So you’ve decided to take the plunge and start planning your first backpacking trip? CONGRATS! I’m so happy for you! I’ve created this list to help you be a better first-time backpacker than I was. This post has my personal top 15 Rookie Mistakes to Avoid on your First Backpacking Trip.
Trust me, just read this and learn from my dumb mistakes lol. I’ve done more than 4 backpacking trips and can sometimes forget, but these are seriously tips to follow.
On my first trip to Europe, we did 10 countries, 21 cities in 60 days!! No, that wasn’t a typo…we actually did that and it was crazy! We were burnt out by week three and spent a week partying in Rimini, Italy…but it’s so tempting to try and jam everything into a short amount of time. Don’t do it! This is just one of the many tips you’ll read about in this post.
Top 15 Mistakes to Avoid on your First Backpacking Trip
1. Trying to do Too much, too fast.
I have been here. On my first backpacking trip through Europe, we went to 10 countries and 21 cities in 60 DAYS. that’s right, DAYS. It was intense and extremely quick. We spent 1 or two nights in each city at the beginning of our trip and by the third week, we were completely burnt out. We ended up spending a week in a beach city in Italy to recoup and that was really fun, but after that, we slowed it down and enjoyed our trip a lot more.
I recommend staying in each city for an absolute minimum of 2 nights if there’s not much going on but 3-4nights in a city is long enough to get a feel for it without feeling rushed. It gets really exhausting packing up every few days and sitting on a bus going to the next destination. Trust me there are always things to do, take it slow and you’ll enjoy your trip much more than trying to do and see it all.
2. Staying in hotels instead of hostels.
Look, I get it. If you’ve never stayed in a hostel before you may be hesitant to try it. When you mention hostels, people think of dirty, unsanitary and unsafe places but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Not staying in a hostel, at least once to try it would be a huge mistake on your first backpacking trip.
While not all hostels are equal, if you do your research and read reviews before booking your stay, you can stay at amazing places at a fraction of the cost. The savings you get while staying in a hostel is just one reason to consider staying in a hostel.
Personally, the social aspect is why I LOVE hostels. Hostels usually have a common area where you can meet people, a kitchen where you can meet people, some hostels include breakfast where you can meet people, in-house bars, game nights and activities which make is super easy to – you guessed it- meet people!
After traveling for the past 7 years, I can tell you with confidence that the things you see are great, but it’s the people you meet that will truly be the highlight of your trip and the best part of the things you remember.
3. Skipping the street food.
OMG. If you don’t eat the street food you are missing out on the best parts of a country. As someone who loves food (maybe a little too much) this is one of the biggest mistakes to avoid on your first backpacking trip, IMO.
While restaurants can always be hit or miss, I’ve found that usually street food or those small restaurants where you only see locals eating have the best food. Not only do you get to taste real, authentic food from that country, but you will also spend less than half the amount than you would in a #1 trip advisor restaurant.
I love trip advisor, but for restaurants, it can be hit or miss. Additionally, many smaller local restaurants aren’t even on there!
I get that you may be apprehensive about this due to getting sick, but just be positive! That said, be smart. If the vendor looks unsanitary, if raw meat is left out, if there are flies all over the food – skip it.
But be brave, and try the street food! You won’t regret it.
4. Not keeping a journal.
Years from now, when you’re struggling to remember what you did or where you went you will be thankful you took a few minutes each day and wrote about what happened. Big or small.
On my first backpacking trips through Europe and Central America, I didn’t keep a journal but thankfully my sister did. And while having this is great, and better than nothing, it’s written from her perspective. I really wish I kept a journal as well.
On my most recent trip through South America, I started my journal writing in a storytelling narrative but near the end of our 6-month trip, I was using bullet points because I was lazy lol. Just write something so you can remember your adventure years from now! This, combined with your photos should be enough to have the memories come flooding back.
5. Skipping travel health insurance.
This is the worst mistake you can make while traveling. You never know what can happen at any time, anywhere – even at home. While travel insurance may seem pricey and being young and invincible you figure nothing will happen to you BUT it’s better safe than sorry.
If you plan to go surfing, diving, snorkeling, atving, driving a scooter, walking outside, eating unknown food, walking through a jungle, zip lining – or pretty much anything fun while traveling – then you’re at risk of needing health insurance if something goes wrong. You don’t want to need insurance and not have it because it will cost you way more than the insurance would cost.
I’ve found that World Nomads has the most coverage for the cheapest price. I use them for every trip I’ve been on and love them! I needed it that time I almost died white water rafting in Colombia and was so grateful to have travel insurance! I’ve met people who broke their arm, got into motorbike accidents, got jaundice, had to get surgery for an appendix! You just never know what can happen while you’re traveling.
6. Packing too much.
Y tho? This is such an easy mistake to make. I know it’s tempting to bring 7 bikinis, 5 skirts, 7 dresses, jeans, shoes, your whole closet, and the kitchen sink. But don’t do it.
Not only will your back be killing you from the weight of your backpack (remember you have to carry it?) but you won’t even end up wearing half of it! Trust me! Instead, try to pack one of everything while keeping in mind the type of activities you’ll be doing.
Here’s a pro tip: prepare all the things you want to pack, and then pack half of that. Remember, you can always buy something you need while you’re there! For more tips plus a helpful packing list, check out this post on how to pack carry on only for a month and look good AF.
7. Traveling with too many people.
In my experience, the more people you’re traveling the harder it will be. Some of the challenges you may face are:
Everyone has a different idea of what they want to get out of the trip
- Different Budgets – it’s no fun missing out on things you can afford to do because they can’t.
- Different interests – Who wants to do something they don’t care about on vacation?
- Different amount of time it takes to get ready to leave – waiting on people is the worst.
- Different opinions for food – Does finding food really have to be that hard?
- Different personalities!
I know you guys are best friends and it seems like the best thing ever – until it’s not. Try to limit your travel buddy to just one other person. TRUST ME.
You will also meet more people when you’re in a small group of two. It’s a little intimidating to approach a group of 4 people who already know each other. Which leads to the next point…
8.Staying in the safety bubble of your friends
As I mentioned earlier, the people you meet while traveling will be the highlights of your trip memories. When you are traveling with a group of friends it’s easy to stay in your bubble and not put yourself out there to meet people because let’s face it, it takes energy, time and a lot of effort to get to know someone.
If you’re traveling in a group, just try to be very conscious of this and make more of an effort to introduce yourself to new people and actually engaging in conversations with people outside of your group. You’ll thank me for it.
9. Not budgeting properly or Being too cheap.
Feeling like you may run out of money isn’t a situation you want to be in while traveling. It will ruin your experience and fill you with unnecessary anxiety. The number one thing you prioritize while planning your trip is MONEY.
Research the typical daily budget you’ll need based on your style of travel and save that amount plus 10-20% more just to be on the safe side. You should never run out of money on the road.
B. Being too cheap – this is something that is easy to do when you’re on a tight budget – trust me, I’ve been there. But the whole reason you’re there is to experience those amazing excursions, views, trips right?
I’m not saying to go out and blow your budget, but really consider the things you want to do and ensure you have the budget to do them so you don’t have to turn down the opportunity to experience something epic because you’re scared of running out of money.
Don’t overspend, but don’t be cheap. It’s usually always worth the money.
I almost cheaped out on going to the Galapagos during our trip (because one week there cost as much as one month anywhere else) but still – I’M SO GLAD I DIDN’T.
IT WAS AMAZING. And really, if I didn’t go then, when would I ever?
10. Getting Scammed.
It happens to all of us but this is an easy mistake to avoid on your first backpacking trip.
Use common sense, buy from reputable places, read reviews online and ALWAYS trust your gut.
If it doesn’t feel right or doesn’t make sense don’t do it. If it’s too good to be true, it probably isn’t true. Don’t allow anyone to pressure you, just be firm, say no and walk away.
11. Leaving valuables out in your room.
When sharing a dorm, it’s easy to forget that the people in your room aren’t actually your friends – you literally just met them.
Sometimes good people don’t always have the best intentions. I’ve heard countless stories of people getting things stolen because they left them in the room instead of securely in their locker.
One guy even had his phone stolen from under his pillow while he was passed out and sleeping! Don’t risk it, always lock up your valuables.
12. Not being flexible and sticking to a strict plan.
Sometimes the best experiences while traveling are the ones you never planned for. The places you heard about from a new friend on the road. Have a plan but don’t be married to it.
Being flexible with your schedule and not booking flights or accommodation too far ahead will allow you to go with the flow and ultimately have more fun! We never heard about Huaraz when planning our trip to Peru and through conversations with new friends, we decided to add it to our trip and was one of the best parts of our RTW trip!
13. Not wearing flip flops in the shower
This one is such a common mistake while traveling and it’s so gross. If sharing a bathroom – any bathroom, even in hotels – I suggest wearing flip-flops.
You just don’t know what bacteria is on the floor and it’s better safe than sorry.
14. Not being prepared for the weather in that country
There’s nothing worse than showing up and freezing your ass off, sweating your balls off or being rained out during monsoon season because you didn’t check the weather in that country.
For example, I never even thought about how cold it would be in Australia during May-July because in Canada it’s our summer! If I went to Aus for a holiday during June I would have been PISSED.
I was living there on a working holiday visa so it was a surprise just like these other random things I didn’t know about Australia, but I digress.
Always check the weather for the country you want to explore before booking your tickets!
15. Not using packing cubes to stay organized
I can’t stress enough how much these packing cubes changed my travel experience. They hold so many clothes, keep you organized and help you get exactly what you need from your backpack quickly and easily. If there’s one thing you absolutely should buy, it’s packing cubes! I use and LOVE these ones, they even come with a shoe bag and laundry bag! Yaaaaas.
Is there anything you would add to this list? Let me know in the comments below!
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