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I spent my first long term backpacking trip making backpacker mistakes that seem all too obvious in retrospect.

Yet judging by many other travelers I’ve met on the road, I wasn’t the only one learning the hard way.

Now that I’m older and wiser (ok, just older) I’ve learned the error of my ways and feel the need to pass on some sage advice.

These 5 mistakes may seem like pretty basic stuff but can make a huge difference in the quality of your trip.

1. Packing Too Much

You’ve probably heard of this timeless packing advice: take half the stuff you need and twice the money.

I’m not sure how realistic that is to double your hard-earned money on the spot, but keeping your backpack light is a good idea. Ditching extra clothes, guidebooks and the kitchen sink are a good start. You can always buy anything essential.

While carrying around a huge, heavy load everywhere is bad enough, stressing out about new and exciting ways to cram things into non-existent spaces in your backpack each time you move will become your worst nightmare.

Leave a bit of space for your Oktoberfest beer stein, Mexican sombrero or anything else you’re sure to accumulate on the way or you might find yourself making some expensive trips to the post office.

2. Buying Loads of New Gadgets

Once you decide you’re going travelling it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement of it all. You’ll be like a kid in a candy store as you wander around travel and outdoor shops eyeing up expensive backpacks, massive first aid and sewing kits, fancy fold up toiletry bags, silk sleep sheets, quick dry towels and loads of other neat (and expensive!) things.

While some of these items have their place, most will never leave the deepest, darkest corners of your backpack. Unless you’re planning on heading off into the wilderness for days at a time, you won’t need a mega huge, fancy first aid kit, the basics will do.

Same goes for the sewing kit; if you rip your pants then go out and buy a needle and thread. (I often wonder how many people with a sewing kit actually know how to sew).

By all means, pick up that compact quick dry towel but remember: those expensive gadgets that you’ll never use might pay for some amazing activity or add a few extra days onto your trip.

3. Over Planning and Booking Too Far in Advance

With countless websites, guidebooks and TV shows for almost every destination, you’ve got an unlimited supply of resources to plan your trip.

As time slowly ticks down to your departure date you may be tempted to plan as much as possible in advance.

Booking a hostel bed for the first few nights of your trip in a busy city is a good idea. Booking a sailing trip followed by a four wheel drive adventure followed by a three day trek starting on day 55 of your travels is not.

You’ll meet people on the road who will recommend some amazing places that you’d never heard of and your plans are sure to change. Keep some time free to be spontaneous; it’s much more fun!

4. Choosing an Incompatible Travel Partner

The idea of traveling alone can be scary for anyone who’s never done it before. The easier option might seem to be finding a travel partner but if you rush into this decision out of fear of being alone on the road then you can do some serious damage to both your trip and your friendship.

Traveling with another person, especially for long periods, can be difficult at times so you’d better make sure you choose someone who you know you’ll be compatible with.

Even worse, if you beg a somewhat unwilling friend to come with you and decide later that you”re better off alone, ditching them isn’t an option unless they’re as sick of you as you are of them.

5. Trying to See Too Much

Trying to squash 15 countries into a one month trip is going to leave your heading spinning. While every person has to find what works for them, being too ambitious about how much ground you can cover on your first trip is a common mistake.

If you’re backpacking independently you will need to factor in travel times between cities and getting from the station to your hostel – including the inevitability of wandering in the wrong direction for hours on end.

If you move from place to place every day or two it will feel as though all of your time is spent on public transport. You’re on holiday – it’s not supposed to feel like one massive commute.

Instead, take your time. After all, if you enjoy your first trip, that ‘once in a lifetime’ experience will be the first of many more to come. There will be plenty of time to fit in all those places you missed the first time around.

Kirsty Henderson has combined her two passions (travelling and web design) to produce a variety of websites including and Working Holiday Info. She’s soon planning to leave the rat race to work fulltime on her websites and has rough plans to head overland from London to Beijing in early 2008.



About The Author

Kirsty Henderson

Kirsty Henderson has combined her two passions (travelling and web design) to produce a variety of websites including Nerdy Nomad and Working Holiday Info. She’s soon planning to leave the rat race to work fulltime on her websites and has rough plans to head overland from London to Beijing in early 2008.

  • Ben Steele

    I remember all too well how much pain point one can cause. Lugging a 5000 tonne backpack 5 miles into the country in 45 degree heat.

    I think for a lot of the above points, you will never fully understand until you make those mistakes in the first place.

  • Scribetrotter

    How utterly true that rings!!

    I set off for Africa with a 25 kilo backpack (55lb). Granted, it included a laptop and lots of reference materials. Within a month, I was down to 11 kg (25 lb) and it stayed that way for three years on the road.

    Among some of the things I shed along the way: a first aid kit (you can get most things most places), a beautiful padded shoulder strap (what on earth possessed me to think I could carry it on ONE shoulder?!), 6 T-shirts (I only needed 2), shampoo, conditioner and soap (a bottle of J&J baby shampoo will do the trick), clothes washing liquid (see previous allusion to shampoo), extra books to read (find me a backpacker and I’ll find you a book exchanger)…

    I went the other way on overbooking and overplanning… I set off for a year initially (it sort of got stretched because of my LACK of planning) with a one-way ticket to Cape Town and a list of 12-15 countries that should (according to the map) be on my list… I made each decision on the spot – I’d talk to travelers heading towards me in the opposite direction about where they’d come from. Or I’d go to the bus station and simply get on something full enough to be leaving. Once in a while I’d have to adhere to a timetable, especially when visas were about to expire, but mostly I went with the rhythm and flow around me.

    And finally – I travel solo most of the time – wouldn’t have it any other way!

  • Kirsty

    Ya I agree… these are all seemingly small, basic things but they have the potential to wreck a trip so heed the warning! Heed! Heed!

    Scribe I really love your style of travel and am hoping to do things that way when I head off in June. I’ll be trying desperately to travel light but I’ll have a laptop and a heap of camera stuff so it’ll be a challenge. One I’m looking forward to though!

  • Ian MacKenzie

    thanks for the extra tips and comments! perhaps we’ll have a follow up article at some point…detailing the 5 most common tips that backpackers make even when they’re trying to avoid them…

  • Budapest

    Taking enough cash would be point 6. for me, or at least making sure in advance that you can draw cash somewhere. I always end up with a credit card that I can not use, because they do not accept ccs at all or they say “not this type of card”, or the “we have problems with the POS” thing.

  • Kirsty

    Ya that’s a common mistake for me too! I’m sure I could come up with another list of things that happen once your trip begins. Most on that other list are pre-trip things. Hrm… off I go to brainstorm!

  • Demanova

    I am sure you can come up with 5 things that happen once your trip begins. Here is No.1: What can go wrong will go wrong, so be prepared. :)

  • Hannah

    Some thoughts on this that came soaring into my head as I was reading:

    1. Leaving space for… I tried to garner myself an Oktoberfest stein… it was seized by security and hurled to the ground, never to carry wonderful beer again. Tip on getting one of these if you’re really determined: Get out of your tent with your stein EARLY, before security gets tight.

    2. On gadgets – I LOVE traveling with my silk sheets that get stuffed into their stuff sack. Maybe I’m a germ-o-phobe, but I always feel just a little bit better in hostel beds with these and they certainly don’t weight much. Ditto for the super-absorbent travel towel. Money well spent!

    3. And on travel partners – I’ve traveled with incompatible partners before. It resulted in a massive blow out, and a LOT of learning about myself. We’re still friends today.

    Thanks for this article. ‘Travel light’ can NEVER be said enough!

  • Matt Pace

    Good article. I am and have only been on one backpacking trip. My wife and i did about everything wrong you can.

    1. We didn’t prepare our bodies. I don’t think this is absolutely necessary but will make life easier. I am diabetic and being in better health helps deal with it.

    2. I had a 65 pound pack and my wife had a 55 pound pack for two nights!!!!! We had no idea they weighed that much until we headed out. Now before trip 2 I am being VERY selective about what i will take.

    3. We picked THE hardest trail in Ohio. Shawnee State Forest & Backpacking Trail with the infamous Devil’s Hill. The section we did was all ridiculous terrain.

    4. We started out too late. After spending the night before stressing about what to take and what not to take, we slept only about 6 hours. After getting up later than planned, and arriving at the trail head at 3 p.m., we set off for the 6 mile hike to camp 1. Now being out of shape I figured we could make it by sundown. LOL. Not even close. We ended up COMPLETELY lost after the sun fell. Too make matters worse the rain was coming down like a monsoon nonstop. Luckily we had rain gear(still got soaked from sweat) based on time hiking) going about 15 miles before getting to camp because we took side trails, horse trails, and had to back track several times. It was hard to see tree blazes because our headlamps went out! (DONT BUY CHEAP GEAR!) We only had a yes ONE micro lantern in the pitch darkness(LOL!!!).

    By the time we arrived at camp it was after midnight(9 hours of up and down hill hiking with a 65 pound pack for an out of shape guy!!!!with diabetes) My wife and I were exhausted and developing hypothermia at this point. Luckily there was an angel sent by God at the camp. He helped us set up our tent (which we had NEVER done) (always set up befor you go!) and hang our bear bag(or try at least). luckily we stripped naked, dried off, put on warm dry clothes and got into our sleeping bags in the tent.(we also ate some crustables PBJ as we were fatigued and not in good shape) My blood sugar was also way out of whack and I had collapsed several times on the trail and had to just lay for mintes at a time in the mud(I was just about dead).

    So heed the warning in this article.

    Take only what you need to survive! Set out early and try to arrive at camp WAY befor sundown(3 pm is a good arrival time) that way you can set up camp with no hurry. Make sure you are hydrated and eat every few hours regardless of whether you hungry or not.

    One last tip. TAKE MOLESKIN!!!! put them on any area you are prone to get blisters.

  • Craig

    Hi there.

    Similar to Kirsty’s point, one way to take it lightly is by almost “forcing” yourself to travel that way. Get a pack between 1800-2300 cubic inches – some places even sell this as a “daypack” for some reason. By having a few interchangeable outfits, you can go on for weeks or months without too much worry. Besides.. do you want to see the world or try to bring all your fashionable clothing while doing it?

    And about the gadgets.. you’re going to bring a few, that’s a given. But make sure they can be lost or stolen – your mind will be distracted (focused on your new laptop and iPhone) instead of relaxed as you’re traveling with a used iPod while backpacking through Europe.

    Enjoy your trip!

    [Shameless plug – more tips like this from the book at

  • Andy

    Don’t leave any space in your pack for souvenirs, mail them if/when you buy them. My pack is big enough to carry a few changes of clothes and my bare essentials. That’s all you need.

  • Wonderlane

    Senator Yule Kilcher of Alaska used to tell me “Only pack what you can run with.”

    Yah, he was right.

  • Mirultijb

    im going to australia for 7 days,is it call backpacker too??

  • Sandy Smith

    I made decent “money” (free beer) teaching people how to use their sewing kits. It was ridiculous how people didn’t know how to sew on a button.

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