You want to go on a long term solo backpacking trip in the future post-Covid when It’s safe to. While you’ve been stuck at home during the pandemic, you’ve been filling up with wanderlust insatiably scrolling through incredible Instagram feeds of your favourite influencers and want a piece of it.
If that’s the case, I’m sue you’ve been reading countless blogs and watching vlogs itching to start your own adventures. If you have that’s amazing.
However, have you been told, seen or read about the in between stuff for your 1st solo backpacking trip?
We’ve all been in your shoes at one point or another, reading, watching, hearing about the amazing adventures, the life of discovery ahead of a first solo backpacking trip.
It’s only once we start our solo backpacking trip that we realise half the story was kept from us. Sometimes we figure it out, there are times we unconsciously know about certain aspects, we see and learn from those around us. However, there are times we’re confronted and we just don’t know how to deal with it.
With a decade of long term solo and budget backpacking experience I see it all the time, those on their first solo backpacking trips feeling out of their depth when confronted with things they had no idea about.
We’re going to change that for you, and provide insights, advice and tips for the things you will have to deal with on a day to day basis.
Tips and advice for your first solo backpacking trip
Ok, lets get into it shall we. In this post we’re going to dive into:
- Useful things to look into before your solo backpacking trip
- Booking hostels
- Hostel life
- Living out of your backpack
- Packing, unpacking, packing
- The actual traveling from A to B
- Being prepared not to be prepared
- Day to day life – not everyday is an adventure
- Staving off burn out during your solo backpacking trip
- Tourist traps – Reality vs Expectation
- Being wary of pickpockets and petty thieves
- How A Solo backpacking trip can be an emotional rollercoaster
Useful tips before your solo backpacking trip
- Learn a few basic words in the native language before your first solo backpacking trip. It and it will help you get by and make things easier. You don’t have to be fluid or be able to speak full conversations, just a few basic words and numbers help when traveling
- Try to take just enough money in the local currency to get you through the first couple of days and try having small change. Don’t take money out from Airport ATM’s they have the highest exchange rates and fees. You can use ATMS in almost every country in the world
- Figure out if your destination is mainly cashless now, or still persist on money
- Look into SIM cards for your phone beforehand. You can normally pick one up at the airport when you arrive or shops close to your accommodation. Do a bit of research into the best option for you. Using a local SIM card can save you a lot of money
- Figure out the best mode of transport to get to your accommodation beforehand. It saves time, and makes you look less like a tourist and saves money. If you just want to take a taxi, do your research. There are a lot of Airport scams, travelers getting overcharged.
- Have a screenshot of the route to your accommodation handy. It helps to get there quicker, but also you know if your taxi/tuk-tuk/bus is going off route and not deviating.
- Try your hardest not to look like a tourist – The more you look like a tourist the bigger the target you look like for pickpockets and petty thieves
- On a side note concerning planning your trip – It’s not advisable for a long term travel trip to over plan. You want to do as much research as you can but not physically plan and book too much. Be as lucid and flexible as possible because plans are likely to change
For your solo backpacking trip, you’re more than likely looking to stay in a backpacker hostel for a number of reasons including they are budget travel accommodation and they are great places to meet other travelers.
Hostels have been my go accommodation choice for most of my solo backpacking trips. A trick I’ve learnt over the years is not to book a stay for too long in one hostel when I arrive in a new country. I only book for the initial night or two.
I do this because:
- Hostels are not always like what they are shown on booking sites
- Many hostels don’t actually list themselves on booking sites
- By walking around the local area there is potential to find better and cheaper options
- There’s nothing worse than booking into a hostel that you don’t like, isn’t your style but are stuck there
- The hostel may have great reviews and look good but when you arrive It has the wrong crowd for you
- You arrive and just don’t like it, or can’t settle in it
- Something is wrong with the hostel but because you’ve already paid you’re stuck
When booking hostels in advance It’s good to try and read between the lines of the reviews, some are fake. Take a good look at the pictures, have they been doctored, do they look real. Google the hostel and see if other pictures appear.
When you’re looking to research or even book backpacker hostels, HostelWorld is a great choice. It’s the worlds most popular and reliable hostel booking site.
Nothing quite prepares you for hostel life until you walk in one yourself. Hostels come with a lot of misconceptions, bad reps but they are mainly from those who have either never stayed in one or had a bad experience.
Hostels can in fact be integral to a backpackers experience, they are great places to meet people are sociable and there are different types of hostels to suit your personality, wants and needs.
In saying that, the first time you walk in there might be some trepidation and can be daunting for some especially if you’ve never had to share a room or space with other people before.
Things to know about hostels:
- They are generally very safe
- They are not hotels – so don’t expect hotel quality and things do go wrong
- Keep an open mind – even if you don’t want to get involved, anything and everything can happen in a hostel
- You are paying for your bed not the hole room
- Keep your belongings in and around your bed/bunk or in your own lockers
- Apart from you bed and locker, everything else is communal and space is to be shared
- The staff are not there to serve you, in most cases they are fellow travelers
- Learn your hostel etiquette
- Be friendly, be approachable and you will make friends. However remember It’s nobody’s prerogative to make friends with you
- Be mindful and respectful of others, their beliefs, interests, and faiths even if you don’t
- Solo travelers bond together in hostels
- The easiest way to adapt to hostel life is to keep your mind open
This post will give you an extensive insight into what hostel life is really like and what to expect when walking into one for the first time.
Packing, unpacking, packing
One of the joys of being a backpacker Hand in hand with living out of your backpack will be the constant cycle of packing, unpacking and packing again.
You’ll arrive in a new place:
- Unpack a few essentials, toiletries, some electronics.
- You’ll try and make yourself comfortable for a few days
- But then have to pack it all up and move on.
Again like with living out of your backpack, for the first few weeks or even months It’s not an issue but there comes a point where it just becomes a tedious chore. When you first start, you will more than likely take care in the way you pack.
You’ll have everything nice and neat, in packing cubes and roles. However the longer you travel the more things just get shoved back in, most of the time you will leave something behind. Again right now this may seen inconsequential but once you experience it you will understand.
The actual traveling part of traveling
When you do your research and planning for your solo backpacking trip, you can find the A-Z about the destination, the things to see and do, where to stay etc, but nobody ever talks about how they got from the last place to the next. Why? – Because It’s boring, who wants to know about a bus or train ride right?
We all think like that but when It’s us trying to figure out a timetable or standing at a bus station with a backpack strapped to us under the over bearing sun staring at the tin with holes that is meant to be our transport – We think ‘why was I not told about this beforehand’.
So here we are, talking about the boring side that will save you when you travel.
Things you will have to get used to during your solo backpacking trip
- Lugging your backpack around when moving from one place to another
- It’s yours and only your responsibility to keep your belongings safe
- By being constantly on the move, moving from A to B an become mentally draining and wear you down. There is no need to be in a rush to keep moving if you don’t have a set timeframe
- Get used to bumpy, rough roads and arduous journeys
- Get used to distances being far longer than what they seem like
- A 1 hour ride can easily turn into 5
- Get used to long distance journeys lasting 9, 11, 15 hours or even longer
- Get used to breakdowns, and roadside problems
- In certain countries transport turns up when it wants – You have to learn to become very patient
- Transport can just go missing
- In some countries armed police will board and check ID’s
- Some rides can be very picturesque others awful
- Night buses are great in theory, you will probably use them but you will also probably vow never to use them again – It’s an empty threat you will
- The type of transport you choose will be down to your budget, wants and needs
- Don’t be over paranoid but always be on guard for pickpockets especially on metro lines and packed buses
Day to day life of a backpacker
Before you start your first solo backpacking trip It’s easy to envision adventure after adventure, one excursion to the next, each activity and everything you discover rolling into one – The reality is not quiet like that.
The truth is, once you get into backpacking life things can change very quickly. Seeing, doing, exploring, that can all take a back seat.
Once you start actually traveling, you realise not everyday is an adventure:
- You have down days
- Days and weeks you do nothing but relax
- Find a place you like and just chill
- Days you need to do laundry
- Spend days unwinding and recharging
- Take time out from traveling and make a nest for yourself
- Have to replenish dwindling funds or have run out of money
- Times were you’re just not motivated to do anything
- Make amazing friends and just don’t want to leave
- Days where the most exciting thing you do is your food shop
- Take time out to pamper yourself – Everybody deserves some R & R
- Times you don’t want to be sociable and just want to keep to yourself
You can also fall into the backpacker lifestyle, into the hostel bubble and spend days partying away. Motivation and desire to move on can be sapped in an instance, you end up getting stuck in one place and even become a local.
There is nothing wrong with that, It’s happened to me on countless times and to be honest I’ve had the time of my life doing it and wouldn’t change a second.
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Risk of burnout during your first solo backpacking trip
Those that do not fall into the backpacker lifestyle or those that do not take rest days are highly likely to suffer from burn out a lot quicker than those that take their time. It happens because they’re constantly on the go, they don’t take the time to rest and even to soak in moments. Their minds and bodies are constantly processing and there is only so much they can take.
Obviously for those traveling on set time frames they want to cram in as much as possible before going back home but those with no time frames need to realise time is on their side.
Too many shoot out the blocks during their first solo backpacking trip, see and do as much as possible. It’s understandable for the few weeks but there should come a time when they slow down. Take time out, rest, recharge and go again but at a slower pace.
What usually happens is a few months down the road, they just can’t stomach anymore traveling, they’re full and in turn can stop enjoying it. Or from the day they start are too stressed out, take traveling too seriously and never enjoy it. While the ones that are plodding along at a slow pace take more in, soak in more and take far more enjoyment from it.
There is nothing wrong with taking it slow and having down days.
Tourist traps and scams
Learning to spot tourist traps will come to you with experience. Before you start your solo backpacking trip everything seems and is made out to be shiny. There will be so many times your expectation just doesn’t match the reality because what you were shown is not what it actually is.
It’s part of your traveling education, you will encounter it in all forms, even from where you don’t expect.
Tourist traps you’re most likely to encounter:
- World wanders – As amazing as they are because of the demand and popularity have been turned into tourist traps
- Famous monuments and landmarks
- Practically anything on a ‘top 10 things to see and do’ list
- Anywhere that states getting a taste of ‘real authentic & local’ – The ones that are authentic don’t have to state they are
- Every city or popular destinations has a tourist zone and there will be traps within it
- Destinations that have got famous from TV, Movies, Books, or celebrity endorsements of famous historic figure have turned into traps or gimmicky
- Destinations that have got popular in recent times have tourist traps littered all over it
Most local areas are littered with tour companies promising the most authentic travel experience but its just a sales technique. The more you travel the more bubbles with burst and the more you will see behind the façade.see
Keep vigilant of pickpockets and petty thieves
No matter where you go in the world there are going to be petty criminals and pickpockets. Safety is your own responsibility but there’s no need to be overly paranoid. You do however need to posses a key simple tools or at least learn to:
- Use common sense
- Have your wits about you
- Pay attention to your surroundings
- Keep you personal and valuable items secure
- Don’t make it obvious
- If something sounds too good to be true it probably is
- Don’t be too trusting or naïve of people you don’t know
- Look out for signs
Nine times out of ten when people get pickpocketed or get into trouble as much as they profess it wasn’t their fault it usually is. They might not even realise it but somewhere along the times they made themselves a target.
Long term travel is an emotional rollacoaster
It’s something that anybody rarely thinks of while thinking of, planning or even when they start traveling and that is their emotional states.
You may think of the excitement and all the amazing things for your solo backpacking trip but there’s no real consideration to other emotions you will feel along the way. Long term travel isn’t a holiday, and you are human. So you will endure all kinds of emotions and be twisted up in knots and even conflicted at times.
Reasons behind it:
- Part of it is due to the internal journeys you will go through
- The people you meet will effect your emotions and behaviours
- Where you are, your connection with the destination
- Adrenaline spikes – When there is a high there is usually a low
- Hangovers and comedowns
- Saying goodbyes to people you come in contact with
- General wear and tear of traveling
- Missing people back home, homesickness
- Your financial situation
- Making friends, falling for someone, falling in love
- Feeling sick, having an accident needing medical attention
- Mood swings
- Things constantly going wrong
- Mishaps, bad decisions during your solo backpacking trip
All of this is part of your traveling experience, you will have ups and downs although you can’t stop it from happening you can be aware it will happen and prepare yourself for when it does.
Adaptability is key for your 1st long term solo backpacking trip
And there you have it, the less glamorous side but practical advice and tips to help you with everyday life during your first solo backpacking trip.
What you should keep in mind is adaptability will be key for you, traveling is an education. It doesn’t matter if it’s the first trip or 10 years down the line you will always be learning. Never think you know everything about traveling, just as you’re evolving so is it.
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