My backpack and I have covered some serious ground this year. There are so many things I wish I had known before I left for my adventures! Here are my Dos and Don'ts for first-time solo backpackers.
DO: Remember the essentials
I am always surprised by how many essential items people don’t bring on trips. Here are some commonly forgotten things you need to make sure you have.
DO: Bring U.S. dollars
Trust me, people love ‘em. They can get you farther than you think. Having American money has gotten me out of many a pickle. Most recently, Mr. Andrew Jackson saved us when we needed to negotiate a 108 kilometer tuk tuk ride through rural Sri Lanka from Pinnawala to Adams Peak.
DO: Virtual, cultural immersion
Pick up a newspaper or download some music from the place you are visiting. It will really put you in the mood for your trip and give you some great talking points!
DO: Find the “party hostel”
Party hostels are not as ridiculous as they sound. They are usually very large, centrally located, and well organized. They also tend to offer many group outings and activities. Some hostels even have their own travel agents! They’re a great option for the traveler who wants to make the most out of his or her trip.
DO: Participate in hostel organized activities
They’re like school field trips: a little dorky, but in the end pretty fun. One of my favorites was a tango night I did through the Milhouse in Buenos, Aires. It was so fun I did it twice!
DO: Cherish your time alone
No matter how many traveler buds you make, you’re going to spend a lot of time by yourself. And that’s great!. Enjoy the freedom of being able to do whatever you want, and use the time to build a better relationship with yourself.
DO: Be smart
Learn phrases like “please go away” and “no thank you” in the native language. You might also want to brush up on some basic self defense skills. Know your surroundings, trust your instincts and get out of a situation is something doesn't feel right. The most important thing is to stay alert and confident.
DO: Leave your valuables at home
Stuff happens. A couple weeks ago in India, a taxi driver, who was trying to be helpful, dropped my backpack with my laptop inside. I could hear the aluminum body crack as it hit the ground. I’ve also been pick-pocketed and had sunglasses swiped right off my face!
DON'T: Be nervous
As a friend reminded me recently, people are people no matter where you go. Although language and customs vary, there is always acceptance of a friendly smile! That man staring at you as you walk down the street? Chances are he’s just curious, because you look different and “exotic.” (Or he could be a raging ax murder. Who knows? )
DON'T: Rely on technology
Print all your essential documents before you leave home, and carry them with you. I found out the hard way that you can’t get into the Chennai, IN airport without a printed ticket in hand. It was a major hassle. I will never travel paperless again.
DON'T: Over plan your trip ahead of time
There are certain countries like those in South America and Southeast Asia, that offer options not available when searching ahead. One of my biggest regrets from my South America trip was buying all my plane tickets ahead of time. If you cannot find a bus from point x to point y online, that does not mean there isn't one. Wait until you get to your destination and find a local travel agent. They will show you a plethora of travel options you didn't know existed and will save you a good chunk of money.