“Learn from your mistakes” is a common refrain, but sometimes we need additional reminders. Here are some of the most common backpacker errors and oversights, and how to avoid them:
Nothing is worse than getting off an overnight bus at 5:30 am with no idea where you are, where you’re going, or how to communicate what you need. Empty streets, shuttered doors, a heavy pack, and no leads on a bed to sleep in—this is one of the least pleasant situations to find yourself in. Protect yourself by figuring out logistics in advance. Whether you’re a Lonely Planet fanboy, a forum-dwelling notetaker, or social enough to find out firsthand from other travelers who have just been where you’re going, save yourself some stress and take the advice of others on the basics of transportation and accommodation in advance. Even better, learn some practical phrases in the local language before you arrive, so you can ask for directions and recommendations, not to mention make some new friends.
Insurance is a no-brainer when it comes to owning a vehicle or house, but it is also a necessity when it comes to long-term backpacking. Independent travel carries with it a host of risks to your health and possessions. Crazy traffic, illnesses, extreme sports, and theft of your valuables with you are all dangers that may be encountered. While watching money drain out of your bank account for something intangible and (hopefully) never taken advantage of can be disheartening, purchasing quality travel insurance is always worth it in the end. We’ve had friends robbed blind at Full Moon Parties, hurt badly in Laotian motorbike accidents, and left with permanent health issues from an Ecuadorian intestinal parasite. Trust us—it’s far better to pay your premiums and know that you’ll be taken care of in a case of extreme need than experience the alternative.
Being a “tourist” instead of a “traveler”
This distinction is often pointed out, but easy to forget. Why are you traveling? Is your goal to take pictures to show off on Facebook, or to experience true diversity, culture, and the awe of historical and natural places that could never exist back home? Do you prefer to eat food you’re familiar with for every meal, or discover new flavors and dishes that you’ve never seen before? Would you rather meet and interact with other foreigners, or locals that can offer perspective on what their lives are really like? Analyze your travel habits and what things you gravitate towards naturally. Memorize your passport number already and lose those neon Khao San Road singlets—if you’re reading this, you’re probably not a casual tourist. Carpe diem.