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Your first time backpacking or travelling long term can be pretty daunting. In fact, I still find it pretty daunting each time. Having travelled on and off, more or less full time, for the past three years – I like to think I’m getting pretty good at it. But whenever I head off on a longer trip, I still get butterflies. Going from the real world to life as a backpacker is a bit of an abrupt transition, and it’s not always easy to adjust. Luckily, there are a few things you can do to make life easier. Here are a few of my top tips for easing yourself into long-term travel and life on the road…
Read More: Heading off solo? Check out my shy girl’s guide to solo travel for loads of top tips, general thoughts, and my personal advice!
Do a Practice for your First Time Backpacking
Before you dive straight into a year long RTW trip solo, take a mini break on your own somewhere closer to home. There are loads of cheap flights to Europe from the UK, or you can even hop on board a train or bus to a new city in your own country.
Find a really nice hostel with great reviews and spend two nights there. I recommend Hostelworld because it tends to have the most thorough and “real” reviews (more on choosing a hostel later). Make sure you sign up to any social events or tours that hostel is running – it’s a great way to meet people and make friends, and will be ideal practice for when you start your longer trip.
Pick an Easy First Stop
Some countries are just easier to backpack in. If it’s your first time, maybe don’t throw yourself in at the deep end by heading someplace totally off the beaten track. Make your first stop somewhere with a strong tourism infrastructure, somewhere that’s considered easy to travel, even if it’s just for a few days. Ease yourself in.
If you’re heading to Asia, Thailand or Indonesia make great first stops. Try to go for small cities like Chiang Mai, or popular islands like Koh Phangan and Bali, first. In South America, shoot for Peru (Lima or Cusco), or Argentina (Buenos Aires) for easy first stops. In Europe, most places are pretty easy, but choose a small, backpacker-friendly city like Prague or Dublin. Just do some research and try to find a good first stop to ease yourself into the road.
Book Your First Two Nights
I always choose a generic airport hotel with a restaurant for the first night so I can eat, sleep, and shower before starting my proper adventure the next day.
Book your first night’s accommodation at a large chain or business hotel – maybe the airport hotel. The kind of place where you can be anonymous. Give yourself a day (or two) in solitude to chill out, get over the jetlag, and mentally prep. A long flight can be exhausting and dealing with culture shock immediately might be a bit much – so a night in a hotel makes the transition easier.
Top tip: I love Hotels.com because they have a fab rewards scheme, where you’ll get a free night for every ten nights you book through them!
But also book a hostel in advance for the second night, so you have no choice but to go straight to the next step. Otherwise it can be tempting to extend your solitude a little, which is not a good way to start. Find a good hostel with a great reputation for atmosphere and the kind of reviews that say “I made awesome friends here”. Hostelworld is usually the best place to look, because I find it has more accurate reviews and a really good rating system. Side note – if you’re not a party person, try to avoid party hostels (usually the ones with bars). It can be a bit intimidating to rock up to a heaving party hostel on your very first trip!
Book Your Transfer
There’s nothing worse than landing in Asia for the first time after a 19 hour flight, and having to deal with the chaos of airport taxis or public transport. You’re tired, you’re nervous, you’ve probably started wishing you never boarded your flight… the last thing you want to do is haggle with taxi drivers. So don’t! Pre-booking a car and driver costs less than you might thing, and it’s so worth the splurge. Blacklane offer airport pickup in over 250 cities and their Business Class rates are surprisingly reasonable. Check my Blacklane review for more info, and use discount code 8QGSZNQL for 10 USD/EUR/GBP off your first trip.
Research your first couple of destinations a little to give yourself a loose structure for the first few weeks. Pinterest is a great place to find and save inspiration. But don’t plan too far beyond the first few stops. Half the adventure is making things up as you go and changing plans to align with new discoveries or friendships. So leave plenty of room to keep things fluid.
Don’t Pack Too Much
Blogs and packing guides are a great way to work out what to pack. But make sure to pack light. On your first trip it can be really tempting to overpack because you want to cover all basis – but DON’T! Having lots of stuff on you can make you more of a target to potential thieves (check out my tips for keeping your valuables safe when travelling for more tips on avoiding theft). It also makes it much harder to stay on top of your stuff, which is annoying when you’re packing up and moving to a new town every few days.
So pack only what you need, and then take as much of that out as possible too! Remember – if you forget anything or run out of clothes, you can buy things while you’re away. Wearing the same seven outfits gets old really fast (plus travel destroys my clothes) so I’m constantly buying new bits in markets and donating anything I no longer need.
Join Facebook Communities
Online travel communities are a great way to get support for your travel plans. You can ask questions, get recommendations and blog post suggestions, and even arrange meetups. I love Facebook groups like Girls LOVE Travel, Travelettes, and Girls vs Globe. Anyone can join and post questions, and they’re a great way to feel less alone in your planning stages. You’ll feel more prepared for your trip by speaking to people who are actually in the places your visiting and can provide first hand advice!
Schedule a Meetup
Arranging a few meetups can make it even easier to meet new people. On Facebook groups like the ones above, you can post where you’re going and ask if anyone’s around. That way you’ll be able to get to know each other a little in advance. But there are plenty of other ways to meet people.
Lots of hostels host social events like sightseeing tours, barbecues, and parties which area a great way to start socialising and meeting people! On MeetUp and Couchsurfing, groups of locals and expats organise get-togethers and activities. Sign up and get active, and have something prepared for your first week. You don’t necessarily have to go, but having something scheduled is a great idea in case you find yourself in a rubbish hostel or don’t meet anyone you like straight away.
Even better, arrange to meet up with some locals, but using sites like Showaround (a tour website where locals sign up to host visitors to their city) or Bonappetour (a similar thing but with homecooked meals, food tours, and cooking lessons). Read my review of Showaround and review of Bonappetour to get a better idea of how they work.
On your first trip it can be tempting to try and cram in as much as possible. But, as most long-term travellers will tell you, that’s a sure-fire way to burn out fast. Travel is exhausting, and the more you move around, the more exhausting it gets. When I travel, I tend to stay at least four nights in each place – sometimes more (the longer I’m away, the longer each stop becomes). It means that instead of trying to see all of a town’s sights in one day, you can spread them out – with ample time leftover for simply chilling out in a hammock, playing at the beach, or hitting the local bars.
Going slow helps you make the most of each new place, stops you from burning yourself out too fast, and helps your money go further.
A few more of my backpacking tips to help you get ready for your big adventure can be found in these posts:
How do you prep for life on the road? Do you ease yourself in by steps or just dive straight in? Share your thoughts and tips in the comments below!