We asked our well-traveled readers what they wish they had known when they first started backpacking. Here are their top 10 bits of wisdom, in their own words.
Pack lighter: You don’t need much, and if you do you can buy it. I pack, then unpack half of it and leave it behind. You don’t want to look like a pack mule. Most importantly: Never check a bag.
Don’t overplan: Everything will be okay. I over-researched and second-guessed my first big trip. Now I hitchhike and sleep on strangers’ floors. Just take it one day at a time and learn how to get lost.
Plan more: Learn a bit of history before you go. We miss the meaning of things without history. Also, make a list of places to see, gifts to bring, and foods to try. A little planning before lets you relax and enjoy a place when you arrive.
Slow down, make fewer stops: Budget time to get lost, sit in cafes, wander, and wonder. Moving constantly from place to place can make a trip all work and no play. It takes time to make a new place familiar, so rather than visiting many places, stay longer to absorb one place fully.
Eat more adventurously: I wish I’d known that street food would not actually kill me. Never miss an opportunity to try something you wouldn’t find back home.
Wear good shoes: Your feet are your best friends when you’re on the road—and nothing ruins a trip faster than blistered feet. Plus, consider where you’re going: high heels and cobblestone are not a happy combo.
Learn a few phrases: This is what long flights and bus rides are for: A few simple phrases will make all the difference to a local who is trying to help you.
Take one nice outfit: Yes, less is more with packing, but only to a point: Always have an LBD and cute shoes for the surprise opportunity. Plus, if you dress and behave nicely, you often get an upgrade.
Travel alone: My two best friends and I were so focused on being together that we probably missed out on meeting new friends. You’re much more approachable, and you’re probably friendlier too, when you traveling on your own.
Take fewer photos: Good things happen when you do less living behind a camera.
Photo by Steven Lewis