The first time I travelled alone I remember being excited about the road ahead but nervous about things that could go wrong. Whilst I am not always happy when travelling, the ups far far outweigh the downs and I for one am so pleased that I made that initial leap in the dark. As is every single other traveller I have met. Here are the things I wish I knew when starting my first backpacking trip, I hope that they help you get out there and explore.
1. Meeting people won’t be an issue
This obviously depends on the place, but if you are going anywhere with a hostel, and since the invention of aeroplanes this is the majority of places, then meeting people will be easy. People nearly always want to talk about their lives.
If you are having a hard time finding people to talk to, try challenging yourself to talk with at least one stranger each day, you will not regret it. You will develop confidence to talk to random people the more you travel and you find out that everyone has fascinating lives and both of you can learn from each others experiences.
That guy sitting on his phone with a beer? The girl eating by herself in the bar? Yep, they’d probably much rather be talking with you. So don’t feel afraid, the more you push yourself out of your comfort zone, the easier it will become.
2. Have no expectations
Expectations are natural. We expect things to go as planned, but often when travelling this just isn’t the case. When our expectations are not met, we feel disappointed and it makes it hard to appreciate the beauty in the unexpected.
Things don’t go to plan, that’s life, and it’s especially the case when travelling. Ditch the expectations and try to see the beauty in what life brings you.
3. Don’t plan too much
It’s understandable that you may want everything sorted and organised before you go. But if you are backpacking and going to hostels, you meet travellers that will tell you about amazing places and if you plan too much you can’t be flexible about where you are going next.
Usually, hostels won’t fill up so you’ll have no problems booking last minute. This will allow you to be more flexible to do what you want. What you think you’ll want to visit now, might not be what you want to see when you are there.
Research hostel availability beforehand for very popular destinations (major cities in Western Europe).
4. When things go wrong, they often go better
You miss that bus, you lose something, your hostel is full and they didn’t get your booking… There’s a whole host of things that can go ‘wrong’ when travelling, but more often then not there is a silver lining that is actually much better.
When everything changes, everything becomes unexpected. I met the most interesting people after something bad had happened because I opened up to them about how I felt and they could connect with me about it.
It may feel like everything has gone wrong, but it all works out in the end.
5. Don’t rush to see as many places as you can
A big lesson for me personally, I definitely did this at the start.
It is tempting to tick off every tourist attraction if you only have a short time to travel, but you will enjoy yourself far more if you learn to relax and take things slow. It’d be annoying if you came back from your trip feeling like you’d seen lots of places, but you didn’t really know any of them.
Take time to do the less touristy things, talk with locals or even just walk around a place, you’ll find these moments can be some of the best of your trip. When I went to Saigon in Vietnam, one of my highlights was watching locals in a park playing badminton and doing martial arts practice. I didn’t see anything amazing, but I relaxed and appreciated the moment and it feels good to do that from time to time.
So maybe you won’t get that iconic Instagram photo or be able to tell your friends you went up the tallest, oldest, biggest whatever-it-is in town, but you’ll actually appreciate and see much more.
6. You won’t always be happy despite what people think
If travelling for a longer time period, it’s likely you’ll have some fairly low points. Embrace this. Despite what your friends might think, travelling can be hard and it’s okay to not be happy all the time.
Don’t think that just because you are in your dream place and discovering the world care-free, that that means you’ll be happy.
7. The fastest way to get to your destination may not be the best
When I’m in a new city and I want to see something that is a few miles away, I’ll always walk. Whilst it takes far longer it allows you to see a lot more of the place and this is often true of slower transport methods.
Minimising your travel time only makes sense if the travel isn’t enjoyable, but if you can enjoy the journey as well as the destination, slow is not an issue.
Take the slow boat, the old train, the rickety bus. It’s worth the ride.
8. The more money you spend, the less you enjoy yourself
This is last but certainly not least. Please don’t make the mistake of paying for nice hotels, air conditioned taxis, expensive tours etc. I have done this on a few occasions and have mostly hated it.
There’s joy in travelling as similarly to the local people as possible, you feel like you actually visit the place instead of ‘exploring’ in your little bubble and not actually touching the real world.