So, you’re about to embark on your first backpacking adventure? While you won’t be able to plan for every gaffe, there are some pretty massive (and all too common) mistakes that really ought to be avoided. Sure, they’re unlikely to ruin your experience but they could make things a little less comfortable. Here are some of the biggest blunders to avoid:
Packing Too Much Stuff
That backpack is going to be on your shoulders for most of the journey. Obviously, packing more stuff means more weight to lug around with you.
You should aim to pack the bare essentials. Don’t go overboard on clothes – multipurpose clothing is the way to go. Also remember the multiple capabilities that your smartphone can have – who needs a flashlight, maps and foreign language dictionaries when you can get apps for it all. There are certain items that every backpacker will forget such as bottle openers and potentially cooking utensils. And when it comes to medical conveniences, this holiday checklist for the pharmacy is worth reading. However, some luxury items such as hairdryers and laptops should be a definite no-no.
Where you can always look for light solutions as these won’t weigh you down as much. These may include pop-up tents, light sleeping bags and waterproof ponchos (as opposed to hefty waterproof jackets).
Bringing Too Little Money
There’s nothing worse than having not saved up enough money and realising that half-way through the trip. In these cases you’ll often have to borrow money, or as is often the case, limit what you do. On a backpacking trip around Europe, this might result in not being able to pay for attractions and having to resort wholly to campsites, because hostels and hotels are too expensive.
Whilst you don’t need enough money to be staying in five star hotels, you should budget to have enough money so that you’re not missing out on attractions that you might never get again. Even if this means delaying your backpacking trip, you’ll value it in the long run when it means you’ve been able to see and do everything you wanted.
Wearing New Shoes
This a particularly big mistake when it comes to hiking trips. If you haven’t worn in your new shoes, they may start to chafe and eventually you’ll be carrying some nasty blisters. This will make each day’s walk a lot less fun and you’re less likely to appreciate your surroundings because you’ll be too focused on the pain. Consequently, you should try to walk around in your boots for a week or so first – even if it’s just around the house in the evenings. You could even go on a long distance walk with them one weekend before you depart.
The socks you wear can also have an impact on this. You should never wear too socks on top of one another, as these are likely to cause friction. Instead opt for thermal materials such as Merino that will keep your feet warm without rubbing.
Leaving Food Unsealed
Every backpacker is guilty of this. Food that isn’t sealed properly will attract unwanted pests. In some parts of the world, this could mean foxes and bears. In other parts of the world, the problem may simply be ants (beware of anything sugary, as ants will swarm this in a matter of minutes).
There are various ways to keep your food sealed. A plastic tub will generally keep out most critters including rodents and bugs. Water and vinegar spray can be particularly effective against ants (they hate vinegars). Bears meanwhile are harder to guard against – a specialist bear canister or ursack can often be your best bet.
Leaving Your Sleeping Bag Unsealed
Having to crawl into a soggy sleeping bag is never pleasant. Most backpackers find this out the hard way. Many sleeping bags will claim that they are waterproof, but this is rarely the case. If you’re carrying a sleeping bag with you, you should always have a way of sealing it. Black bin bags are great for this. At the first sight of rain, get your sleeping bags wrapped up in a bin bag and then put this in your rucksack. If you’re carrying your sleeping bag in your rucksack, you should also take extra caution with any liquids you may be carrying as a spillage is likely to have the same effect.
Bringing Inadequate Charging Equipment
Your phone is your lifeline, especially if you’re using it for navigation and translation and other purposes. You may find that the battery drains quickly. If you’re constantly on the go, you’ll find few places to charge up – which is where a portable charger can be very handy.
Some portable chargers are now solar powered, which can effectively enable you to always have your phone on charge. Of course these won’t be as effective if you’re constantly in the shade, but even in cloudy weather they’re likely to provide some charge.
If you’re going abroad, you should also be aware of different plug sockets. In such cases, a plug adaptor will be needed in order to use hotel and hostel plug points.
You should also look into ways of saving power on your phone. Turning off certain background apps and keeping the screen brightness low might allow you to have your phone switched on for longer periods without the battery getting drained.
Not Learning The Lingo/Currency/Local Laws
This might not be so much of a concern if you’re adventuring in your home country, but if you’re backpacking somewhere abroad, you need to do some research into the local customs and laws.
A trip around Europe or Asia might entail going to multiple different countries. This could involve dealing with multiple currencies, each with their own exchange rate. Without knowing the exchange rate, you’ll effectively be paying for things blind. Always look this up when you have wi-fi or visit a currency exchange office.
Most people around the world will speak English, but you may end up journeying into the backcountry where people only speak their native tongue. Knowing how to greet people, how to say thank you and how to say goodbye can often be all you need, but there will be times when you will want to say something more. Translator apps and phrasebooks can be great to have for these moments.
As for the local laws, this is very important if you don’t want to end up in trouble with the authorities. In some countries such as Singapore there are fines of up to one thousand dollars for throwing chewing gum on the pavement. You can generally read up on laws in travel guides and online.
Not Planning Your Route/Accommodation
You may see yourself as a free spirit, but failing to plan your route and going with the flow will likely get you into some horrible situations. That isn’t to say that you should plan out each day’s itinerary in military fashion before you go. However, you should at least have some vague route and an idea of how long you’d like to stay in each place.
If you’re going from hostel to hostel, it’s worth booking accommodation the night before in each instance. This may stop you from getting to a city late at night and having to trudge around from hostel to hostel unable to find an available or affordable room. If you don’t want to use the data on your phone to book hotels, make use of your accommodation’s Wi-Fi.