Thursday, 10 March 2016

15 Backpacking Survival Tips

At the beginning of this trip I was both terrified and bursting with excitement to be travelling around new countries for 3 months. And here's some of the best tips I've learnt along the way.

1. Choose Your Backpack Wisely
This is a huge one I've learnt whilst being away. And if I could turn back time I'd get a completely different one. I'm currently using a 'Lowe Alpine' 70+15 litre one and it's waaaay too big for me. Although it means I can fit every man and his dog in, I feel like I'm lugging around a rock on my back. It doesn't help that I'm petite too, but after speaking to many other backpackers and seeing what they use - I'd get an Osprey one next time. They're highly durable, compact but fit everything you need in and extremely lightweight. Just make sure you tie something on to recognise it's yours as every backpacker who's done their research has one.

2. Cut Down On Those Toiletries
Girls, and trust me when I say it pains me to say this as I'm a huge lover, but you don't need make up. Seriously, nobody wears it and you'll stick out like a sore thumb. All 3 of us brought way more than we needed and we can count on our fingers how many times we've worn it in 3 months. If you must, only pack the necessities e.g. mascara, brows, concealer. Other than that you're just taking up space and weight. Also hairspray, dry shampoo, perfume (massive no no unless you want to be eaten alive by mosquitos) think twice before packing.

3. Don't Be Scared To Stay In Big Dorms
I've put this as a main tip as I was that person who was afraid to share a room with 8 other people to begin with. The girls practically had to drag me into the room. But we stepped into the zone, shared a big room and haven't looked back since. It's the BEST THING EVER. It's one of the main ways you meet your travel buds and get to know people. I can't count how many times we've made friends with others in our dorms then ended up spending the next 2 days together and having nights out. Please please don't be scared, take the plunge and book that bigger room on hostelworld. They're the cheaper options too if you want to save money! Just take some ear plugs for that occasional snorer.

4. Be Spontaneous
When it comes to booking hostels, we're pretty good and tend to book one step ahead before we arrive at the next place and leave the current. Saves you turning up to a big city in 30 degree heat with a heavy backpack and nowhere to stay. BUT with the smaller places (like islands, beach resorts) we have just turned up and gone with the flow. You'll always find a place to stay, and sometimes cheaper than booking online. Also DON'T book flights/busses/trains massively in advance unless you have to. You never know when you'll want to stay longer/leave quicker in a place or who you'll meet! Also.. Hungover from the night before yet people are asking you to go to that waterfall with them? Be spontaneous, do it! You can sleep after. 

5. Take Combination Padlocks
Most hostels are shared dorms like I've said and you dump your backpack on the floor and usually get some sort of locker to pack away your valuables. However these lockers don't always come with a lock, and if they do, you usually have to pay a deposit. So to skip that fuss, take a few combination padlocks with you and you're sorted. I say combination as if you loose that key (within the messiness of dorms it's extremely likely) you're screwed.

6. Don't Feel Bad About Being Grossed Out By Shared Bathrooms
You're a backpacker at the end of the day, and backpacking is notoriously known for being as cheap as chips. So do you really think you're going to get a lovely en-suite in every place you stay? Nope. So get used to those shared toilets/showers and embrace it. Being in Asia, you get your fair share of dodgy hygiene places and I have stood in some gross shower cubicles holding the shower head attempting to wash myself with a dribble of freezing cold water with goosebumps on my arms. Don't feel bad about wishing you had that posh shower at home back, but at the same time don't hate it. You're backpacking and these rubbish showers aren't forever.

7. ... And Don't Feel Bad About Missing That 2 Day Holiday Romance
You meet so many people travelling and that's hands down the best part out of everything. So when you spend 48 hours with someone you click with then have to say goodbye to go your separate ways, don't feel guilty about feeling sad. Everything is magnified when travelling and those feelings will go as quick as they came. Trust me girls and guys, we've all experienced it. 

8. Think Your Clothes Through
Being my first time backpacking, I packed what I thought I'd wear and that was that. Tried it on in the mirror, liked it, packed it. FYI: denim shorts and tight vest tops are pretty much a no go in Asia. The heat in the day is way too hot to wear them and they stick to you like glue making you so uncomfortable. Pack them for the slightly cooler places (aka do your research) and evening wear, but make sure you pack baggier/looser shorts/vests/day dresses. It's too hot!

9. Take A Diary - And Save As Many Souveniers As You Can
9/10 backpackers I've met are also doing this and it's honestly the best idea ever. Remember that funny moment you had the other day with the 2 people you met in your hostel? Yep, well you might not do in a months time. So write it down! And save as many memories as you can. I've collected so many tickets to attractions I've visited, transport I've taken, cool currency from each place. You'll thank yourself in 10 years time when you find it at the back of your wardrobe and can relive the most amazing trip of your life.  

10. It's OK To Cry Over Silly Things
What people back home don't realise is just how hard backpacking can be. After a 10 hour bus journey with a 6am start that you had to do after a heavy night out, it's ok to feel emotional when you see that you have to squat in a hole at the toilet block rather than sit on an actual toilet. Backpacking is tiring and you'll end up having a little weep at the most hilariously pathetic things. We all do it.. Let it out then laugh it off! 

11. Asia Doesn't Do Much Suncream & Moisturiser
You'll notice in Asia that nearly every single moisturiser you come across has whitening in it. As does every other bodily product - even deodorant. Accidentally buy these and you'll loose your fabulous tan and start dying your skin white. We've searched high and low for both suncream and normal moisturiser but for some reason it's stupidly hard to get hold of out here. So even though I'd say pack minis of every other toiletry (you can get shampoo etc for cheap everywhere) maybe pack a couple of regular sized sun creams and moisturisers. 

12. Download Dropbox
A biggie. Your iCloud will fill up so easily and Dropbox can hold 10x's more memory anyway. So whenever you're on wifi, sync all your holiday pics to Dropbox and delete off your phone to make room for the newbies. We've thanked our lucky stars we've done this and it's so easy.

13. Take Things To Keep You Occupied
Travelling around Asia, a 10 hour bus journey once a week will soon become the norm. So take plenty of things to keep you occupied, there's only so many times you can listen to that offline Spotify playlist. I use a lot of the journeys to do my blog posts as I can sit with my headphones in, think it through and not be distracted.

14. Don't Be Scared To Eat Street Food
OK maybe only in Cambodia.. Don't eat it in Cambodia. Known for giving you a dodgy tummy (I can vouch for this as it gave me food poisoning), be very wary of what you eat there. But for the rest of Asia, go and sit down on those red plastic chairs at the side of the busy road and eat their traditional Thai/Vietnamese food. It's the best and cheapest stuff you'll ever eat! And it's safe, don't worry.

15. Spend That Extra Bit Of Money If It Means Making A Memory
Backpacking means budgeting. And budgeting often means thinking twice about spending extra money on a nice meal when you can get another night in a hostel instead. But when it comes to excursions and activities, do spend the money. We spent a small fortune in Chiang Mai on elephant sanctuaries, cooking classes, trekking and we haven't regretted it one bit. You can't put a price on having a good time right? And you never know when you'll get to do it again. So don't not do tubing in Laos or canyoning in Da Lat just because you're scared to spend the money - you can just stay in a few cheaper hostels for the next 7 days. I've seen some amazing sunrises which meant paying a price and getting up at 5am, but the memories will always be there. 

And finally, enjoy every single bit of travelling... It's the best thing you'll ever do. So much so, I'm even thinking of extending my 3 month trip!

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