You’ve scrimped, saved and scoured the Web for last minute holiday deals, and finally it’s paid off: you’re going backpacking! Hurrah! There are few feelings quite like the flutter in your belly when you’re packing your essentials into a small bag and heading off in search of travel and adventure: if you’re anything like me it can get addictive pretty darn quickly. However, that first venture into the unknown can be scary – even if the scariness is hidden under a big old layer of excitement. These are my top three tips for those taking the plunge for the first time.
Money, money, money…
Chances are you will already have heard the old backpacking motto: ‘pack only what you need. Then take out half the clothes and add twice the money.’ Whilst you may be hard pushed to magic double your hard-earned on a whim, the essential message is sound. You would (and probably will) be astounded at the plethora of reasons for which you end up needing extra cash whilst travelling. Missed travel connections, lost documents, a freak storm that renders you in dire need of a pair of wellies…basically, there are few things more stressful than being stranded in a strange land with limited communication skills and no access to funds.
As an extension to this principle, make sure that you have a variety of ways to access money before you leave: that way, if the worst happens and you lose your debit card, you know you’ve got Travellers Cheques or a credit card with an activated cash advance option to fall back on.
Choose travel partners wisely
This one is a biggie. Travelling alone might sound terrifying, and the idea of taking your childhood best mate might seem like the best in the world, but be sure that your personalities will be suited to the trials and tribulations of life on the road before you take the leap. Even the strongest of friendships can just not work in this context, and the last thing you want to do is damage either the trip or the relationship.
Whenever you first look at a destination, it can seem tempting to try to do it all. I once booked a 24 hour, un-air-conditioned train journey across China in the middle of a scorching summer, followed by a 2-day horseback trek (I had never ridden a horse before) and a hike into the mountains before boarding the same sweltering 24-hour train back. Needless to say, it did not end well. A combination of heatstroke, sleep deprivation and dehydration conspired to make what should have been an exciting adventure into some kind of masochistic boot camp. Since that fateful excursion, I have found the best trips happen when you are picky with your destinations and activities. Allow yourself time to recharge and to meet people as often the best destination tips come from word of mouth. Finally, always remember to factor in travel times (us Brits are notorious for forgetting this, as our own country is so darn tiny).