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30 Lessons I’ve learnt about backpacking & travel

I learnt a lot of lessons on our first backpacking trip. I’m still re-learning some of those lessons every time I go! So here is a list of 30 things I would go back and tell myself if I could… things I need to remind myself of… and things I perhaps already knew before I went, but think are universally useful enough that nobody else should go backpacking without knowing! Not all of these will apply to all backpackers… but they are things I learnt that are useful for my style of backpacking, and might be good reminders (or opportunities to learn from someone else’s mistake!) for you too!

1. Take rubber bands and ziploc bags. No questions. Just do it. Yes, I know, you can’t think what you’d use them for this time, BUT YOU WILL.

2. Related to the above: keep a packing list, and trust your list when you pack. Unless it’s an obvious clothing choice (like not taking thermal underwear to Italy in summer), when it comes to knick knacks like rubber bands, universal plugs etc, don’t think “oh I probably won’t need that this time”.

3. Take lots of photos, even of little things you might think are unimportant. Andre takes photos all the time, and (normally) I’m glad he did.
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4. If you see a souvenir you like, buy it. Don’t buy things just for the sake of it, but if you see something you really like, it’s in your budget and won’t make life harder on your travels, then buy it, especially if you’re coming to the end of your time in a place. Don’t say “oh I’ll think about it and come back if I decide to get it”… You might not get the chance to go back. If the idea of missing out on it bothers you, don’t wait unless you have a few days to get back there or the shop is on the same street as your hostel!

5. Buy a blue tooth keyboard for the tablet. Blogging from touch screens sucks.

6. Take cutlery. Heavy duty plastic stuff can be taken carry-on too.

7. If you’re stopping somewhere more than 3 nights, try to stay somewhere with, or within walking distance of, a laundromat.
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8. Take sunglasses. Doesn’t matter where you’re going. Just take them.

9. Take a back up battery for your camera. You’d think this is a no-brainer, but we travelled without a backup battery for 2 years!

10. Wet wipes are great substitutes for a shower on long bus, train or plane trips.

11. Scan all your important ID documents to yourself, your travelling partner, and family back home.

12. Have a list of things you want to do at each place before you arrive. Winging it is great to a degree, but you need to have some direction. You don’t want to miss out on really cool stuff because you didn’t read enough about the place before you arrived.
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13. Pre-load a map of the city on google maps. That way you don’t have to use data on your phone to navigate.

14. Make sure to consume enough water, fruit and veggies when you travel. Your diet will change from place to place, and food in some places will have added vitamins, fibre and nutrients which food in other places will not have, so you want to keep up your intake of essential dietary requirements.

15. Make sure all your tops match all your pants/skirts, so you won’t get caught out on laundry day with mismatching clothes.

16. Take enough SD cards. And a way of backing them up as you travel (eg. USB, online storage etc).
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17. Don’t delete any photos off your SD cards (unless they’re totally dodgy/accident shots) until you get home and have loaded them onto your computer. Even if you think you backed it up while you were away. You might not have. Or you might have accidentally deleted the backups. It happens.

18. Check any rules your bank has regarding your credit/debit card before you leave. This might include notifying them that you’re going to another country, checking your daily withdrawal limit (this can change when you’re in another country as opposed to your home country) and checking what fees they have on international transactions. If it’s too expensive you may want to investigate other payment options, such as travel money cards or a different account with lower fees. We got caught out in Berlin when we tried to withdraw 600 euros on arrival and the machine rejected our cards. Then we tried 500 and that got rejected too. We gave up and went through the pilava of trying to ring our bank back home to find out what the problem was. I ended up discovering online that they had a maximum withdrawal limit of 300 pounds (about 420 euros) on international withdrawals. If we had just kept dropping the amount we were trying to withdraw we would have got there!

19. Take a small amount of the local currency before you leave so that (in such instances as above where you can’t withdraw money when you get there) you have enough to at least get you to your hostel and buy something to eat before you sort out the problem with your card. If you have to get the money from an exchange bureau, don’t take too much because their rates are never as good as an ATM. (ATMs in some international airports allow you to withdraw pounds, euros, or american dollars regardless of which country you’re in).
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20. Always carry some kind of small snack in your day bag for times when you are starving and need to eat something now, and can’t get to a shop yet.

21. Don’t trust any stranger trying to sell you something or facilitate a transaction/sale. Unless, of course, they are clearly stall holders in a marketplace or running a shop or whatever. I’m talking about street peddlers or people offering to help you buy tickets when the machine mysteriously won’t accept your card.

22. Related to the above, trust your instinct. If something is telling you this isn’t quite right, just say no and walk away. Don’t worry about hurting the feelings of someone who’s probably trying to rip you off, or what they think of you. You’ll never see them again.

23. Allocate rest days when you’re travelling for more than 2 or so weeks at a time. A day or two just to chill, read, sleep, or aimlessly wander around will rejuvenate you for the next week or so of late nights, early mornings, navigating strange cities, learning new languages and missing train connections. (Ok so I haven’t actually missed a train connection yet, but we’ve come very close!)
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24. Assume all your travel days will be write-offs for actual exploring (unless you have a very short trip to make). That way if you do have some spare time before you leave a place/after you arrive at a new place, it will be a plus, but if not, you won’t miss out on something you were planning to see or do that day.

25. Start travelling younger. It’s a lot more affordable than you think.

26. Never leave your home country without travel insurance. It is honestly not that expensive, and if you can’t afford it, you definitely can’t afford one of the disasters with which it could assist you.

27. Wear sunscreen if you’re going to be outside most of the day. Yes, I know you’re in Wales. Yes, the sun can and will still burn you. It is mind-boggling the amount I have been sunburnt in Europe because I’ve tricked myself into thinking Australia or the beach is the only place you can get sunburnt. I should just hand in my Australian citizenship now.

28. Never buy food right by a major tourist attraction. Depending where you are, even two streets back the prices drop and the quality of the food rises.

29. Take a weather-resistant jacket. Not just to keep rain off you, but to keep the wind out.

30. Packing cubes are one of the best travel accessories you can buy. I discovered them just before our first ever backpacking trip and have never looked back.

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