - and it's okay that the hotel staff are judging you in your smelly t-shirt and giant backpack.
9. You don't have to drink the €3 cocktail buckets, and you certainly don't have to drink five of them.
Europe has cheap alcohol, and they don't really measure anything. I learnt very quickly that I can't drink vodka. I also learnt very quickly that travelling on buses and planes with hangovers is really not an experience I'd like to go through again. I've seen someone vomit out the window of a moving bus, and it's a visual you can't forget easily. You can say no. The bartenders will be very persuasive and very cute, but you can say no.
10. Don't worry, at all.
People are apprehensive about travelling overseas, particularly when it comes to backpacking or just being away for long periods of time. You will worry about money, hostels, being safe, organising travel, being tired, being hungover, whether there's WIFI, missing home.
You'll be fine.
I've never slept better than when I travelled. As someone who suffers seriously with sleeping, this is huge for me. You are going to be full of excitement, fear and horror and it's going to be great. You're going to get back to your accomodation at the end of every day exhausted. You're going to acquire some new scars and some new stories and some new friends, and you're going to learn some hard lessons, quickly. You're going to see some things that take your breath away - good and bad. You're going to appreciate a good bed, more than ever. You're also going to appreciate privacy more than ever, to be honest.
Travelling is so important to me, and backpacking was one of the best things I've ever done in my life. I've travelled a lot, and I've always had a great time, but the best times we're definitely had in 2012, when I spent three months away from home, my first overseas trip as an adult. It's not for everyone, and I can completely understand that some people have no desire, and that's okay. If it's something you're thinking of doing though, I cannot recommend it highly enough.
You will see and experience so much more than you will ever will otherwise, and you'll come home with so many stories - some that you will tell for years, and others that only you and the people you travelled with will ever know about. I learnt so much when I travelled - about the world, about different people, different food. I learnt that I live in an amazing country, and that I should never forget that, but that it was really, really important to see the rest of the world and learn about theirs.
I'm not sure if this post was helpful, necessarily, but I hope it was at least enlightening, in some way. I also hope that if you read this as someone who has travelled before, that you are nodding your head and laughing, because you know it's the truth. There's nothing quite like the bond of two people who have backpacked.
If you've travelled, what did you learn? Talking about travelling is one of my favourite topics in the world, and I'd love to hear your stories :)