The first big trip you take is typically full of blunders. The second big trip, apparently no different at all.
I still occasionally forget to throw the toilet paper in the waste basket and then run away like a kid that spilled milk on the rug if it clogs. I still suck at packing — I brought boots with a heel, so sue me. And I STILL haven’t mastered the art of climbing down from a bunk bed in a dress without a.) flashing the person below me or b.) falling.
Maybe this whole backpacker thing just isn’t a natural fit for me — but that’s part of why I enjoy it so much.
I find a challenge in every day (ie. I screw something up) and I learn from it (might screw up it less next time.) While I was traveling through Southeast Asia which was — holy crap, almost two years ago now — I wrote a post on backpacking lessons I learned the hard way, and now its time for an update. Here are some more backpacking lessons I’ve learned the hard way — so that maybe you don’t have to. (Or at least when you do, you can laugh and remember you’re not alone in kinda sorta sucking at this sometimes.)
Even if you’re on a budget, check for cheap flights before submitting yourself to long bus rides.
Colombians buses like to keep the temperature somewhere around deep arctic freeze. I’ve heard it’s a sign of wealth — the ability to blast an air-con and make everyone miserable. I’ve also heard its to keep people from getting car sick along those bumpy mountain roads. Regardless, it feels inhumane when you’re wrapped up in six layers and still chattering loud enough that your teeth almost drown out their other torture device of choice — bad movies in Spanish with the volume on HIGH.
Check the price of an airline ticket and you might be pleasantly surprised. Consider a getaway to Thailand … you could take buses everywhere and save some money, but there are plenty of budget airlines offering Thailand flights CHEAP from almost anywhere in the SE Asia region. South America has been similar — in Colombia anyways. After suffering through a 13 hour bus ride from Medellin to Cartagena, I shamefully discovered that flights were actually CHEAPER. Never again will I fail to check.
Travel is amazing, but you WILL have bad days. That’s OK. Take a break.
In the last couple days I’ve felt the unpleasant creeping of irritation in my voice when trying to communicate to non-English speakers. It gets exhausting, and after four days on the jungle trek to La Ciudad de Perdida and three days in the sweltering dustbowl of Taganga — I found myself in a funk. I was impatient and grumpy and actually a little rude to some people — especially that lady who wouldn’t give me breakfast at my hostel because I was five minutes late. Wanna see a grumpy girl? Deny me coffee.
Anyways… I’m now taking a few days to unwind. And by unwind I mean I’m doing NOTHING other than write this article and sit by the pool. There’s a beautiful city to see outside of my hostel right now (Santa Marta) and I really don’t care. I have time to see it eventually but right now, for the sake of myself and those around me, I’m taking a break.
Do not default to Lonely Planet suggestions, especially for hostels.
I use Lonely Planet. Most people do. They offer great advice on getting from one place to the next and the tidbits they provide are often useful. But too many people automatically book rooms at the first LP recommendation.
Sometimes they’re great, but more often than not, their inclusion in the holy grail of guide books gives them a surge of business that they often can’t handle. The prices go up and the services and amenities suffer as a result — like that “fully equipped kitchen” that doesn’t have a can opener or a strainer. Good luck with that spaghetti dinner, bud.
Partying can WRECK your budget.
So all you’ve “eaten” today are two fruit juices and an old granola bar from the bottom of your bag because you’re on such a tight budget that you can’t afford
three two full meals? Now you’re going to hit the bar tonight because you’ve been so good. Suddenly its 3am and you’ve been to the ATM twice, obliterating the budget your for the next two days.
I love a tasty cocktail or three but I’ve found my budget really suffering when it becomes a habit. The amount I spend on a night of drinking is often more than I would have spent on that awesome sounding excursion I skipped because I was trying to save money.
There’s also this dirty little trick they play in hostels where they let you put drinks on your room tab. Genius on their part — disastrous on our budgets.
Of course, sometimes its worth it. A good party makes for some of the best memories of your backpacking days. Just be conscious of how often you’re letting one beer turn into six.
Organization is key. Or so I hear.
I’ve already lost one bikini top (before ever actually wearing said bikini top) several tank tops, a pair of flip flops and face wash — which took me three days to find and repurchase in Colombia.
Oh how I desperately wish I had purchased packing cubes to keep my clothes more organized. Then I might have still have a full wardrobe. I’ve still not discovered the key to organizing myself, but I know it would be helpful if I did, and I highly suggest figuring it out before you hit the road.
Otherwise you’ll be unpacking and repacking your bag on a daily basis — like me.
Ordering coffee is confusing. Drop your expectations and figure out how its done where you’re traveling.
Tinto in Colombia. A tall black in Australia. Can I just get a large coffee please??
Although mysterious at first, tinto in Colombia is actually a beautiful thing. Its instant coffee (gasp! Yes, they love their instant coffee in Colombia where some of the best coffee beans are grown) often served out of thermoses on the street. Its already sweetened so watch yourself before dumping that packet of sugar.
You can get a big mug of “American” coffee in Colombia, but its probably going to be an Americano, rather than drip
coffee (espresso and water). Don’t fret, its delicious.
Also, forget iced coffee here. Unless you visit one of the few and very expensive Dunkin Donuts. Otherwise an iced coffee looks like this…
Do you have a backpacking lesson to add? Your wouldn’t hold out on us, would you?? Please share in the comments below!