Life

11 Things I Learned From 11 Months Of Backpacking

Over the past three years, I’ve done 11 months of solo backpacking in North America, and another 11 months with my best friend in Europe. And while that totally sounds like I’m bragging, consider it my qualifications for giving you advice.

I learned so much over my time travelling — I’m fluent in crying in most languages now! There are so many things I wish I knew before stepping out into the world with my pack strapped to me.

#1 Sometimes A Cheaper Hostel Is Not A Better Hostel

Two words. Bed. Bugs. It is one of the worst things that can happen to you while travelling, and I will forever curse the seven euro hostel we booked just because it was so cheap.

To avoid this, do your research. Hostelworld has an excellent system of reviews from other backpackers. I would strongly advise giving keywords like “theft” and “bugs” a search just to weed out the horrors.

#2 Long Bus Rides Can Be Worth It

Without long bus rides, you can miss out on the best hidden spots your destination has to offer. Without a twenty-three-hour bus ride between Dubrovnik and Skopje, I would have never found the beautiful azure coast of Montenegro.

Sure, they can be arduous, but you can kill the time by stocking up on podcasts and Spotify playlists. If you’re tripping around Europe, Flixbus is your best friend. For North America, don’t fear the Greyhound buses – they’ll get you from point A to point B with some interesting stories.

#3 You Will Have Bad Days

This is sucky, but it’s true. Bad days don’t stop just because you’re in a beautiful part of the world. I had to learn this on a particularly beautiful leg of my Europe trip — Prague! — where everything seemed great for everyone but me.

Bad days don’t stop just because you’re in a beautiful part of the world.

This can be extremely lonely. And yes, everyone around you is posting beautiful photos and smiling and socialising, but just remember, you certainly aren’t alone. Reach out to your friends, speak to fellow travellers, and don’t be mean to yourself. You will eventually get out of bed, and Prague will still be there, waiting for you.

#4 Being Lost Isnt Romantic, It’s Terrifying

Take it from someone who was once abandoned (hungover) in a Hamburg industrial area – being lost is not a good time.

My biggest tip here is to download the maps.me app. On this app, you simply download a map of the city while you have Wi-Fi, and then when you’re stranded, pull it up offline! This app could literally save your life so trust me, it’s worth the phone memory.

#5 Changing Plans Is OK

Look, I am an absolute stickler for plans. I love to stick to a schedule, follow a route, and keep a budget while I am travelling. I found with solo travelling, this was the way I functioned best. It kept me on track and comfortable. But everything changed when I added a friend to the mix.

Travelling with a friend made me realise that plans change, and that’s OK. Sometimes, you just need to learn to go with the flow. Changing plans meant that I got to see things like Antelope Canyon and stay in a party hostel in Budapest. I found I was way more relaxed with plans changing after learning to go with the flow just a little.

#6 You Will Meet Your Best Friends

Travelling alone can be terrifying, but it can also be incredibly rewarding. You will learn about yourself, and you will be forced into new friendships you never thought you’d make. Even if you aren’t a social butterfly, hostels are filled with people just waiting to take you under their wing.

When travelling with a friend, just make sure you don’t close yourself off to these same opportunities. My best friend and I share matching tattoos with two other people we met in Europe who we now consider blood brothers. Particularly because for the rest of their life, they’re stuck trying to explain why they got such weird tattoos with strangers. 

#7 Smaller Dorms Are Not Always Better Dorms

One of the best things I ever did was book a 42 bed dorm in Berlin. While it seems crazy, it was actually the best experience of my trip.

Everyone was respectful and so friendly, and it gave me an inbuilt group of friends to explore the crazy Berlin nightlife with. While you don’t have to go that crazy, just remember, bigger dorms are usually cheaper, and I promise, more fun.

#8 People Suck, And Thats OK

I don’t think I realised how different people could be until I was in Middle of Nowhere, Texas, talking to a former military man about gun control. He, fortunately, didn’t suck, and we had a totally open conversation about our views, but that was just lucky because a lot of people – well they do suck.

Instead of arguing with people, I found the best way to navigate these conversations was 1) To not have them drunk and 2) To leave when I become uncomfortable. Sometimes, you can agree to disagree and move on, and other times, people will persist. Just know your limits and walk away when you need to.

#9 Rest The Hell Up

OK. This is a BIG ONE. Travelling for as long as I did, I learned a hard lesson about burning out. You know you’ve overdone it when you’re walking around the Louvre wondering what all the fuss is about. I call this museum fatigue, and it can happen to the best of us.

My tip for combating this one is to get some sleep and remember that you don’t need to see every bloody landmark. Do something more chill, like head to a movie in a classic theatre, or even spend a day at the hostel looking at their free book section. It may be difficult to forgo a night out for a night sleeping, but I promise it’ll be worth your while to snooze just a little.

#10 Not All Friends Are Travel Friends

I found this took me a longer time to learn because I really wanted everybody to be the same kind of traveller as me. This just isn’t reality. Just because you love your friends, doesn’t mean you’re travel compatible, and while that isn’t a fun reality, it is something you need to know before embarking on a big trip.

#11 I Am A Badass 

Say this to yourself. Say this to yourself over and over again, because nobody leaves a backpacking trip without becoming a badass. I came home and realised that I could overcome anything because nothing will be as bad as those bed bugs.

You too, will be a badass. You will push yourself to the limit of your sanity, you will get yourself into situations you never thought possible, and you will come out of it a better person. Go out there, and be your best self. I promise, it’s all worth it.

Azra is a writer whose Instagram feed is filled with travel pics, when really she spends most of her time in darkness, writing ‘Stranger Things’ conspiracy theories.