We’ve all made mistakes. We’re human. It happens. But when I think back on some of the biggest mistakes we’ve made and the lessons we’ve learned because of them, it all leads back to travel. Specifically, first-time backpacking mistakes.
Just call us naive – in the sand dunes and out of water to drink.
All smiles for the camera!
Curious? Here are a few of our backpacking fails:
- Flying Southwest from STL to LAX with our backpacks secured in locked laundry bags (so the straps didn’t rip, smart right?) and having to run to the International Terminal holding our backpacks instead of wearing them because we were running out of time to board our flight to Japan. I could go on-and-on about this story.
- Moving cities/locations and being stuck in a horrible downpour. Result: EVERYTHING in your pack WILL be wet. Lesson: Check the weather prior to leaving and use rain cover provided in most packs (seriously, how did I forget that!?).
- Overpacking – A classic, common mistake. But not only overpacking, but packing incorrectly. I personally was horrible about this. I threw everything in my bag with no rhyme or reason only later to realize I should have done a better job at distributing the weight.
- Buying ridiculous souvenirs. No, I didn’t really need those coffee mugs. Side note: Logan still wants to smash them every time he sees them.
I’m sure those won’t be our last!
Here are some fails and tips from others that have experienced minor annoyances, high inconveniences, and a few disasters while backpacking! Read, learn, laugh, and keep on trekking.
Danie, Like Riding A Bicycle
Photo credit: Danie, Like Riding A Bicycle
“Despite having travelled for many years, my biggest fail was in Cancun, Mexico. I was staying in the city centre, and the wi-fi at my hostel wasn’t working. Someone knew the code for a nearby one, so I sat outside the other hostel using their wi-fi. A man strolled down the block nonchalantly, slowly moving towards me, when suddenly he ripped my iPod out of my hand, and fled running. I sprinted after him, unsure of what my plan was, but alas, I lost him. Moral of the story: hold on tight, because robbers just love stealing phones.”
Danie is a crazy nomad hitchhiking through life without a clue of her next move. She once hitched 6,000 km in six days, and her biggest dream is to one day cuddle a platypus.
Chris, One Weird Globe
“Make sure to have a mental (or paper) checklist for what goes in what pocket of your backpack. It helps to keep things of a type together (like all your toiletry stuff or all your charging / gadget stuff), and it saves time on both the packing phase (did I pack a phone charging cord?) and the finding-it-when-you-need-it phase (there’s my phone charging cord!).
The time came when I forgot to do just that, and found myself fishing through my entire backpack looking for the one $*@(! cord. It must’ve been a scene, that’s for sure…”
Chris Backe is the blogger behind One Weird Globe, a travel blog that’s focuses on the weird and offbeat destinations around the world since 2008. He lived in Korea (2008-2013), Thailand (2013-2015), and traveled through northern Africa and Europe (2015), South America (2015-16), and North America (2016-present). He’s written dozens of guidebooks and itineraries, and has been seen on Atlas Obscura, io9, Fark, and Mental Floss.
Helen, The Lite Backpacker
PHOTO CREDIT: HELEN, THE LITE BACKPACKER
Don’t worry, this isn’t the motorist that left her stranded.
“On my first backpacking trip to South East Asia I was all gung-ho and full of attitude. At first I paid too much for tours, ate in restaurants with prices similar to home, and never negotiated on price for my bed for the night, I soon learnt. The worst one though was when I was crossing a border from Cambodia to Vietnam – classically, I wasn’t crossing at a standard border but a little used border in the far south.
I hired a moto driver to take me to the border and who arranged for another one to pick me up on the other side. It all seemed to be going according to plan, until the moto who had picked me up on the other side started driving in the opposite direction to where I thought we should be going. When I tapped the driver on the shoulder to stop, he just ignored me and sped up, 20 minutes of yelling and waving later, he pulled up in the middle of no where, I jumped off in anger and he sped off before I could say anything.
Naturally, my bravado had completely faded and I was scared and alone. Dark was a couple of hours away… I stood there on the side of the road freaking out for about 15 minutes. Suddenly a bus appeared out of no where and pulled up, the driver yelled out the door that it would be $20USD to get to the next town. I gladly paid it, got on the bus and vowed to be more careful in my transportation options. By the end of my 6 months trip, I knew to get the best deals you go at the end of the day, you half the first price and bargain hard, and ignore any suggestion of “premium” or “faster” options – it’s all the same.”
Helen is The Lite Backpacker who loves to travel but doesn’t want to get a pasta belly in the process. Over the years of trotting around the globe she has picked up some great tricks for creating healthy recipes with limited utensils and funds. Helen now runs a blog to share these ideas along with accommodation and activity reviews – if you are heading off on your first trip make sure you check out her site for some great tips.
Dave, Travel Dave UK
Photo credit: Dave, Travel Dave UK
“The biggest backpacking mistakes I made when starting out was not investing in a good reusable water bottle. Bottled water can be expensive on your travels and with high tourist trap prices lurking around every corner you might soon be out-of-pocket from all the added costs.
Look after the environment and cut down on your plastic waste by investing in a good water bottle. To avoid airport issues I like to travel with a Vapur water bottle that rolls up and packs down to nothing. Then, once you’re airside you can simply find a water fountain station to fill up again.
Most tap water around the world is completely fine to drink and won’t harm you at all. If you do go to those areas where it’s not safe to drink tap water you can always invest in a filtration system such as a Lifestraw.
Cut down on plastic and save much-needed travel funds, packing a water bottle is my number one tip for first time backpackers.”
Travelling the world, one adventure at a time. An Adventure travel blog that features travel tips and advice, inspirational stories, travel videos and travel photography that will help you inspire and plan your next trip abroad.
Lisa, Flip Flop Globetrotters
photo credit: Lisa, Flip Flop Globetrotters
“During a 10-month backpacking trip around SEA with our toddler we were in Bali during Galungan. It was amazing to see all those beautiful penjor lining the streets. Colourful offerings everywhere and everyone wearing their best clothes. Great experience! What we didn’t realise is that there would also be processions blocking the streets. So we went out to dinner and when driving our motorbike back, we got stuck behind one of those processions for over an hour. It was colourful, loud, unexpected and amazing. But at 8pm with a grumpy, sleepy 2-year old we really could have done without. So, don’t forget to do your homework! While most of us backpackers love the unexpected, when traveling with a child it’s always better to be prepared.”
In 2015 we took our 2-year old son on a 10-month trip around South East Asia. We’re now back in The Netherlands, but continue to travel. FlipFlopGlobetrotters.com is our blog, full of travel tips, reviews and our personal stories.
Sonal, Drifter Planet
“Never underestimate the power of cloud backups. Back in 2016, I traveled to ten countries were I clicked a lot of photos and made a lot of videos. I regularly backed up my data on my external hard drive. However, just when I thought of editing a few videos, I accidentally dropped my 1TB hard drive. Thankfully, my husband had backed up most of the data just a day before but I did end up losing my Philippines pictures and videos. Lesson learned: ALWAYS back up everything on cloud.”
Hi, I’m Sonal – a travel blogger from India. I have the heart of a hippie and the soul of a gypsy! I met Sandro (from Germany) in a music festival in Thailand and we eventually got married. Drifter Planet is a travel blog about our crazy life as we travel around the world with our beloved GoPro and tent.
Jamie, Crashed Culture
photo credit: Jamie, Crashed Culture
“It was the end of my year abroad, and I decided to spend the last few weeks traveling. I was living in Madrid, and planned to go to Andalusia, back to Madrid, Paris, back to Madrid again, then finally back home to the US. It was April, so while Andalusia was a lovely 80 degrees, Paris was still a chilly 50 degrees. I figured I’d save myself some time and pack for both the Andalusia and the Paris trip…meaning summer clothes and winter clothes. Thus, when I was in Andalusia, I found myself lugging all my bulky winter clothes around, just wearing a couple of thin dresses.
Think I’d learn my lesson when stopping back in Madrid before going to Paris? Wrong! Instead, I spent those few weeks constantly abusing my poor (new!) backpack to the point where the top ripped open – right before my trip back to the US! Sure was a fun 30 travel hours constantly making sure my stuff wasn’t falling out!
I won’t be making that mistake again! …I hope.”
Jamie is a 20-something who’s fascinated by cultural differences and foreign languages. She loves to see life through another perspective, and writes about the differences between cultures on Crashed Culture.
Nicole, Where to Peanut
Photo credit: Nicole, Where to Peanut
“Minimalist backpacking the Yasawa Islands of Fiji was a nearly effortless experience. Carrying just a 25L bag meant that I had all my possessions close at hand while the large ferry stopped along the chain of lush isles on the way to my destination, calling out the islands and letting people off. Relaxing, right? …Until the ferry engine revved and I realized we were passing the idyllic island I had meticulously researched! There had been no boarding call!
I went into panic mode, and told a crew member my issue. Immediately there were shouts all around in Fijian and a massive ferry made a U-turn in the middle of the ocean to drop just my husband and I off. It was so embarrassing! It turns out, the crew kept track of who was off-boarding by the tagged luggage racks outside. We were overlooked because we had everything on our backs. Word to the wise: Do your research and know what your destination looks like from all angles!”
I’m Nicole, a twenty-something pediatric Registered Nurse and tropical traveler. I’ve traveled near and far out of just a bag that actually fits under the seat, and love getting off the beaten path.
Margherita, The Crowded Planet
Photo credit: Margherita, The Crowded Planet
“When I first backpacking my major concern was spending as little as possible. That meant eating only street food, sleeping in the cheapest places, taking the slowest and most uncomfortable public transport, and naturally never using guides. And that got me in serious trouble, during our trip to Taman Negara in Malaysia.
My husband and I had planned to trek 12 km into the jungle to a hut near a water hole, where we would spend the night and hopefully spot some cool wildlife like leopard cats and pygmy elephants.
We decided not to hire a local guide to save money, thinking that 12 km is not that far and we would find the hit no problem. So we set off – completely unprepared for the jungle, with not nearly enough water and terrible footwear. Fast forward a few hours and we got completely lost in the middle of Taman Negara! We wandered in the jungle until 9 pm, with no idea where we were going, until we found the hut we were looking for, completely randomly!
It was the scariest experience of my life and definitely a mistake I don’t want to make again!”
“One of my biggest backpacking mistakes that I have made was not researching transportation options well enough. During my second solo trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, I found myself in a situation where I was stranded along the side of a highway completely alone – twice! The first time I was visiting a cenote near Tulum and the second time I had been exploring some Mayan Ruins near Merida. It was easy to get to both places but getting back to my hostel proved to be a greater challenge and I quickly realized that I hadn’t done enough research into my options.
There were no taxis waiting outside of the cenote to take me back and there was no phone to call anyone. At the Mayan Ruins, the buses going back were very infrequent and did not operate on a schedule. It was a very uncomfortable and scary experience to be standing along the side of a highway in Mexico by myself, as cars drove by and honked at me (a form of catcalling from the local men).
Thankfully, a nice local stopped and gave me a ride back from the cenote and a colectivo van finally drove along and picked me up from the Mayan Ruins after I had been waiting on the highway for over an hour! I learned an important lesson from these two experiences – make sure to always research transportation options to and from various destinations and attractions that you plan to visit. Always have a back-up option and don’t get caught in a situation like I did!”
Brittany is twenty-something Canadian blogger and solo traveler who is passionate about photography, finding authentic, unique and offbeat travel experiences and adventures, and advocating for responsible travel and conscious plant-based living. Her blog provides inspiration and detailed practical information for fellow travelers through sharing her personal stories, travel guides, reviews, high-quality photography and tips for traveling more mindfully. Follow her adventures here.
Melissa, Thrifty Family Travels
PHOTO CREDIT: Melissa, Thrifty Family Travels
“Before setting off for my big solo trip around the world, an experienced travelling friend offered me their backpack. I was like “seriously how am I going to fit all my stuff in there?” So I bought the biggest suitcase I could find, jammed it with as much stuff as possible and off I set.
Little did I know just how much trouble I was in for. I had to drag this thing up numerous narrow flights of stairs throughout Europe Hostels, on and off trains in the middle of peak hour in London and New York, as well as wheel it through cities that don’t have the best pathways such as the Greek Islands and Central America. Sure young girls can batter their eye lids and hope a gentleman will take pity on you – but this option is not always available!
I have since learned the beauty of travelling lightly with minimum clothes as well as the advantage of a back pack. You don’t want to be weighed down when travelling by stuff – so my advice to you, get yourself a back pack and only take the bare essentials – you will thank me for it – I promise!”
Melissa is the blogger behind Thrifty Family Travels. Being a keen solo backpacker in her younger years she did not let having her daughter Myla stop her travelling the world. Melissa has travelled with Myla travelled overseas 7 times and many more trips planned. Since this backpacking blunder Melissa has learned that travelling lightly is the key to great travels and is even more important when travelling with kids. Thrifty Family Travels focus is on budget family travels, showing families the tips on making travel affordable.
Allison, Eternal Arrival
“One of the most common mistakes of a first-time backpacker is trying to do too much in too little time. I get it, the world is a big and exciting place, and there’s so much you want to tick off your bucket list. But if you rush too much, you’ll miss out on the little things that make travel so great. My first backpacking trip to Southeast Asia was way too jam-packed; I visited seven countries in six weeks.
Luckily I started to slow down about halfway through. Had I continued to rush too much, I would have missed some of my favorite travel experiences, like riding the circle train in Yangon, Myanmar or exploring the beaches of the rugged Albanian Riviera on my subsequent backpacking trip through Eastern Europe. Neither of those are big name places or events, but they were the highlights of my two backpacking trips.
Sure, focus on a few big-ticket bucket list items, but then give yourself the flexibility to create the rest of your schedule around those musts. And don’t book too much before you go! Give yourself room to meet other travel companions and be inspired by where they’re going – you’ll likely find that some of your favorite travel days were days you never expected or planned for in the first place.”
Allison is a full-time freelancer and travel blogger at Eternal Arrival, exploring the world solo in pursuit of new and exciting adventures. She’s happiest when climbing things, snuggling any animal who will let her, and eating i’m probably large amounts of food.
Stef, Every Steph
photo credit: Stef, Every Steph
“I’m somewhat of a light packer, and the biggest mistake I made the first time I backpacked long-term wasn’t packing too much. It was packing the wrong items. In fact, I brought with me the same clothes I used to wear back home in my hometown. My favorite ones, that were too fancy and unpractical during my trip.
The thing is, when you are stuck multiple hours on an awful bus ride, or when you are sweating under the sun with your backpack on, you want to be wearing clothes that are comfortable and breathable. Also, some of your clothes will be ruined by the time you get back, as a result of the adventures you’ll experience, and you don’t want to be scared about ruining your favorite shirt all the time, right? Don’t make my same mistake!”
Stefania Guglielmi is an avid traveler who believes a little glamour and sustainable travel can go hand in hand. She loves coffee and never leaves for a trip without a hat and her favourite lipstick. You can read about her adventures at EverySteph.com.
Gemma, Two Scots Abroad
PHOTO CREDIT: GEMMA, TWO SCOTS ABROAD
“Cuba: the island with great rum, salsa and of course restricted WiFi access so what better destination to choose for a digital detox? After three months of insane planning and blogging in South America I decided to use the three weeks in Cuba leg of our trip to step away from the Macbook and take a holiday. Along with the blogging break, I stupidly decided to not bother planning anything for Cuba either. Worst idea ever. I didn’t even buy a travel guidebook.
Cuba is not an easy country to backpack around. Obviously, internet and WiFi is limited to signing on using pre-bought cards at designated areas, it is also really expensive. So there is no hopping on to TripAdvisor to find out which restaurants are state – run (avoid if you want your food within the hour) or no shout outs to FB communities on what to do in Trinidad for four days (definitely go to Playa Ancon). Cubans also like to sell. If you innocently go to the bus station and ask the man in uniform ‘what time is the bus to Havana’ he will tell you his mate does a taxi collectivo service for the same price… If only I had printed off all of the bus timetables! Learn from my mistakes and check out our Cuba travel guide.”
Gemma and Craig, full-time workers with a life-long travel habit. Flirting with 30 and let loose on the world! Check in at Two Scots Abroad for travel tips, quips, and pics that please. Go on, MAKE TRAVEL HAPPEN.
Jeanette, Traveling Honeybird
“The first time I went off backpacking Europe was back in the days when Lonely Planet was still somewhat reliable and their wasn’t a plethora of helpful blogs to guide newbie travellers. All of my previous travels had been for work or on long term trips into the jungle – so days when weight didn’t matter or I had to be 100% self sufficient.
When it came to pack James had given me a 65L backpack. Which I promptly filled with four books, a commercial sized hair dryer and full sized shampoo/conditioner amongst all my clothing. Which sounded like a great idea at the time. Until I had to carry these items around Europe for 6 weeks. 6 long weeks of waddling around like an over packed turtle. To make it even funnier we forgot to buy a travel adaptor before we left Australia. It took us nearly a week before we can find one!”
Gabriela, Gabriela Here and There
PHOTO CREDIT: GABRIELA, GABRIELA HERE AND THERE
“This has happened to me more than once. I always travel with a one-way ticket because I like the freedom it gives. I usually don’t have any set plans, and if I have, my plans always change. This is not a good thing if you are about to board a plane or cross the border overland. I always forget to do the research and find out if some countries require a return ticket.
One of the worst cases was when I was about to fly from Cape Town to São Paulo, Brazil. I was already late at the airport, and they were about to close the check-in 20 minutes when I got there. I was told that I couldn’t board the plane without a return ticket. Of course, there was no free wifi at the airport (or not at least in the check-in area). I was panicking and running around the airport trying to find a wifi. Finally, I found one and booked literally the first flight I could find. I made sure the flight was refundable, and I canceled it right after the check-in.”
Veronika, Veronika’s Adventure
Photo credit: Veronika, Veronika’s Adventure
“No matter where you go, make sure you get the right visa. It’s one of these major things that can be forgotten when getting ready for a trip. But trust me – you have those 10 minutes to check your visa requirements.
When I traveled to Malaysia and Brunei with my formal boyfriend, it turned out he can’t get the visa when arriving to Brunei by boat. Once the officials have seen his passport, they didn’t let him enter the country. He had to go back with the next boat! We both come from different countries – my passport was fine.
In the end, we had to book extra flight for him, but we could not afford two, so I traveled overland. We met two days later in the next destination. These are problems you don’t want to have! It can be easily avoided – all visa information is nowadays online.”
Veronika Tomanova is a Czech journalist and blogger who loves adventure. She loves to push her limits and inspires others to do it, too.
Natalia, My Trip Hack
“Media nowadays portray the extremes to make the content shareable and discussed. When you are thinking to visit a developing country outside of Europe, you will know from the media that people are dying from hunger there, a significant percent of the population is illiterate, there is no sanitation in the villages and so on. But hey, are you planning to live in a village?
During my first trip to Asia I wouldn’t lie if I say that around 1/3 of my bag was filled with medicines (that sounds really embarrassing to me now). Though I myself come from a developing country, media made me believe that my travelling destination is filled with health threats and diseases.
Should I mention that I’ve used just two medicines from my “collection” and they were also available on the spot? Obviously during my next trips, I was taking 5 medicines that specifically help me and all the others I was buying abroad upon necessity.
The media quite often skips good news as they are not getting popularity online, thus travelers are often missing a bigger picture. Read more details what you need to know before planning a trip to India.”
We hope you can take away some valuable life lessons from these backpacker fails! If not, we hope you had a laugh. What is your worst backpacking mistake? OR what can you take away from these mistakes?