Novice solo backpacker: Thing’s you’ll learn!
Novice solo backpacker to a seasoned budget traveler.
From wide eyed novice solo backpacker to experienced budget traveler!
Regular readers will know, I first packed my backpack in 2010 and embarked on an adventure around the world which is still continuing to this day. From 2010 – 2016 this was a continuous journey only returning to England (home) for short breaks. For those of you who didn’t know this, here’s a quick rundown:
I started my journey as a wide-eyed novice solo backpacker when I traveled to and backpacked through Australia. Since then I’ve traveled, lived, worked, partied and roamed around the world crossing 6 continents. It’s fair to say I’ve seen, done experienced a lot. Through my journey, I’ve partied with the best of them, witnessed world wonders, paradise Islands, jungles, mountains, volcanoes, exotic animals, exposed to incredible cultures, met amazing people, and learned of hidden histories.
It’s fair to say since 2010 I’ve lived a completely unreal life. However, through my journey along with the incredible high’s I’ve had to endure some pretty dark days, depressing lows, I’ve felt happy, angry, sad, and frustrated. I’ve run out of money in foreign countries, I’ve had to battle, scratch and claw to keep my dreams from turning into nightmares. But you know what, I wouldn’t change a single minute of it. Why? because everything I’ve had to endure and go through has made me the experienced budget traveler I am today.
Feeling under-prepared for your first solo travel trip?
If you’re planning your first trip and feel under-prepared, anxious not knowing what to expect or think you’re walking into this blind; don’t worry you will be a novice solo backpacker. However, let me assure you we were all in your position at one point. I can honestly tell you even with all the research and planning I did before my first trip I wasn’t prepared.
There are reasons for this and It’s one of those reasons why I started Forever Roaming the World. That is because before trips you’re just not told what to expect when backpacking.
This post is here to help you with what to expect, and some useful for tips for your first solo travel trip.
Not pre-warned about backpacking life
What I mean is, yes sure we can do all the research on places to stay, all the incredible things to see and do, find out about transport – but there is a distinct lack of information on everyday backpacking life. You don’t really get told about the in-between days, the different choices you can make, what happens when things go wrong or how to get by if your funds dry up.
Nowhere in my research did it tell me there would be a possibility of falling into the backpacker trap, do you know what that is? Nor did it tell me about hostel dynamics or unwritten hostel/backpacker rules.
Incidentally, I did fall into the backpacker trap so many first time backpackers, especially when you choose to stay in the Kings Cross, Sydney.
The backpacker trap
What is the trap? – It’s when you arrive, a novice solo backpacker, wide-eyed, full of excitement an Iron clad plan to travel the country; but it all goes out the window when you start to party and get stuck in one place.
Don’t worry I’m not saying this will happen to you, not every novice solo backpacker will get stuck in one place for 6 months and forget they were there to travel and not party every day away (although it might happen to some of you). That was my starting point all those years ago; I’ve evolved as a traveler since then.
How many times have you heard or read this from other travelers or from doing your research? When you’re a solo budget backpacker, things change, different situation’s occur, your mind changes like the wind, so keep it loose and flexible to allow you to maneuver.
In saying that, you shouldn’t confuse planning with researching; as a solo budget backpacker good research can make a huge difference to your trip. If you need help with structuring your research in a step-by-step manner which covers all your bases download this solo travel planning walkthrough for FREE.
There are a few things I always do when researching a trip, things like finding out little things about my destination. I look at customs in the country, prices of little things, routes around the country, if English is spoken or the best way to get around locally. This is just some simple research to prepare me but what I don’t do is create a packed itinerary. I do look at things I want to do and see but no schedule to when.
Pack light, Pack accordingly
I’m sure you’ve heard a million times that you should pack light. Well while that is true, you should also pack accordingly to where you are going. If you’re heading on a winter trip pack winter clothes but that doesn’t mean pack two of everything, if you’re going somewhere hot then you’re not going to need your jumpers but again don’t overload.
I’m not trying to be arrogant, It’s just we’ve all been there, it’s natural as a novice solo backpacker to be tempted to overpack. The majority of backpackers will tell you they regretted over-packing on their first trip. My first trip I took 2 pairs of everything for every single day for all weather conditions, I wanted to be prepared; more fool me! I didn’t think logically, with that weight, I may as well of carried a sack of bricks with me. The worst thing is I didn’t ever wear half the stuff I took. Over the years my backpack has got lighter and lighter, I take bare minimum now and that suits my back just fine.
Be prepared to not to be prepared
Ok, I know you’re scratching your head now, you’re thinking “what is this guy talking about, I’m doing my research and planning, I’m prepared for anything”
I have no doubt you will or have done your research and planning but as a solo budget backpacker spanners will get thrown at you. The unexpected will happen, your accommodation might not be what you thought it would be, transport issues, food, an accident. However the unexpected isn’t always negative, you might not be prepared to fall in love with your destination or the people you meet. fellow travelers may introduce you to a hidden gem, you might find it yourself, there could be an impromptu carnival or festival going on (it happens.) It could be anything.
Arriving in a new country
Arriving in a new foreign country can be daunting even for an experienced traveler, especially if they speak a language you don’t. Over the years I’ve learned to do a few things before I get to a new country and this goes back to my research, and this may help you.
- Try and learn a little basic language of the country or region because even if you try to speak their language it goes a long way. You don’t come across as ignorant.
- Carry a small amount of money in the right currency but not too much (I use ATM’s as I don’t flash wads of cash around locals)
- Figure out what mode of transport is the cheapest and safest I.E a tuck-tuck compared to the bus – note: In some countries taxi’s are cheaper but more dangerous.
- If you want to take a Taxi, find out which are registered taxi’s and not scam-artists (there’s a lot of them ) If you go for the bus, try to find out which route the bus takes; nothing worse than arriving in a new country and getting on the wrong bus because you can’t understand the people or the bus timetable.
- Book a night or two in a hostel in advance – This is the only time I book in advance, I do this because It’s a new country, I’m not familiar with it, and I want to get to my hostel as quickly as I can. Also, I can have the route mapped out so if the driver deviated I will know.
- Try your hardest not to look like a tourist – The more you look like a tourist the bigger the target you look like.
Learning from other long-term travelers and some personal mistakes, nowadays I tend to only book the first nights stay in advance.
I’ve found over the years a lot of hostels don’t actually advertise on the internet (I know shock horror). So what I tend to do is book for that first night and the next day have a wander around the area to see if there is something more suited, or cheaper for me. If there is, I’ll book into there, if not then I’ll just extend at my original place. The majority of times you can find hostels so much cheaper just walking around and looking.
I’ve recently written a post on getting used to hostel life, so I won’t go into this too much. I will, however, say, hostels have some misconceptions about them. Also, you should choose the type of hostel that suits you best: Different types of hostels.
A few things you should know: They are generally safe places, they are not hotels so don’t expect hotel quality and remember you’re paying for the bed, not for the room. Yes, you have to share spaces and equipment, fridge spaces, sockets etc. In most cases staff are other travelers working for their rent, they are not your maids or servants and might not know everything about the local area. Have an open mind when staying in hostels, they can be real eye-openers. You will see and hear all kinds of things but you shouldn’t judge. Hostels are also in most cases very social places and don’t be surprised to make friends very quickly.
Budgeting can be hard for some of us, some of us have never been blessed with having a lot of more and have had to save every penny to start traveling. If budgeting and money management is hard for you don’t worry I was exactly the same.
I was horrible at keeping to my budget when I first started to travel, I horribly overspent, I ran out of my initial funds within weeks. I had to work to replenish but it was as if there was a hole in my pocket, the money would just disappear.
Running out of money as a long-term backpacker happens but over the years I’ve learned to adapt, learned to budget better. I’ve learned to save money by exploring free things to do and see, save on food, drank cheaper booze, smoke role-ups rather than cigarettes, learned to take overnight buses to save on accommodation and picked cheaper options to travel. Through this, I know how to manage my money, how to make it stretch.
Getting from A to B to Z
I often say the worst part of traveling is the actual travel from A to B. Being English and impatient with public transport didn’t help. If that sounds like you too don’t worry, again through experience you learn to adapt and become more patient.
If you are somebody who thinks 20 minutes journeys are wrong, well you’re going to have to learn to cope with 10, 15, even 30-hour journeys.
There are a few different ways to learn to cope with long-haul journeys, you can take a book to read, keep yourself entertained from your phone/tablet/ laptop, watch movies, or if you write a diary take the time to fill it in. You can also do what I’ve learned to do – Sleep the journey away.
I have managed to perfect the art of falling as sleep as soon as my transport moves and waking up when it stops. To this day I’ve never missed a stop, although there was once when I thought I did. It’s funny when I’m on long-journeys nowadays I can instantly tell who is a novice solo backpacker and who is an experienced traveler.
Not just the distance
A few other things you have to get used to are countries that don’t have the best roads, break-downs, transport being very late or just not turning up. There is no explanation for this but it happens all the time, for some reasons bus drivers blast Air-con at 3 to 4 in the morning but not during the day when it’s actually hot. Or this one; bus drivers blasting local music at 4 am when people have fallen asleep!
There are also random Police checks, having to sit next to somebody that stinks, or your transport driver deciding to have an unscheduled stop just because he’s seen a friend. All these things you will come across and best to prepare yourself for.
Day to day life of a backpacker
Be prepared to spend days doing nothing, yes you’re there to travel, to see, do and experience things but not every minute of every day will be spectacular. There will be days you don’t want to do anything, there will be days you can’t do anything but don’t worry about it just enjoy your time. It will surprise you the longer you travel the more normal things you end up doing, sometimes just going to the market for food will be your adventure for the day.
Then there are those little things you need to stop and do nothing, like laundry days, yes, we backpackers do need laundry days, and if any don’t they should do. There will also be days when you don’t have any money to do anything when you’re hungover (it’s more than likely there will be a lot of those).
You will also have days when you stop just to re-calculate, you might plan to change your route, do some research, sporadically choose to change countries. Remember, like I said your plans will change.
Ups and downs of solo traveling
Your trip will be full of highs and excitement but there will be days when all is not rosy. you are human and your moods will swing, there will be times you get homesick, miss people from back home or even other backpackers who you’ve met and left you. You will experience a mixture of feelings and emotions and things will go wrong. You can’t control every aspect of backpacking life but all of it will be a learning curve and everything you go through will head you in good stead for future travels.
Let me assure you when you endure the crappy days and feelings, they will pass, the good days will return and you won’t even think of the bad days.
If there is one thing above all else that solo budget travel can teach you, it’s learning about your character and what you are made of. Solo budget traveling will test you mentally. Backpacking is as much about life lessons and learning about yourself as the things you go out to see and do.
I’ve learned over the years no matter what is thrown at me, I’m a survivor and I can adapt to different situations. Traveling long-term on a tight budget has taught me to appreciate the good things and not to get hung up on the bad. Without the things, I’ve experienced and learned I wouldn’t have gone from being a novice solo backpacker to the experienced budget traveler I am today nor would I be here writing this for you guys.
Did you find this Novice solo Backpacker post helpful? Let me know in the comments below if there is anything else you would like to know about solo or budget backpacking
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