In September, I triumphantly concluded my first ever solo backpacking trip. I’m usually somewhat of a slow traveller, preferring to spend a longer period of time getting to know a destination. This meant that hitting the road with a giant backpack and a list of destinations to tick off in a very small timeframe meant I had to adapt to an entirely different way of travelling. I learnt a lot going it alone, as you can probably imagine. I want to share with you 15 thoughts you’re bound to have on your first solo backpacking trip, all of which I experienced during my journey. I’ve also tried to include a few tips and points to help you in your future journeys. If taking a solo backpacking trip is something you really want to do, but are a bit nervous about taking that first leap, then hopefully this blogpost may help you somewhat. I’ve tried to keep the list pretty honest and not sugar coat things. In fact, I wrote the first draft of this post using my iPhone notes whilst sitting in a McDonald’s In Mexico soaked to the bone from an unexpected rainstorm. Well, I guess nobody said backpacking was gonna be easy…
1. There are so many opportunities. How will I fit this all in?
Regardless of how long your trip is and no matter where you find yourself, you will be overwhelmed by the options and opportunities available to you. Do I go on this guided tour or visit that small town in the middle of nowhere? How will I see each of these 10 cities in 3 weeks? Sadly you won’t have the time or the funds to do it all so you’re going to have to research and asses just where your priorities are. Is there one museum you would really regret not seeing? Or a restaurant you’ve been dying to eat at? Plan your day around that and prioritise things at the top of your list. Another tip is to plan by area. Try and base the majority of your day in one specific location and see and do all you can there. You’ll save a lot of time travelling around that way.
2. Ok, I will be friendly to my budget.
When you’re backpacking on a strict budget, it’s easy to get caught up on the numbers. It’s definitely wise to set yourself a daily spending allowance, otherwise you’re in danger of reaching the end of your trip and suddenly realising you have no money for food because you’ve been dining like a king every night. Don’t however let strict budgeting ruin your whole trip. You don’t have to live off of street food every day. Treat yourself every now and then. Just remember don’t go crazy.
3. I’m Sorry budget
Ok, I said don’t go crazy but sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the moment. For example, during my backpacking trip around Mexico, one day I spent more on a fridge magnet than I did on food for the entire day. I mean it could have been much worse considering there are so many tempting things to squaller away your budget on. If you overspend just make sure you spend a little less on other days to make up for it.
4. Why didn’t I pack less?
Usually, I am the queen of packing light (2 weeks in Florida with just carry on, holla!) but on my first backpacking trip, I had way too much stuff. I spent most of my time walking around feeling like a very frustrated Bukaroo (I have a newfound appreciation for that donkey). I would like to say the fact I had so much stuff is because it was a last-minute trip and I had to lug all my stuff around that I had at the summer camp I had been working at in the USA for the summer, but I also have to admit to being a massive hoarder. For the entire month-long trip I carried around a grand total of 5 books and 4 different notebooks. That is a crazy person behaviour!! Please take my advice and be super harsh on yourself with what you bring. Get a willing volunteer to help you comb through your backpack. If it’s not necessary, leave it behind. You’ll thank me later.
5. Oh My God, Why Did I Do This To Myself?
I won’t sugar coat it, there will be moments where you regret going off on a solo backpacking trip. Anything can set you off on a whirlwind of regret. One friend I met at a hostel in Mexico City had one of these downward spirals of regret when a local currency exchange office ripped her off. She lost about 70 dollars of her money, which was enough to make her reconsider her choice to come on this trip. Luckily this feeling didn’t last long and we carried on exploring the city together and ended up having an incredible day. What you need to remember when you feel like this is not to give up on your whole trip and book the first flight home. Remember all the amazing things you planned on seeing and doing, and all the great memories you’ve had so far. If worse comes to worst take some chill time and try and process your mood. It won’t last long and you’ll be back out enjoying yourself in no time.
6. I Love Being Alone!
Oh, the freedom of being alone! What a glorious feeling. During your first solo backpacking trip, you will be overwhelmed with the true joy that the freedom of being alone can bring. You are the purveyor of your own destiny. You can see, do and be whatever you want. You also have time to get to know yourself and be alone with your own thoughts. It’s a great time to look at your life as it is and see if there’s anything that you would like to tweak and change to make yourself a happier and better-rounded individual.
7. I Hate Being Alone!
This may completely contradict the previous idea but my god, as much as you love your own company and thrive on your independence and the freedom to carve the exact adventure you want, there will be points being alone can really get to you. The constant stream of one-day friendships before you both part ways in opposite directions means you’ve had enough of saying goodbye to last a lifetime. Sometimes you will crave a deeper connection, relax, you’re only human. Just know if you feel lonely and like you’re truly alone, it’s completely normal and you won’t feel like that for long before you meet a new friend and adventure companion at your next destination.
8. Wow, I’ve met so many amazing people.
Going back to the one-day friendships mentioned before, these will be some of the best bonds you will ever make in your life. Spending time getting to know incredible people from the worlds far-flung corners, each with stories to tell, is an experience like no other.
These friends will encourage you to get out of your comfort zone and invite you out on incredible adventures to places you hadn’t even known existed. Sometimes these fleeting friendship will turn into more. Invites to become travel buddies for a stretch of your trip and life long friendships spanning vast distances across the globe. Also having friends across the world is a great excuse to pack a bag, book a flight and go and visit.
9. Oh Gosh, I Wish I Didn’t Eat That.
For me, this moment came after eating a particularly dodgy street food taco. Was the 10 peso deal of a lifetime worth the later consciousness of my choice? Simply put, no. A bottle of Pepto-Bismal and an afternoon napping later, I felt a little better. Having an upset stomach is something most travellers will likely encounter at one point. My advice is to just try and be careful with what you’re eating. Saving money may sound like a good idea, but is it worth spending the day stuck in your hostel bed feeling sorry for yourself when you could be exploring?
10. I Wish I Learnt More Of The Language.
Guide book in hand, I made my way around Mexico ready to take on the world by haggling and ordering food like a pro. It turns out this was highly impractical (for the most part) and for the duration of my journey I kept thinking, “If only I knew more Spanish”. Going to Mexico was a very last minute decision so I didn’t have time to learn much except for the basics. It became obvious very quickly how useful knowing more of the language can be. Since coming home I’ve started a Spanish evening class, started listing to language audiobooks and am slowly working my way through Duolingo. Hopefully, during my next trip to Latin America, the benefits of knowing more Spanish will become evident. I will report back.
11. Why Did I End Up At McDonald’s?
Because it’s super easy! Some days you may be in a rush or might just be craving a little taste of home. Don’t feel bad about skipping on local cuisine every once in a while in favour of a familiar McDonalds. Sometimes I feel super guilty about doing so, but then I think to myself “why not turn this weakness of mine into a cultural experience of its own?” McDonald’s diversifies its restaurant between countries and almost everywhere I go I like to compare the differences between them. In France, you’ll find McDonald’s have little patisserie and dessert counters, whilst in Mexico, you can help yourself to salsa, guacamole and other dips for an added a dash of zing to your meal.
12. What Is Going On With The Weather?
Being British means I come with the added stereotype of loving to talk about the weather. When you travel you get to experience all new and exciting kinds of weather you might not get at home, including some somewhat unpredictable patterns. Scorching heat one minute, unexpected rainstorm the next is a pattern that always tries to catch out the unprepared. When backpacking, do a little research into the weather patterns in the area you’re visiting at that specific time of year and pack accordingly. Be wary of hurricane season and know when it is and where because unexpected scenarios can always arise.
13. I Can’t Believe I Saw That!
Your first backpacking trip will be full of moments of pure disbelief. As you take in the sights you’d only ever dreamed about before, you enter a sort of ‘pinch me, I hope I don’t wake up’ mode. Some of the most memorable aspects of your trip will be the things you saw whilst there. I personally have a little bucket list of places I want to see that I will hopefully work my way down. Let me know if you do too.
14. I Miss Home.
I hate to break it to you but they’ll be days you miss home. Those are usually the days you are horrendously sunburnt and sleeping in a tropical shared dorm with no aircon or have run out of money so have been living off packets of biscuits and bread for 3 days. When you’re feeling particularly delicate, memories of your cosy bed and a fridge full of food make being back at home sound pretty good. They’ll also be days you miss the people you left behind, whether that is family, friends or a partner- being separated can be tough. Homesickness is normal and trust me, once you’re out exploring and enjoying discovering new destinations, the homesickness will quickly subside.
15. But I Can’t-Wait To Do It All Again!
You may have run out of money, got travellers stomach, got lost numerous times, ended up stuck in too many rainstorms to count and definitely caused long term back problems from your 3 stone backpack, but would you do it all again? Of course, you would! Taking a solo-backpacking trip is one of the most liberating, rewarding and adventurous things you may ever do. There’s no doubt you would have absorbed much more from your adventure than you would have learnt from being at home. It’s good to challenge yourself and get out of your comfort zone every now and then. Once you’ve been out there and seen just how amazing your first solo trip can be, chances are you’ll be hooked and immediately start planning your adventure as soon as you arrive home.
I hope you enjoyed reading my blog post about some of the thoughts you have whilst on your first solo backpacking trip. I had such a fantastic time exploring beautiful locations all across Mexico. It has defiantly inspired me to mix up my travel routine somewhat and integrate more backpacking style trips in amongst the usual slow travel (and occasional city breaks) I enjoy.
I would love to hear from you guys about your experiences backpacking. Did any of these thoughts run through your head? is there anything you’d add to the list? Let me know in the comments below or feel free to drop me a message.
until next time, safe travels.