From novice backpacker to seasoned traveler
22.12.2010 - 06.04.2016
Australia – New Zealand – Thailand – Laos – Cambodia – Vietnam – Czech Republic – Bali – Singapore – Mexico – Belize – Guatemala – Nicaragua – (via Costa Rica ) – Panama – Colombia – Peru – Bolivia – England (currently deciding on next destination)
The above time-line is the countries I’ve continuously roamed through over the past 5 years.
Some of these countries I’ve lived in, some I worked in, most I’ve slowly backpacked through, and in all I’ve got ridiculously drunk in!
Having written a couple of blogs about trying to adjust back to normal life but now wanting to carry on traveling I want to take a slightly different direction with this one.
However a brief overview – I started as a wide-eyed backpacker, I saw, did, experienced, drank (a lot), learnt, evolved, grew (not in height) and got most the T-shirts. I started off doing what so many first time travelers do; got stuck in one place, I drank and partied like there was no tomorrow. In fact my first 6 months in Australia, I can’t recollect a day that I was sober! However looking back on that first year, I would have done things a little differently.
However I don’t want to bore you with blogs talking about previous trips ( I’ll do that through my YouTube videos 😀 )
So this blog is more about how I do things differently now to when I first started to travel, how I evolved from a wide-eyed backpacker to a seasoned traveler. I hope this helps some of you with trips in the future and some of you may relate to the article.
I think the best way to do this is to break it up into sections so it might come across as an informative blog. ( Only my third blog, still learning😀 )
Plan loosely – Something I picked up on very early on was to keep my planning to a minimum. Before I went on my first trip to Australia, I had planned and planned and planned like a madman. I was going to start in Sydney and leave a few weeks later, fly to Adelaide and work my back to Melbourne and all the way up the east coast and over to the Northern territory. I planned to stop at every major town, work when I needed to, it was all figured out… Yeah, that didn’t happen! I got to Sydney, met a great group of people in a great hostel and that was that…8 months later…I left Sydney only because I needed to find farm work for a second year visa. So learning from that mistake, when I’m thinking of my next trip or moving onto the next country, I have a general route through the country in mind. I still keep certain destinations, stops, activities, certain things I want to see in mind. I learnt plans change on a whim, especialy if you dont have a set time. I understand people on short trips wanting to cram as much in as possible. I am however dumbfounded when experienced travelers have everything crammed into an itinerary giving them no scope to maneuver. Even Scheduling when exactly to wake up and go to sleep, time limits on how long they will stay in one place for and they always come across so stressed out. What if you like one place more than the other ? If you’re loose with planning you can stay in that place longer but if you’ve planned everything to the tee then you have no choice but to carry on. Each to their own I guess but my tip keep your planning loose
Luggage – How many of us crammed as much as possible into our backpacks or suitcases on our first trips ? At least 2 or 3 pairs of everything ? Prepared for all-weather conditions ? Phone, camera, laptop, tablets, back up phone, hardrives ? Honestly who even took just the one backpack with them ? Something pretty much every backpacker does on first trips is over-pack. My first backpack was so full, all brand new clothes, a couple of pairs of trainers. I didn’t think logically, that, this backpack would be on my back every time I moved on, with that weight I might as well have carried a bag of bricks with me; and worst of all I didn’t even wear half the clothes I took. The more I’ve traveled the less I take with me, I don’t even like having a full backpack anymore. I carry a bare minimum, passport, basic clothes depending on what season it is in the country or region I’m going to and my phone. If I’m living in a country or end up being in one place for longer I’ll end up accumulating things. When the time comes to leave, I just leave it for somebody else to have. (Backpacker recycling )
Arriving in a new country – Arriving in a new foreign country can be daunting even for an experienced traveler, especially if they speak a language you don’t. Over the years I’ve learnt to do a few things before I get to a new country and this goes back to my loose planning. This is when I do some homework
1 - Try and learn a little basic language of the country or region because even if you try to speak their language it goes a long way. You don’t come across as ignorant.
2 - I carry a small amount of money in the right currency but not too much ( I use ATM’s as I don’t flash wods of cash around locals )
3 - I Figure out what mode of transport is the cheapest and safest I.E a tuck-tuck compared to the bus – note: In some countries taxi’s are cheaper but more dangerous.
4 - If I want to take a Taxi, I find out which are registered taxi’s and not scam-artists (there’s a lot of them ) If I go for the bus, I try to find out which route the bus takes; nothing worse than arriving in a new country and getting on the wrong bus because you can’t understand the people or the bus timetable.
5 - I Book a hostel in advance – This is the only time I do this because It’s a new country, I’m not familiar with it, and I want to get to my hostel as quick as I can. Also I can have the route mapped out so if the driver deviated I will know.
6 - Try my hardest not to look like a tourist – The more you look like a tourist the bigger the target you look like.
Booking Hostels – As opposed to booking long-term in advance like I used to, nowadays I tend to only book that very first night I arrive in a country in advance. Why?…Well let me explain and I’m sure many of you will be able to relate – You book the total amount of time you’re going to stay in advance, you’ve already paid, when you arrive though the hostel is not what was advertised on hostel world. How many times have you looked at the hostel online, read the reviews, looked at the pics thinking It’s the quiet hostel you want and it turns out the be a dump, or a party hostel ? Or vice versa you want a party hostel but the hostel is dead to the world, there’s no vibe, there no atmosphere but now you’re stuck here. The next day you’re walking around and you come across the hostel you actually want but the kicker is you can’t move, you’re stuck where you are. So that’s why I only book the first nights accommodation and then next day check out others in the area that might be more suited to me and a lot of times I end up getting a cheaper rate than what’s advertised online.
Hostel life – When I first looked for a hostel, I wanted a party hostel. It was my first trip in a new country, I knew nobody but I wanted to make friends as quick as possible so I looked for the craziest hostel in the craziest part of Sydney; The kings cross. (back then the cross was nuts) I found the hostel I was looking for. I met incredible people who still to this day I’m good friends With. However I learnt something very quickly – hostels can be very cliquey and there are two types of hostel guests – short termer’s passing through and long termer’s who made the hostel their home. I started with the intention of being a short termer but made friends with long termer’s and intern became one. That hostel became my home. (Remember I didn’t leave for 8 months) However through the 5 years I’ve been on both sides of the fence and I’ve found short termer’s get intimidated by long termer’s but there’s no need to be. Just crack open a beer and everybody will be friends. These days I prefer to go and party at the party hostel but stay in a quieter hostel; I think I’m getting old !
Within hostel life though, something special happens, the strangers you have a beer with not only turn into friends but also a surrogate family. Over the years I’ve made friends who are closer to me than people I’ve known most of my life. That’s why traveling is much about the people you meet as the places you see. ( I will write a more detailed blog in the future about hostel life )
Budgeting – Now I’ve never been blessed with having a lot of money and like a lot of travelers I had to save every penny I had to start traveling but budgeting while traveling is a completely different ball game. Tell you the truth I was horrible at it when I first started. I spent all the money I had saved very quickly, I was borrowing cigarettes and beers off other people. I borrowed money, got cash in hand jobs payed them back, and went through that cycle again until I got a full time job. It was part of my growing, my learning, my adapting. I learnt to set myself budgets to pick and chose what was more important; do I want to go on that excursion or that other one ? I learnt to save money on food, drank cheaper booze, smoked role-ups rather than cigarettes, learnt to take overnight buses to save on accommodation and picked cheaper options to travel. Bottom line is I was shit with money when I started and now I’m not.
Food – Another thing I’ve had to adapt to is with food, before I started to travel I was a very picky eater. I’m talking, my meat had to be fresh, it had to be cooked properly, so many types of veg that I wouldn’t touch, sauces had to be a certain type. That has now gone out the window…well not all the way. I’m still a little picky but I’ve got more flexible. A friends said to me once “Since you’re a fussy eater, just don’t question it, try it, if you like it eat it but just don’t ask what it is” Now if it tastes ok, I’ll eat it. Half the time I don’t even know what the hell I’ve eat on those road side stands…It could of been chicken but probably not. And as all backpackers know – Instant noodles became my best friend.
Transport– Pick your poison here! Every backpacker will have endured a dreaded long journey. Whether that’s a long flight, a long grueling drive in the mini-van that’s become your home, a train, or in most cases a bus journey. Before I traveled a 10 minute train ride was too long for me. Apart from my insane flight from England to Australia my first long journey was a 9 hour day ride on a greyhound bus and that for me was insane. I didn’t know how I was going to cope with future long distant rides. I even chose to fly back to Sydney from cairns because I didn’t want to go through a mammoth bus journey ever again…boy did that change! Over the years not only did the journeys get longer, but the bus standards got lower and in countries that didn’t even have real roads; I just adapted and got savvy with them. I learnt the art of falling asleep as soon as the wheels start to move; headphones in, music on, eyes closed and drift away only to be woken by a bump in the road, a quick check of the time and drift away again. I’ve now mastered the art; I can fall asleep wake only when the bus stops, jump off have a smoke, have a snack drink some water and back on. From not being able to hack a 9 hour ride, I’ve taken 12 hours rides, 24 hour rides, even a 32 hour bus ride from Phuket all the way up to Changmai. And of course my preferred choice is that overnight bus, to save on a nights rent at the risk of getting ill because it’s air-con is broken through the scorching day but miraculously works full blast at night, to freeze you to death. Or, with the driver that likes to blast local music at 4 am. Of course the more you take these long journeys the more savvy you become with personal belongings. I’ve heard so many stories of people losing passports or other items but not once have I ever had a problem on public transport in any country. Why ? Because I make sure nobody can get even a sniff of my personal belongings.
Traveling makes you or breaks you! – I’m going to finish it off with this and it’s probably the biggest thing that’s taken me from being a novice backpacker to a seasoned traveler. That is learning just how strong my character is and nothing fazes me.
People in general get this impression that backpacking or traveling is all roses and it’s the easy life.Sure they see all the pictures and hear the amazing stories. What they don’t see or hear about is the other side; the hardship.Call me naive but I wasn’t prepared for it, that wasn’t mentioned in all the travel and backpacking webpages i read before I left home. I always knew I had a strong character; knock me down and I’ll dust myself off and go again but the hardships I’ve endured while traveling really tested my metal.
There are certain people who might read this, that know me and you know what I’m talking about. Those days when I was so broke, I went days without a penny to my name Australia. Those day’s waiting for vouchers from work so I could eat in new Zealand, or walking and hitchhiking back to Queenstown because I didn’t have enough to catch a bus. That time I had to glue my trainers back together in Vietnam. The amount of times over the last 5 years that I thought ‘Why am I putting myself through this ?’ ‘Is this even worth it?’ The answer is a resounding Yes! You dam right it was worth it! The lows tested me beyond belief but they led to great high points that I’ll never forget. Those low points took me from having nothing to living like a king in Bali. You never know what’s around the corner but those low points, also contributed to showing me that no matter what’s put in front of me I bulldoze through it.
I hope you made it all the way to the bottom of this blog, if so I hope you enjoyed it I know it is a long one. If there’s anything you want me to go into more detail about in another blog, anything else you want me to talk about or even if there’s anything you disagree with please leave a comment in the comments tab. Thanks for reading😀