We’ve all been newbies at something, even traveling. There are some common mistakes to avoid before strapping on your very first backpack and jetting off.
I’ve made them myself and have seen them repeated throughout my travels in Australia, Europe and especially Southeast Asia. Once you’ve decided to travel with a backpack, which is ultimately up to you, learn how it fits before you go.
Bringing Too Big of a Backpack
First time backpackers, particularly those who are traveling for an extended period of time like six months to a year, think they need a large backpack because they will need a lot of stuff. I’m seeing more and more of those 65 liter and bigger bags that come with an attachable daypack, loaded to the rim.
This is too much stuff.
Not only will you be miserable carting it around, but you’ll find that you don’t need as much as you think you do. You’ll find places to do laundry all over the world, and you can buy toiletries at grocery stores and pharmacies. Be realistic about the fact that you have to wear this backpack nearly every day, bringing it to the top of buildings without elevators or while running after trains.
Wearing the Backpack Incorrectly
Another pet peeve of mine is seeing backpacks worn incorrectly, thus putting the wearer in pain. Hip belts are meant to be worn higher on the hips, not slung around your butt. Learn to use all the straps and what they go to, which will adjust the load to a more efficient position on your back. If it’s pulling you backwards, that means you haven’t adjusted the top shoulder straps or pulled the ones on the sides tight. Wear your backpack close to your body.
If you’ve never worn a backpack before, stopping into an outdoors gear store and getting help from a specialist is a good idea.
Packing Too Much
If you have to stuff items past the drawstring, fill every pocket, and tie items to the outside before even leaving home, you’ve packed too much! Certainly, if you have trouble lifting your backpack into overhead bins, you should also ditch some items. Remember, we believe in taking only what we can lift and carry! It helps us to be independent women while on the road.
Leaving extra room allows you to get your bag closed when you ultimately bring home souvenirs or stuff all your dirty clothes inside.
Underestimating Distances & Times
A mistake I frequently made as a newbie is underestimating distances or how much walking I would actually be doing with my bags in tow. You’ll end up walking from your hostel to the train station, or even just along the train platform, so if you’ve packed too much or haven’t adjusted your backpack correctly, the distance will feel doubled. If directions say the walk is only ten minutes, allot yourself more time, since you won’t be walking at your standard speed.
Not Keeping an Eye on Your Backpack
We’ve all been there at some point, leaving our backpack in the hallway of a bathroom while we’re in the stall. Or, handing it off to someone when boarding a bus or train. (Carrying a smaller, lighter load can keep this from happening.) But the longer you keep eyes on your bag, the better. While traveling by train through Thailand, I heard many stories of people who had their bags rummaged through as they were kept on racks in the aisles in the sleeper cars. Keep the essential, and expensive, things on your person at all times, like jewelry, electronics and your passport.
Being Too Näive or Too Jaded
This one is for all travelers, not just first time backpackers. Falling on either end of the spectrum will make you a target. If you’re constantly afraid of being robbed or cheated, you may miss out on the lovely locals or your destination. But if you’re oblivious to the potential scams out there, you will be swindled out of money or worse.