A few years ago I was lucky enough to spend a year aboard, living and working in the UK, and I loved every minute of it. Not only did I enjoy channelling my inner Brit, I absolutely relished discovering the rest of what Europe had to offer.
Whether you are travelling solo, with your bestie or a bunch of friends backpacking through Europe, Asia or South America, you’ll no doubt have the time of you life, but also learn a lot about the world and more importantly, yourself. But before you get too carried away and hop on that plane, it’s important to have realistic expectations on what you are getting yourself into.
So from one traveller to another, here are the 13 things I learnt while backpacking…
1. Take advantage of all that is (actually) free
Most of the time you’re backpacking you’re doing it for a reason, ie: you have no money and you’re planning to travel for a while. While you have to spend money on necessities, if you are clever you’ll be amazed to know how far your money can go.
I wish I’d taken advantage of more of the completely free tours available in every city around the world, which are plentiful once you look for them. Though I only managed a few, they were easily some of the best tours I’ve ever been on to date.
I also learned to exploit free breakfast at hostels and carb load like there was no tomorrow. If you can’t take some of the food away with you. After three bowls of cereal, six slices of toast and two pieces of fruit, you’ll be good to go and definitely won’t be needing lunch that day.
2. Free is not always free
Dodgy locals are always out to scam naïve tourists, so I learnt to develop a keen eye. The roses that handsome Italian man is handing out often cost a couple of euros when you accept them. Cafes are also bad for deceptive freebies. I know I was fooled once or twice with ‘free’ bread and water before our meal arrived at restaurants, resulting in a bill much larger than we’d originally expected.
3. Make plans
Not being properly prepped cost me a lot when I was backpacking. A last-minute ticket, even on low budget airline, is expensive, the good hostels are all booked out unless you get in well in advance and you can find yourself in a certain location at a really bad time to visit. I travelled all the way to Ibiza hoping to party on a whim, only to find out it was low season and the island was no mans land.
4. But be prepared to change them
After planning to spend five days in Rome, I only stayed for two. Why? The hostel was revolting, the heat was unbearable and myself and all three of m y travel buddies had been lucky enough to travel to Rome. So we jumped onto a computer, looked up the cheapest train fare and found ourselves in beautiful Positano on the Italian Amalfi Coast the next day. We absolutely adored Positano and once again changed our plans and stayed there longer than anticipated.
5. Don’t be afraid to take the road less traveled
London, tick. Big Ben, tick. Paris, tick. Eiffel Tower, tick.
For a lot of people, travelling is a check list and when you speak to them about their experiences overseas they actually don’t really have anything meaningful to share, since they spent the whole time focused on getting Instagram snaps of the next thing on their list. While I definitely had a checklist as well, I also made sure to do things that were off the beaten track or traditional tourist road map, since it was often where I found myself immersed in the best culture.
6. Embrace the sh*t times
Nothing will ever always go 100 per cent right on your trip. I can tell you about the nights we spent sleeping on airport floors, trains we missed because we were too busy getting McDonald’s from across the road, days spent fighting jet-lag, waiting hours for a connection, and unplanned trips to boring cities because a friend lost her passport.
So instead of moan it out, I decided to instead take advantage of the bad situations and spent the time exploring places I otherwise never would have visited.
7. Always bring a camera
And take a million pictures! There is nothing worse than looking back through your photos and finding only one or two photos of a particular destination, and I only wish I’d remembered to take more on my trip. The snapshots I do have though, are ones I’ll look at again in 20 years time and will no doubt cause a million memories to come flooding back.
Also make sure you get photos of yourself and friends and not just famous landmarks and panoramas and upload your travel pics to Instagram for all to see.
8. Take on board local advice
Don’t be afraid to ever ask for advice. The best I’ve received was during some of the free tours I took in Europe since often the guides were true locals willing to slip me the address of where to find the best food in town. It’s these little tips that allow you to avoid the crowds, see what the city really has to offer and why the locals love it.
9. Embrace the moment
One of the best things I ever did while backpacking was sneaking into a festival on the beaches of Valencia, Spain. We never had planned to go but this sporadic decision was one I will remember forever. We initially saw the festival from the top of Castillo de Xàtiva and were instantly keen to get involved. A few minutes later, we’d successfully made it inside and were at the front of the stage watching Europe’s biggest DJs perform. Dancing as the sun set and surrounded by my closest friends it was a moment I’ll never forget.
10. Explore different cultures
Travelling the western world is an incredible experience for anyone, however a trip to places with a unique culture will be unforgettable. A personal fave of mine is Turkey, so close to Europe it’s extremely accessible and is a place like no other. We stumbled into Istanbul and fell in love right away. A mix of the Middle East and Europe, the city was intriguing and I loved everything, from the majestic Topkapi Palace right down to the trinkets found in the Grand Bazaar.
11. Be savvy with your money
While a hostel may be cheap as chips per night, when you’re staying somewhere for a while and with a group of friends you’d be surprised how much you all end up spending on accommodation. I only wish I’d used AirBnB stays more often to keep my own costs down while backpacking. The major bonus being having my own bathroom and kitchen to cook our meals in if I wanted to.
12. Be prepared to splurge
It’s one thing to be budget savvy, but if you skimp out on every aspect of your trip, you’ll look back and just see all the things you missed out on. Visited the French Alps and didn’t ski? Went to New York but couldn’t afford to go up the Empire State Building? Took a trip to Vienna, music capital of the world and didn’t see the Opera? I’m pleased to say I don’t have any regrets on this front thanks to knowing when to pull back and when to go, ‘What the hell, YOLO!’
13. Enjoy yourself
Embrace every moment and every opportunity that you stumble across, because I can guarantee doing something when you are backpacking with friends will always be a unique experience. You may never get a change to do it again so why not take a leap of faith and jump right in? I’m so glad I had my year-long adventure, and despite the learning curves that came with it, I wouldn’t trade the memories it gifted me for the world.
Images via thewanderbug.com, theundercoverchristian.files.wordpress.com, traveller.com.au, casadekarma.com.au, psychologies.co.uk, travelettes.net, huffingtonpost.com, wikimedia.org.