Are You Making These 5 Backpacking Mistakes?
It’s fair to say that I’ve made my share of slip-ups while traveling, we all have. No matter how much research you do, mistakes are inevitable. Although they are troubling, this is how we learn and evolve into wiser backpackers.
Without further ado, here are my 5 biggest mistakes I made while backpacking and the lessons I learned to avoid them.
Not Researching Enough
You would think this one would be the most obvious, but alas I was left kicking myself a couple of times when something could have been easily avoided by dong some simple research.
So I show up at the Nadi International Airport in Fiji after two weeks of island hopping, snorkeling and sunbathing. I’m all bronzed and relaxed with not a care in the world except for maybe what adventures await at my next destination. I step up to the check-in counter, smile and give a polite bula as I hand over my passport and flight documentation, and the woman asks what my plans are for traveling to New Zealand. In my most laid back traveler’s glory I say,
“Oh, no plans… I’m just going to travel around for a couple of months until I get bored, then maybe head over to Australia.”
The woman stares blankly… then says “I can’t let you board this flight without a ticket for onward travel.”
I’m confused, “but what do you mean? Why not?”
“How are we supposed to know you ever plan on leaving New Zealand if you don’t have a ticket?” She says.
So there I am scrambling around the Nadi airport with an hour left until final check-in call trying to A) decide on how long I need in New Zealand, B) find out what I’m going to do after New Zealand, and C) find a decent price on a plane ticket.
I’m one of the most indecisive people I know so this proved to be quite a challenge for me. I have a hard time deciding between muesli or eggs for breakfast let alone deciding what country I’ll be in in two months time. Yeesh. Alas, two months in New Zealand it was, with a nice shiny overpriced ticket to Melbourne.
Granted, I’ve never had an issue entering any other country without a ticket for onward travel, even the United States, but it’s definitely worth researching if you need one. I did have a hard time with UK immigration all three times I entered England, even with a return ticket to Canada, so I would say it is best to have plans and documentation for your travels.
Not Being Prepared
In my first few weeks of travel, I was WWOOFing on the south Kona side of Hawaii Island. It’s not particularly close to many attractions so to get out, the bus or hitchhiking was the only option if you don’t have a car. The bus didn’t come very often, maybe twice a day and was mostly packed with students and workers going in or out-of-town for the day. Hitchhiking is quite safe in Hawaii and many people use it as a mode of transportation. I tried it a couple of times and always got picked up pretty quickly by quite nice people (I was with a guy, otherwise I would not have tried this alone) so one day we decided to trek out to the volcano. This is not particularly close by so it took a few rides to get there.
One of our rides even brought us to a local beach on the way that had some giant turtles hanging out on the sand. You can also get some good insider tips from riding with the locals.
Now the problem with hitchhiking is you never know when you’re going to get a ride. It’s a gamble and you need to always be prepared for when you have a hard time getting picked up. I think because we were standing on the road outside the volcano, which is primarily a tourist attraction, we had a hard time hitching a ride. We ended up getting a ride, but not very far and walked for a while afterwards without any luck.
It got dark. We had no cell phone, hardly any money and only a day backpack with very few things in it. We didn’t even carry the phone number for the farm we were staying at with us.
Eventually we came to a small town and kept trying to catch a ride there for a while but as time went by the traffic became quite sparse and people only seemed to be on their way home close by. We were probably about an hour away from the farm we were staying at that point so our options were quite bleak. I was almost certain we’d be sleeping in the football field that night.
We went to the gas station in town and sat there for a while, cold, tired and hungry. A man approached us who had seen us on the road and asked why we needed a ride. He was quite skeptical since he and his wife were tourists, but after checking our IDs agreed to give us a lift on their way back to their hotel in Kona.
We got lucky.
After getting dropped off on the main road we had to make our way 1.5 miles down the unlit road to the farm guided only by the moonlight. A flashlight would have been helpful, but we arrived safely and definitely learned a big lesson.
Not Using Cloud Storage
Okay people this one is big. I learned the very, very hard way that cloud storage is crucial not only for travel but for all of your photos, files, work, etc.. I know there are skeptics out there about having your life on the world-wide web but if you do your research you will that it IS secure and that it is the best way to make sure you will never lose your treasured data.
I had traveled for precisely 7 months when I parted ways with my travel partner. To minimize luggage weight we were sharing a netbook which all of our travel photos were stored on. The netbook was his, so I copied all of my photos onto a USB before setting on my merry way.
Two months later, as I’m packing up my things to leave the hostel I had been bumming in, I realize the USB is nowhere to be found. I didn’t think much of it at the time, assuming it was hidden in one of my various pockets or tucked within some socks somewhere.
Nope. It was gone and I never did find it.
I contacted my ex travel partner and requested a copy of my photos. I was the photographer in the pair, and the pictures were primarily mine. He was holding a grudge about the situation and I never did get my photos. To this day the only ones I have are low resolution copies that I had previously posted to Facebook. This is why you may notice that all my pictures from Hawaii, Fiji and New Zealand are not the highest of quality. It’s painful because I know there are hundreds more I didn’t take the time to post online and will likely never see again.
Use cloud storage. Always.
You may not encounter the same situation I did, but you could get your backpack and camera equipment stolen or lost at sea or eaten by the Loch Ness Monster. A USB or external hard drive is not sufficient. These are tangible objects and can disappear or be destroyed at any time. With cloud storage you can get access to your data anytime and on any computer in the world, all you need is an internet connection.
Lifehacker wrote a great article on the best cloud storage platforms for storing your photos, I suggest giving it a read and choosing the best one for your needs. Oh, and don’t wait until you’re traveling to start using it, your computer could spontaneously combust at any time.
Packing Way Too Much
Walking 5km in the steaming hot sun with your back drenched in sweat lugging a 40 lb backpack is not fun and totally unnecessary. I almost bought a 90 liter backpack when I was doing my pre-travel shopping and man, am I glad I didn’t. The thing must have weighed about 10 pounds when it was empty. Still, I did end up packing way too much and on several occasions found myself dumping excessive items as I went along.
I hiked the 26km trail to Waimanu valley and back with a pack that was way too full of stuff that I didn’t need. It was pretty stupid and made my hike less fun than it should have been. I’m not a seasoned hiker, this was my first overnight hike so I really didn’t know what I was getting into. It was torture carrying a heavy backpack up a steep switchback in the blazing hot afternoon sun and I regretted not thinking it out thoroughly.
I recently came across Mike Clelland’s book Ultralight Backpackin’ Tips and it has changed the way I look at packing. If you are planning to do any sort of expedition on your trip I highly suggest giving it a read, it is both humorous and inspiring. Most of his tips cost next to nothing and are acquired from stray items you have lying around the house. Even if you’re not going camping, it will give insight into packing light and packing smart. It teaches you to be aware of everything you bring and how much each item weighs. It’s a good way to analyze which items are causing you grief and reflect on if they are actually necessary.
Traveling With a Stressful Partner
I left home with my partner at the time, blinded by the adventures-to-be and ignoring the warning signs of future of conflict. I learned quickly that it wasn’t meant to be, and unfortunately stuck around a few months too long, not knowing what to do in the situation I was in.
We disagreed on most things and ultimately just didn’t have the same goals and ideals of what a great trip should entail. I tried leaving on several occasions but was stalked and trapped and didn’t know what to do, on the other side of the planet, running out of money, and feeling more alone than I’ve ever felt in my life. There were a few times where all I wanted to do was go home, feeling like there was nothing left for me. I can’t even remember parts of my trip in New Zealand because of the emotional turmoil I was going through.
When I finally made the break I felt free and somehow less alone. The air smelt better, the sky was brighter and I met an amazing group of people in the hostel I was staying at who brought the joy and love back into my everyday life.
I got a job in Australia and worked hard until I could continue my travels. I was suddenly able to do and say whatever I wanted, when I wanted and remembered who I really was. I even ended up meeting Rory, we got along from the second we met and have been virtually inseparable since. I had no intention of meeting anyone, and filled with excitement to begin my next chapter alone but hey, things happen.
We’ve been together almost three years now so I guess sometimes the world works in mysterious ways.
Traveling is an eye-opening experience filled with tons of fun and new learning experiences. Sometimes you get into sticky situations and need to think on the spot so being with someone you trust is extremely important.
I have a good head on my shoulders and trust my own intuition and thus would rather be traveling alone than with someone who makes me uncomfortable or stressed.
You want to have a good time and many people are intimidated by traveling alone so they plan a trip with their friends or partner to have someone there to make them feel safe and secure. Although many people do successfully travel with buddies, you need to make sure that you have the same vision for how your trip should unfold. It sucks if you want to get out of the car and hike that mountain when your friend just wants to take a picture from the car park and move on to the next site. It also sucks if your travel partner wants to stay up partying all night long and sleep all day, when you want to get out and explore the city you’re in or catch an early night to get up early and see the sunrise over the mountains.
All I’m saying is think hard about who you’re traveling with and make sure you’re on the same the page.
Also, have a backup plan. Just in case.
Needless to say, I’m learning as I go along. The best thing I’ve learned is to not dwell on my mishaps, laugh it off and try not to make the same mistake twice.
What mistakes have you made while backpacking?