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5 Common Mistakes Of First-Time Backpackers

by Kirsty Henderson Aug 8, 2007

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.

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