Backpacking tips - 7 Things Nobody Told Me About Backpacking
I bought my first plane ticket for a solo backpacking trip to Africa when I was 18. I had decided to climb Kilimanjaro, pretty much on a whim and with the vague hope of impressing girls, and was looking forward to my first adventure. Before I left, my mum insisted on taking me to an outdoor store where I was piled high with everything from carbon fiber tent pegs (for a tent I did not have) to emergency flares. It seemed that everybody in the shop, and indeed all my mates (non-backpackers every one of them), suddenly had an opinion on backpacking. I was bombarded with backpacking tips from all sides and I studied up online to try and work out exactly what a backpacker was supposed to, well, do.
Seven years later and I have spent most of my adult life backpacking around far flung lands. I thought I knew it all, but it turned out that there are 7 things nobody told me about backpacking…
- You will struggle to sleep
- The lack of a toilet will be an issue
- Your definition of “Clean” changes very quickly
- You will fall in love all the bloody time!
- You’ll come up with elaborate plans to see all your backpacking buddies again
- You can find something for a dollar almost everywhere
- People all around the world are generally nice and will want to help you
You will rarely sleep. Instead, you will get up super early to catch a sunrise, take advantage of the free hostel breakfast, steal bread for lunch and head out to go exploring. Around midday, it will start to get hot so you will find somewhere chilled to swim, play cards and perhaps have a beer or two. You’ll bump into someone you vaguely recognize and seven beers later you’ll be out on the town. Following a glitzy, loud, sometimes point blank shameful, night you will climb over the bolted hostel gate and stumble into your dorm. You’ll sneak along the hall, make awkward eye contact with a couple of backpackers having sex under your bed, climb your little wooden ladder and drift off to the gentle rocking of the bunk bed below. Five hours later, you’ll wake up to do it all again. When you do sleep, it will hit you like a tidalwave and you’ll simply lie down in the street to have a little nap. Backpackers have been known to fall asleep whilst hanging on to the outside of tuk tuks. If your planning on camping, the best camping tip I can give you is take a roll mat; sleeping on the cold, hard ground is a tad uncomfortable!
Now this all depends on where the hell you’re travelling to, if you’re lucky and headed somewhere relatively clean you might get just a bit of an upset stomach. If you’re unlucky, well, that’s a whole other level. I’ve seen a friend fall into a long drop toilet. Another time, my buddy came back from a toilet on an Indian train, he didn’t realise his shoes were, well, ruined. I trekked with a girl who had giardia for 2 weeks. Another friend of mine had the classic backpacker belly ache for nearly six months after a particularly bad curry in Delhi. I am pretty much bulletproof and have spent just 2 days out of nearly 1000 with stomach problems. My magic weapon – coconut water, nothing hydrates you as well as coconut water. If you can’t get that, put some salt in a coke – it’s a poor man’s medicine but it definitely works. There's nothing worse than needing to go to the loo whilst camping, one of the best camping tips I ever got was always take spare loo roll!
Suddenly, the tank top smelling of beer will become your ‘Sunday best’. This is largely because all of your other tank tops smell of curry. When you only have four lots of underwear and you’re in a humid, sweaty country, it makes sense to go for dark colours. When it comes to camping, one of the best camping tips I ever got was to always take more socks than you think you will need. I tend to wear a tank top for about three days at a time, something I would never do in the UK, and by the time I am ready to wash it I am usually tempted to don a biohazard suit. Saying that, despite the fact that everybody is wearing sweaty, dirty clothes, backpackers still all somehow tend to LOOK amazing. After a very short period of time, you no longer notice sweat marks, messy hair or running mascara – everyone is damn hot, which brings me on to my next point…
You will meet people who you click with and spend every second of the next week with them. They will become your best friends, your partners in crime. You will look after them when their long distance relationship inevitably breaks down, they will look after you when you crash your motorbike whilst showing off to girls. You will head off exploring together, get drunk together and get lost together. Ultimately, you will have stronger connections with some of these people then your best friends back home. Sometimes, when you’re travelling you meet someone who you can fall in love with in just a few hours – if you dig someone and the vibe is right, it’s gonna happen. The hard part is saying goodbye, you know you won’t see many of the people you meet again and frankly, this just sucks.
Mine is to get hold of a van and drive it all over the world visiting the people I have met on my travels… I then intend on recruiting a few choice individuals to build a village with me, in the forests man, so we can be, like, at one with nature. Seriously though, over a few beers, you’ll decide you simply MUST see so and so and will end up booking a random flight to the middle of nowhere, chasing down a bus or hitching out to the jungle in search of ‘the blonde girl with the alibaba trousers’ (I never did find her).
Whether it’s a handmade scarf in India, a wooden carving in Guatemala or a clay Saki cup in Japan; you can buy something worth having for under a dollar in absolutely every single country in the world. Give me a dollar, point me in the direction of some random country, and I will find something awesome worth having. Since this is the case, why spend a fortune on souvenirs – the best things you can buy are often handmade carvings or paintings, and you can often get these very cheaply if you know how to haggle! One of the best backpacking tips I was ever given was to walk away from a shop when necessary; often the owner will chase you down the street and immediately lower the price.
It sounds too good to be true but the world is not as hostile a place as the media would have us believe. Every country has good people and every country has bad. Luckily, the good far outweigh the bad in every single country I have ever been to. I have been helped, rescued and befriended by local people on countless occasions. Meeting and connecting with different people around the world is what it’s all about and has always been my favourite part of backpacking. Always remember, it doesn’t matter how stern someone looks – they will still have a sense of humour. If you need to break the ice, one backpacking tip is to simply smile and order a few beers.
So there you go Pirates, there's all of my knowledge of life on the road summed up in one easy article! Take it easy, make a note of our backpacking tips and camping tips, pack your bags, hit the road and explore this incredible world we live in! For more awesome backpacking tips, stay up to date with our blog and check out online travel blogs for more tips on exploring the world on a budget!