Novice solo backpacker to seasoned budget traveler.
Regular readers may know I started my solo budget backpacking journey in 2010, however if this is your first time reading; here’s a quick over view.
I started as a wide-eyed novice solo backpacker, I’ve seen, done and experienced so much. I’ve partied and drank (a lot) with the best of them, I’ve had my ups, downs and everything in between, been in situations, been happy, sad, angry depressed but wouldn’t change a single minute.
From that wide-eyed novice solo backpacker I’ve evolved, learnt so much, grown (not in height) to become a seasoned solo budget traveler.
So 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. 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.
Novice solo backpacker:
Before my first trip, I had done tons of research, planned everything to the tee, there was a picture in my head of what it was going to be like but the reality was different. You see when you plan and research most of the time you’re shown all the awesome places to go and see, top 10 things to do, places to eat and all that cool stuff. However you don’t really get told what It’s going to be like on a day to day basis; that you have to figure out when you get there.
None of my research back then had told me about the possibility of getting stuck in one place longer than I anticipated, or how an iron clad plan can change on a whim. Nor did it prepare me for times when I would run out of money and have to work to sustain my travels, It didn’t pre-warn me that there would be a likely chance of partying so much as a first time solo backpacker.
Incidentally I fell into the trap so many first time backpackers do when they arrive in Sydney and decide to stay in Kings cross; party like there is no tomorrow.
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 everyday 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.
Here are some things that may help you for your journey into the world of solo budget traveling.
How many times have you heard or read this from other travelers and from doing your research. When you’re a solo budget backpacker, things change, situation 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. Check out this post If you would like some advice on how I plan for my solo budget trips
A few things I like to do when researching a trip is find out about the country. Where certain places I want to see and do are, learn a few basic words if they don’t speak English, what season it’s going to be when I arrive, a few local customs, how to get around. See that’s just research to prepare me, what I don’t do is make a tight itinerary filled with what I’m going to do every minute of the day. I have a rough idea of the main things I’d like to do and work around that.
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. 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’ve done 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 spanner’s 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 learnt to do a few things before I get to a new country and this goes back to my research.
- 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.
- I carry a small amount of money in the right currency but not too much (I use ATM’s as I don’t flash wods of cash around locals)
- I 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 I want to take a Taxi, I find out which are registered taxi’s and not scam-artists (there’s a lot of them ) If I go for the bus, I 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.
- I Book a hostel in advance – This is the only time I do this because It’s a new country, I’m not familiar with it, and I want to get to my hostel as quick as I can. Also I can have the route mapped out so if the driver deviated I will know.
- Try my 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 wrote a post on getting used to hostel life, so I wont go into this too much. I will however say, hostels have some misconceptions about them.
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.
Now I’ve never been blessed with having a lot of money and like many travelers I had to save every penny I had to start traveling. To tell you the truth I was horrible at keeping a budget when I first started. I would spend, run out of it, work to replenish my funds, spend it all again and go through the cycle. Running out of money as a long-term backpacker happens but over the years I’ve learnt to adapt, learnt to budget better. I’ve learnt to save money by exploring free things to do and see, save on food, drank cheaper booze, smoke role-ups rather than cigarettes, learnt to take overnight buses to save on accommodation and picked cheaper options to travel. Bottom line is I was shit with money when I started and now I’m better and budgeting and stretching my money.
I often say the worst part of traveling is the actual travel from A to B. Being English and being that I used to be so impatient with public transport this was one of the hardest things I had to deal with and adapt to.
See when you’re traveling, especially long haul journeys in countries that don’t have the best roads it can be arduous to say the least. Now I’m a guy that used to think 10 minute train rides to work were long but yet, now I’m able to cope 10,15, even 30 hour journeys.
Over the years I’ve adapted and mastered the art of falling asleep as soon as the wheels turn or leave the ground. headphones in, music on, eyes closed and drift away only to be woken by a bump in the road, a quick check of the time and drift away again.
However it’s not just the sheer length of journeys you will have to get used to, no,no…there are other factors. Things like breakdowns (It will happen be prepared). Bus drivers blasting Air-con at 3 in the morning but not during the day when it’s actually hot. Or this one; bus drivers blasting local music at 4am when people have fallen asleep! Then there’s random Police checks, having to sit next to somebody that stinks, your transport driver deciding to have an un-scheduled stop just because he’s seen a friend. All these things you will come realize as just what happens.
Day to day life.
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.
Ups and downs of solo traveling.
I’ve learnt over the years, traveling isn’t always rosy, I wouldn’t change a minute of what I’ve done but be prepared to have some down days too. There will be days you feel lonely, feel homesick, hate where you are, question yourself to why you’re even doing it. There will be times when everything goes wrong, you might run out of money or get some bad news from back home.
But let me assure you these days will pass and you wont even think about them when you’re having the good days. There is no better feeling, that sense of ultimate freedom, the utmost relaxation. sometimes you just have to take the rough with the smooth.
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, there will be a lot of bumps in the way but you have to take the rough with the smooth. I’ve learnt 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 learnt I wouldn’t be here writing this for you guys.
I hope this post has helped calm any nerves you may have as a novice solo backpacker, or helped you gauge a bit of an idea how things can change for you the more you travel.
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