I’M WRITING from behind the reception desk here at El Diablo Tranquilo hostel in Punta del Diablo, Uruguay.
Every day a new group of travelers arrives in this chill little beach town. Some are seasoned solo travelers, like the sea captain who cleaned out a group of earnest Swedes in Texas Hold ‘Em last night, or the Alaskan mountain guide who winters in South America. Others are backpackers, traveling in groups, red-faced under their massive mochillas.
I have a blast hanging out with all the travelers who pass through Punta del Diablo, but I can’t help but notice how the travel style of the experienced vagabonds is much more simple and elegant than the “messily enthusiastic” methods of the newbie travelers.
While I’m still more like a naive gap-year backpacker than a world-wise traveler (the sea captain took my pesos too), I’ve learned a thing or two about travel over the years.
Deep in the BNT archives, there’s a fine article by Kirsty Henderson entitled 5 Common Mistakes Of First-Time Backpackers.
Kirsty beat me to the punch by identifying several common pitfalls, like packing too much, trying to see too much, and planning too strict an itinerary.
So, I now give you 7 MORE common mistakes made by first-time backpackers. I speak from experience, having fallen into every one of these traps at least once.
Hopefully, by reading this article, you’ll manage to avoid them.
1. Too Little Research
Doing too little research is even worse than planning too strict an itinerary. At a bare minimum, you should learn a few words of the local language, have a sense of the cultural norms and history and know the basic geography of your destination.
The more research you do in advance, the more you will enjoy your trip. Guaranteed.
2. Sticking To The Hostel Trail
Traveling from hostel to hostel in the company of other backpackers is the easiest thing in the world. Don’t get me wrong – hostel life is a lot of fun. But by sticking to the hostel you lose out on opportunities for local interaction and original experience.
Make an effort to try other lodging options, such as camping, couchsurfing, home-stays and even short term apartment rentals.
3. Flaunting Wealth
If you’re traveling the world, you’re richer than 90 percent of the people in it. If you travel in cheap destinations like Latin America, India or Southeast Asia, you may not spend a lot of money, but you are still astronomically wealthy by local standards.
Flaunting wealth in such places can be as seemingly innocuous as listening to an iPod or taking photos with a digital DSLR. Strive for discretion and modesty.
4. Getting Stuck Without Money
Having no money is a heck of a lot worse than showing off by spending too much. Be sure you have at least two ways to access money on the road. A debit card is good, but keep some traveler’s checks also, along with cash. Store your money in separate places and have a backup plan in case your belongings are stolen.
5. Drinking Too Much
It’s easy to drink too much while traveling, not only because many travelers are in the ‘vacation’ mindset, but also because travel is stressful, and alcohol is a simple way to (temporarily) relieve stress.
Make a conscious effort to drink wisely. You will save money and energy, and lessen your chances of getting robbed or injured.
6. Checking Facebook Every Day
You will miss your friends and family while traveling. So write letters. Write blogs. Call home on Skype once in a while. But don’t get sucked into the gossip of Facebook, or check e-mail three times a day. Traveling means leaving home behind. Leave your homepage behind too.
7. Ignoring Advice
Even if you agree with all the advice I’ve just passed along, I’m sure you’ll leave for your next trip with too big a pack and too strict an itinerary. I bet you’ll be updating your Facebook status, and it wouldn’t surprise me to find you drinking too much in a hostel bar.
Why do I have so little faith in your ability to follow sound advice? Well, to be honest, I don’t follow my own advice half the time.
Traveling well demands a combination of spontaneity, confidence, humility and discipline that can be difficult to balance.
We can never hope to master the art of travel, but by learning from our mistakes and doing our best to follow the advice of others, we can avoid some common pitfalls.
What travel mistakes have you learned from? Leave a comment below!