You're scrolling through Instagram, looking at picture perfect models with an overjoyed expression on their face, at some exotic location that's tagged in the post, and you think to yourself - "Wow, I wish I had that life."
It's Instagramers, YouTubers, and other influencers like these that show the general population a very romantic outlook on what backpacking or traveling is actually like - and look, they probably are having a great time, but that highlight reel is not reality.
You're not dolled up with perfect hair, or smiling while looking over a view all the time. There are real difficulties, problems that arise, uncomfortable moments (or weeks).
Sometimes you're dealing with a broken motorbike, trying to navigate a town with no map, no language skills and it's getting dark. Sometimes you find yourself in situations where you need to get different accommodation, or you're stuck in a country due to visa issues.
- You can get sick
- You can feel lonely
- You can misjudge your budget
- You can get stuck in a country
- You can feel uncomfortable
- You can feel tired
Backpacking is a roller coaster and isn't like a resort style getaway all the time - It can be a lot of work.
That being said, there should be one thing that's absolutely clear: Backpacking could be the single best experience of your life - It's absolutely 100% worth it.
Yes there's a lot involved in terms of preparations. And yes it's likely going to be a giant leap outside of your comfort zone - but this is what makes it so worth while.
You slowly uncover that you're OK with being uncomfortable, you're OK lugging around your backpack in the heat. You slowly start to prefer the dorm and hostel lifestyle over a secluded room in some hotel.
The difficulties materialize yet you don't feel the pressure. Sure there are stressful times, but you can overcome them - you get better at it too.
Before we get in to the hard realities, problems with backpacking, and how to best prepare for, and fix them. There are 2 articles you should read if you're still thinking of backpacking and need a final push to show you how doable it can be.
Backpacking Problems & How To Fix Them
Just like some of the difficulties we talked about above, there's a long list of them that come in a package deal with the freedom you get on the road. You'll have to deal with them at some point during your travels, so it's good to know how to do that - that's what we're covering here.
If you're backpacking, you're likely backpacking solo, and that can get lonely. I'm personally an extrovert, and yet at times I could still very much feel lonely - and this isn't about meeting people either.
During your travels, you're never truly alone. You always have people around you; you meet other travelers in your hostel and on the road - you meet a lot of locals as well. But being alone is not the same as feeling lonely.
There's a high chance you'll be in a similar situation, and when you are, the best thing to do is to call someone back home.
See what they're up to, listen to their problems, give them advice and have a laugh. There's nothing that makes you feel more at home than talking with an actual friend that you've had a good and long friendship with. Other things you can do:
- Recount your adventures to this date, practice gratitude
- Journal your day or week
- Talk to someone about how you're feeling - travel buddies can be some of the most understanding; after all, they feel this way sometimes too.
This is a big one that a lot of backpackers struggle to talk about. How can you possibly feel tired right? How dare you complain about the utter freedom you get traveling the world!
Unfortunately, its a reality, and regardless of what you're doing - you will get exhausted. Pushing through for the sake of traveling is really counter-intuitive. You're on this adventure to have a great experience, not to turn it into 'work.'
You woke up at 3 am Monday morning for a hike, browsed the market in the evening at 6, got back to the hostel with the intention to get some sleep and found yourself slamming drinks at 2 am with other travelers, passing out at 6 am - you wake up the next day to go snorkeling and then get on an night bus to make it to your next destination where you'll only have an afternoon before flying to the next place...
You get the picture. Rinse and repeat a few time and you'll absolutely feel it. Even with the simple routine of arriving in a place, checking in, unpacking, exploring, re-packing, checking out and moving on - it all gets tiring.
The way you fix travel fatigue is by pausing the 'doing' part of travel, and turning up the 'relaxing' part of travel. Limit social interaction and spend some time with yourself, while putting an anchor down somewhere you particularly enjoy.
- Book some time in a non-social accommodation
- Treat yourself to a private room
- Stay in a single town/place for a longer time
This gives you an opportunity to do nothing and just relax. You're not pressured into doing activities every day, and FOMO is all but eliminated. You can explore a place in greater detail if you like, you can watch some Netflix and eat local food all day - you can get back to a point where you're excited to move on.
Full article on travel fatigue here:
Lost or Stolen Items
The longer you're on the road, the more likely something of yours will either get lost or stolen. Usually it's something that's not that important but every now and then, it's something big like a laptop, phone, or wallet. The latter 2 were either lost or stolen from me... twice...
It's a learning experience, and an exercise in preparation. Yes it absolutely sucks, but if you're prepared, the pain is much more manageable. So preparation is key.
- Get good travel insurance - It was a pain going through the process of making the insurance claims, I had to do it 3 times, and it was 3 times too many - but at least I got my money back.
- Have backup credit/debit cards and ID - Most travel cards come with a backup. Leave it in your luggage, inactive for the duration of your travels just in case you lose your wallet - in fact, get a travel wallet, Amazon link here: https://amzn.to/2RsTO4y
- Secure your valuables - Hostels will have lockers but not all will have locks on them, make sure you're carrying a lock with you so you can lock up your things.
- Save the details of cancelling your cards before you lose your cards and need to find them online.
You're in different climates, around a lot of people, eating foreign food; chances are you're going to get sick. Either something fairly mild or (hopefully not) something severe.
Don't panic if you start catching something - this is where rest is extremely important. There's a whole lot more that we can do to prepare for this before it happens - we could even prevent it.
My last trip lasted 10 months, I didn't get food poisoning or a cold or anything like that. It's definitely preventable.
- Make sure your insurance covers doctor/hospital visits.
- Get all the necessary vaccines/medication before you leave - the most common ones are hepatitis, tetanus, malaria etc.
- Exercise general hygiene like washing your hands on the regular.
- Take vitamins and make sure you're getting enough water.
- Speaking of water, look up whether you can or can't drink tap water in the country you're visiting.
- Make sure you put on mosquito repellent, Malaria is on it's way out but Dengue Fever is still at large in certain parts of Asia.
- Rest - It might be worth it to get a private room so you can lay in bed and relax all day.
- Stick to basic nutritious foods if you've got food poisoning.
- If you're having symptoms like fever, don't chance it, go to the doctors or hospital - especially if you're in South East Asia.
- Wrap up if you're in a chilly climate.
I hope that showed you some of the things you don't see in YouTube videos or Instagram posts. Everyone likes to highlight the best parts, event though the reality is a mixed bag - and that's what makes it an adventure.
Definitely read the two articles mentioned near the top of this one. They'll get you started on your backpacking journey. A journey you should absolutely take!