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The Traveller's Magazine
  •   4 min read

Are you getting ready for an epic adventure across a continent? Are you planning your route and filling your backpack to the brim? Are you backpacking for the first time and just planning on… winging it? Take a look at these 5 mistakes that first-time backpackers easily make. Instead of learning the hard way, learn from the pros.

Undoubtedly one of the hardest ways to travel is by backpack. Giving up the frills of wheeled-suitcases, airport taxis and modest hotels to carrying your stuff on your perhaps unseasoned back, taking public transportation (even if it takes three times longer) and sleeping at a youth hostel or on the couch of a complete stranger. Sound easy? It takes a little time to get into the full swing of things, and these common mistakes can definitely be avoided. But you know, part of backpacking is learning the hard way…


It’s easy to over-pack. If you have a 65L backpack you might think, “well, I should pack 65L of stuff… right?” Space is precious while on the road, especially if you plan to pick up a few things on the way. You also have to consider that you need to be comfortable carrying your backpack around, potentially for a few hours at a time (but hopefully not). If you can’t comfortably lift your backpack, strap it on and walk for an hour with it, then it’s too heavy.

When it comes to over-packing, ladies, you seem to do it best. Check out this article, What to wear: Travel tips for women for some tips about fashion abroad.

  • ditch the guidebook, keep the important info in a small notebook instead
  • pack simple clothing that layers well
  • shoes: one pair of comfortable walking shoes, one pair of nicer shoes for going out

“When preparing to travel, lay out all your clothes and all your money. Then take half the clothes and twice the money.” -Susan Heller


There is definitely a healthy medium between planning too much and booking too far in advance and not planning anything at all.

Good: Booking a hostel for the first few nights of your stay in a big city.

Bad: Planning a sailing excursion, followed by a week-long trekking adventure, with a sightseeing tour booked for the day after.

Let yourself get acquainted with your new surroundings before heading off to another city or adventure. Longer excursions shouldn’t be set in stone before hand and you should have some flexibility in case you unexpectedly “love” London but “loathe” Prague.

  • learn some phrases in the local language before arriving
  • read up on cultural norms (esp. women travelling in Asia and the Middle East)
  • know some basic geography


An essential topic. Never get caught without money, ever. International ATMs are reliable but you need to confirm with your bank before leaving that indeed your card will work abroad. Always make sure you have at least 2 ways to access money while you’re on the road. Set up the cash-advance option on your credit card. Carry both cash and traveller’s cheques. Keep your money in separate places in case your belongings are stolen.

Get creative, check out these 6 slick ways to stash your cash (for ladies and gents).

  • leave a photocopy of your bank cards with someone in case of emergency
  • tell your credit card company before that you’re travelling so they don’t block your cards for suspicious use
  • don‘t flaunt the cash, carry one what you need for each day in your wallet

Travel partners

Do you prefer to fly solo or do you like going tandem with a best friend or special someone? Having the wrong travel partner can ruin your trip. Travelling alone may be really scary for first-time backpackers though. If you choose a travel parter because you’re scared, do it wisely. Make sure it’s someone you’ve spent a lot of time with and want to spend 24 hours a day with for the duration of your trip. Remember, if you convince a friend to travel and then find that you don’t travel well together at all, ditching them really isn’t an option.

  • give it a trial run at home, taking shorter trips together
  • while travelling, give each other space when you need it (one spends the day at a museum while the other shops for instance, meeting back for dinner)
  • take it easy and communicate

Log off

You’re ready to take off for the other side of the world and leave your home behind for awhile? Then do just that. Resist updating your Facebook status everyday and checking your email several times a day. Missing home while travelling is natural, so write some postcards or letters instead. Keep a blog where you can post photographs and leave notes for friends and family members along the way. Use Skype to call home every once in a while but log off and disconnect for a while. It’s hard enough keeping up with one “present moment” than trying to keep up with two.

  • start a travel blog that you update every week or couple weeks on the road
  • create a mailing list of friends/relatives that you send general updates to
  • remember that Facebook gossip will still be there when you get home

Have you spend a lot of time backpacking? Where have you gone? Do you prefer travelling solo, why? Tell us what you wished you knew about backpacking before you set out on your own adventure!

Img: garryknight / flickr cc

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3 responses to “5 mistakes first-time backpackers easily make

  1. When I first backpack, my worst mistake was certainly about the paiement issue (it was quite embarassing to be in a desert without being able to take out cash in the nearby town) and about hostel booking !

    Also, I would like to add something about medicine. Don't pack the stuff you can find everywhere (aspirine, etc) but pack emergency antibiotics. I would have been helpful when I got the worst sore throat on a trek in Peru… Fortunately after two weeks of pain I found a emergency tourist pharmacy near the lake Titicaca! But I lost 2 weeks of fun because of the pain.

    Also, I would recommend to unload your digital camera's photos quite often, burn the pictures on a cd and then send it home. No risk of loosing your pretty pictures.

    To finish, about the clothing, I would recommend to girls to pack at least one feminine outfit. Trekking / travel clothes are comfy, but you kinda feel you've lost all your woman side after a couple month.


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