10 Mistakes 1st Time Backpackers Make (and how to avoid them)

10 mistakes backpackers make

The first trip you take abroad will certainly be an eye opening experience. You will see things you never imagined you’d see, eat things you’ve never tasted before and learn so many new and wonderful things. But there are some things you need to learn before you get on that plane.

You’re going to make some mistakes out there on the road – we all do. But there are some mistakes that so many backpackers make over and over again. But never fear, we’re here to help you out, save you time and hassle, and make sure you don’t make these same easily avoided mistakes.

10 Mistakes first time backpackers make –  and how to avoid them

1. Packing too much

You are going backpacking – not relocating to Mars!

We see time and time again newbie backpackers with giant backpacks filled to overflowing with god knows what. Seriously you do not need that much stuff people.

  • Carrying around excess weight will only give you a back ache.
  • Some of the stuff you take, you will never even use. Do this: Lay out everything you are thinking about packing, then halve it. Now halve it again – we’re serious! Well, semi serious. You need a lot less than you think you do.
  • As we said before – you’re not going to Mars, and if you do forget something back home, you can easily buy a replacement where ever you happen to be.
  • You’re going to want to buy stuff along the way. If your bag is already full then you will just end up paying a fortune in excess baggage fees at the airport. We say take the basics and pick up stuff as you go.

Want to see what we packed for 2 years on the road? Then check out this article and compare what you are planning on taking. Now we travel carry-on only so have even less stuff – We packed too much to start with too, but only a little too much, not wayyyy to much. Still, carry-on only travel has it’s own challenges and is not for everyone. Striking a lightweight balance is the key.

You can also get our Ultimate Backpacker Checklist which feature both essential and optional items and reasons why you need them or can leave them.

2. Booking your entire trip in advance

I know as a first time backpacker you will want to know that everything is organised and stress free during your trip. But remember to give yourself some wiggle room.

Sometimes you can turn up to a place and absolutely love it. So much that you want to stay longer. If you have already booked and paid for accommodation in another place then you don’t have the flexibility to stay. Same as if you hate a place, you can find yourself stuck there because you’ve already paid in advance.

Leave yourself some space to take advantage of any opportunities that come along.

10 mistakes backpackers make

Like deciding to stay longer at this island paradise…

Some things are worth booking in advance – like accommodation for festivals where rooms will be booked out weeks or months in advance.

3. Travel Too Fast

We know that you only have a limited time and you want to see as much as possible. But traveling too fast means you won’t get to sit back and really enjoy where you are. Travel burnout can happen to the best of us, and you don’t want it to happen to you on your first trip.

Plus remember – if you are trying to see too many places during your trip you will most likely be spending most of you time in a bus or on a train, not actually experiencing the food, seeing the attractions and meeting the locals.

Slow it down and spend quality time in each place you visit.

4. Not printing or taking screen shots of hostel/bus/tour reservations

We live in a modern world. Most people today have smart phones and we are used to having instant access to the internet 24 hours a day. But when you travel – wifi is not guaranteed and mobile data may be limited, expensive or unavailable.

In Spain the other day we saw someone denied boarding on a bus because their reservation was in their inbox on their phone, and they couldn’t access it because they had no internet – don’t let this be you. Remember to either take a screen shot or print out your boarding passes, hostel reservations etc.

5. Not turning off phone data roaming

While we are on the topic of phones one major way you can get yourself in big trouble abroad is by not turing off your data roaming. If your phone is constantly seeking out 4G signals to update your facebook notifications, you can end up paying big bucks in international roaming fees. Turn your data roaming off and just use wifi when you have it.

Wifi really is common around the world.

6. Getting Scammed

This can happen to the best of us. But as a newbie abroad you are a walking target for scammers. You can be scammed pretty much anywhere in the world. But some places you need to be on your guard more than others.

Things to note:

  • If it seems too good to be true – it probably is.
  • If someone approaches you on the street wanting to ‘practice their english’ be on alert
  • Follow your instincts. If your ’spider sense’ is telling you that things seem off, then follow your gut.
  • Do some research before you travel to the destination. If there are common scams to look out for, someone would have written about it. We have a full guide on spotting scams and staying safe while traveling.

7. Paying too much for things (learn to barter)

If you grew up in western society you are probably used to that fact that the price on the label is the price of the item. But in some countries, you will come to discover that there is a price for the locals – and a price for the tourists.

10 mistakes first time backpackers make

In some poorer countries there are people that are happy to take advantage of unsuspecting travellers and part you of your hard saved money. Remember that the price of every day things like a taxi fare or a t-shirt for example can all be negotiated. And the sooner you learn to barter the better.

  • Do some research before you arrive to find out the basic cost of things so you know how much you should be expected to pay, and know when you are being ripped off.
  • Have a clear idea in your mind of what you want to pay for the item and stick to it
  • Know the currency conversion
  • Never get into a taxi/ tuk tuk/ rickshaw without agreeing on a price first
  • Don’t be afraid to walk away. They will often call you back and give you a better deal.

Want to become a bartering pro? Read the full guide on bartering.

8. Bartering too hard

Bartering can be a lot of fun. But some people take it way to seriously and find themselves fighting over mere cents. Always keep in mind exactly how much money you are bickering over and decide whether it’s really worth the fight. Sometimes it’s best to pay that little bit extra, and get the item you wanted.

When bartering you should never ever be rude, aggressive or raise your voice. If you feel like you’re getting heated up, just simply walk away and find someone else to negotiate with. There will always be another taxi driver, or another person selling the same item that you were after. Chill out and enjoy the game.

9. Not getting travel insurance

There are plenty of things you have complete control of while backpacking. But there are some things that you can never ever plan for.

Losing your passport, airlines losing your luggage, getting your wallet stolen, having your phone explode due to a dodgy wall socket, getting an unexpected tooth ache. And of course there are much worse things that can happen like getting injured, or worse, losing your life.

Although you may feel invincible and the costs can often seem quite high, there is nothing more important to get for your trip than travel insurance. Make sure when choosing a policy that it covers all of the activities that you are planning to do, and covers all of the valuable items that you are planning to take.

If you are looking for a good company to go with, we highly recommend World Nomads, we use them for all of our travels. They’ve alway had our back while abroad.

10. Dress inappropriately

Living in western society you are probably used to wearing whatever you like. But in many countries life is a lot more conservative, and dressing appropriately, especially at religious sites, is very important.

Make sure you pack appropriate clothing for the country you are visiting. Shorts, skirts and sleeveless tops are a big no no in some countries, and you can be denied entry to attractions etc if you are not dressed correctly. Always have a pair of shorts or a skirt that covers the knees & carry a scarf to cover your shoulders.

Remember that some of these people are too polite to say anything directly to you, but by dressing inappropriately you are being incredibly rude and disrespectful of their culture.

So there you have it 10 kick ass tips to help you hit the ground running on your backpacking adventure. Follow all of the advice and hopefully you’ll have a fantastic event free trip.

Is there anything we left out? What Tips would you add?

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, i’ll receive a small commission payout. Probably enough for a beer or two at the pub which keeps me happy and keeps me sharing helpful content. All opinions remain our own.

Opt In Image
New To Backpacking?
Learn to travel like a pro from day one

Don't find out the hard way... Learn from veteran travelers exactly how to do everything right the first time. Don't forget a thing.

Yours FREE:
Ultimate Backpacking Checklist: The definitive pre-trip to do list

Leave us a comment