14 things everyone learns on their first backpacking trip

Steve Vickers

written by
Steve Vickers

updated 19.12.2018

Travelling is about education: learning about the world, yourself and life in general. The lessons are endless no matter where you are in the world, so if you've ever been backpacking, you'll know what we're talking about. Here are fourteen things every backpacker learns on their first jaunt around the world:

1. You need less stuff than you think

You might leave home with three pairs of shoes and an XXL fanny pack, but after a few weeks away you’ll be permanently glued to your flip flops – and you'll start carrying your money around in your pocket, just like everyone else on the planet. The best advice is to pack as little as possible; everything else can be picked up along the way.

2. Earplugs are a good investment

Bargain bunk beds and the warm embrace of a drunken sleep, surrounded by new friends from around the world. Ah, yes: snoozing in shared dorms is an essential part of the backpacking experience.

But wait… is somebody snoring already? Why didn’t Big Dave from Australia mention his sleep apnoea? And how are those two backpackers from the bar doing god-knows-what in a bunk that’s barely big enough for one person? Add in the nocturnal farters and pre-dawn plastic bag rustlers, and you’ve got a recipe for a pretty rough night’s sleep. Pack earplugs, and be prepared to use them.

Dorm Room, hostel, Poland

3. There’ll always be someone who’s done more

Swum to a remote beach and survived on venomous snakes that you caught with your bare hands? Smoked weed with a yogi during a solar eclipse? Been to every hostel in every country on Earth? Awesome! But there will always be someone staying at your guesthouse who’s done it all too, and then some. The solution? Find your own path and do what makes you happy, rather than engaging in the un-winnable war of one-upmanship.

4. There are good people everywhere

Despite what TV news would have you believe, there are good people everywhere. Get yourself into a spot of bother pretty much anywhere in the world and if you’re polite and respectful, there will be some good soul willing to help you out.


© Yuricazac/Shutterstock

5. It’s okay to get lost

See point 4, above.

6. No one wants to hear it

Your guitar, that is. Or your ukulele. The whole reason the people go travelling is to experience something new, not to listen to someone muddling through a cover of Wonderwall after a few too many local beers.

East Sussex, Brighton, Pavilion Gardens, people relaxing and playing music

7. Not everything is online (yet)

There are still amazing places that don’t have a presence online. Smart backpackers learn not to limit themselves to the restaurants, hotels and restaurants they’ve seen getting good reviews on the web, as often it’s personal recommendations that lead to the best experiences.

8. Your body copes with a lot (but not everything)

The average backpacking trip puts the human body through a lot, including long flights, sleepless nights, litres of cheap beer and tasty, exotic seafood, which is not always prepared to the same squeaky-clean standards you’re used to back home. You’ll cope with most of this stuff pretty well but there are still limits, so expect at least a few of your ‘comfort breaks’ to be rather, well… uncomfortable.

Chile, Araucania Region, hiking on Volcan Villarrica

9. If it sounds too good to be true, it is

That five baht tuk-tuk ride around Bangkok sounds cheap, but will wind up with you getting dragged around gem shops that you never wanted to visit. Likewise, the ‘free’ walking tours offered in European capitals often end up with tourists being guilt tripped into tipping the guide, or paying for a longer tour. If you want a good experience, be prepared to pay for it.

10. Banks don’t like backpackers

What happens when you call your bank to let them know about your travel plans? That’s right, they wait until you’re having a good time thousands of miles from home and then put a block on your card, saying they suspect some kind of fraudulent activity (when really it’s just you, frantically trying to book a last-minute flight).

Worse still, if you really are a victim of fraud, they’ll cut the card off completely, and then helpfully offer to post a new one out to your home address – that’s right, on the other side of the planet.

USA, Florida, Orlando, US ATM machine

11. Cheap doesn’t feel cheap for long

A beach hut for $10 a night seems like great value at first, but you’ll soon come to expect low prices and moan when they edge even a few cents higher – completely forgetting that you’d pay ten times the amount for similar digs back home.

12. There isn’t much you can’t wash in the sink

Jeans, t-shirts, and even your entire backpack – when needs must, you’ll find room for almost everything in the bathroom sink. Drying times vary.

Man hanging clothes on washing line

13. You’re incredibly lucky

In some parts of the world it’s possible to survive on next to nothing and still be relatively rich. The fact that you can afford to jet away from your home country and experience new places and cultures (even if you are surviving on a diet of noodle soup and local-brand cigarettes) puts you among the luckiest people on Earth. Appreciate it, and make every second count.

14. You can never see it all

Which is why your first backpacking trip should never, ever be your last.

Take your first trip with the Rough Guide to the First-Time Around the World. Compare flights, book hostels and hotels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.

Steve Vickers

written by
Steve Vickers

updated 19.12.2018

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