In 2006, I embarked on my first backpacking trip with a few friends. This far from arduous eight week journey exposed us to some of Western Europe’s cultural landmarks and in many ways sparked a passionate affair with travel that has since carried me around the world. My experiences since this first trip, however, have allowed me to recognize some epic travel failures that, in retrospect, seem valuable to share in the hopes that you too do not make the same mistakes.

Ok, so for the sake of full disclosure, the title of this post should probably be: “8 Common Mistakes I Made my First Time Traveling”. Fortunately as the author of this post I have some discretion.


Be wardrobe wise

For experienced and inexperienced travelers alike, the thought of exploring a new locale can be both stressful and exciting. To mitigate these feelings, some travelers prepare for their trip well in advance by researching the location, the cultures they will encounter, and perhaps by learning a few standard phrases in the local tongue. Many also use the opportunity to stock up on new gear. This stage, however, seems to be where many new travelers go a bit overboard. I, for example, did not need three pairs of quick-dry amphibious pants, $300 hiking boots, and about 15 carabiners for a leisurely backpacking trip through Western Europe’s urban centres. Thankfully, I am now well prepared to summit Mount Kilimanjaro…


Know your voltage

R.I.P. Kodak EasyShare M753 Zoom and Conair Beard and Moustache Trimmer. Nowadays most cameras, laptops, phones, and even beard trimmers are duel voltage. Unfortunately, depending on where you travel and the age and quality of your devices, voltage abroad can still pose problems. While the death of my old Kodak EasyShare was by no means tragic, traveling without a camera and on a tight budget was. With a bit of research and an inexpensive voltage converter I might still have been able to photograph a beautiful section of my trip instead of depending fully on the photography of fellow travelers. Then again, had I brought along that inexpensive voltage converter, I may never have discovered the overwhelming awesomeness of having a beard.


Be Flexible

Before departing on my first major trip I made my plans and by golly I stuck with them. This despite the wealth of tips and suggestions offered to me by locals and fellow travelers along my route. As a result, I became all too familiar with overpriced tourist traps and missed some real gems. Thankfully, I’ve since had the insight to listen, learn, and even revisit regions I’d missed out on. Keep enough flexibility in your plan to heed good advice, to make changes and to enjoy unexpected surprises. If you are reading this article, you’ve already taken your first step. Good for you.


Listen to Locals

While I have already hinted at this above, some of the most useful travel tips I’ve received are from people who live in the places I’m visiting. Taking the time to listen to, and respect, their insider knowledge will open up access to some of the best experiences, views, meals, and drinks your travel guidebook (or friendly travel blog) may have missed. Make sure to thank your local source for the information, and, if the opportunity presents itself, let them know thereafter what you thought. Showing respect and appreciation when abroad will not only improve your travel experiences, but will keep local residents willing to share their knowledge with other travelers down the road.


Don’t listen to Locals

Ok, this might seem to contradict my previous point, but when someone starts chatting to you, or offering to help you, mid-ATM withdrawal, throw courtesy, charm and respect out the window. You are probably being robbed.


Check that you have your passport. Then check again

This may seem blatantly obvious for even the most inexperienced traveler, however, the best of us are still bested by that little book every so often. During my first trip, my passport managed to escape the zippered pocket of my jacket in the overhead compartment of a budget flight right at the moment when I felt my money belt was no longer necessary. My co-traveler left hers on a canal tour in Amsterdam weeks earlier. While she was able to recover her passport after convincing night security to let her re-board the boat, and I, with even more convincing, was allowed to re-board the airplane to retrieve it, both of us learned a valuable lesson: Don’t underestimate the safety of your passport while traveling. It is the only thing you actually need to travel.


Lock it up!

Regardless if your room looks and feels secure, and is located on the eighth floor, lock up your valuables! Chances are that someone can still shimmy up a pipe, open the window, and rob you. This was an unfortunate lesson learned by four travelers with whom I shared a hostel dorm in a lazy Portugese beach town. Shaken from nearly losing my own passport, I was one of two people who actually used the in-room locker to store my luggage. While the others were able to recover their passports, their cameras and wallets were long gone – a devastating blow for many budget travelers. Whether you are staying in a hostel dorm, or luxury hotel, take advantage of in room lockers or safes to store your valuables. It never hurts to be careful.


Relax! These are just tips

Despite having experienced all of the above mentioned failures on my first backpacking excursion, the trip was without doubt a highlight in my life up to that point. It exposed me to the world of travel and provided me with ample opportunities to experience new things, and to learn from them.


If you have additional tips or stories you’d like to add, feel free to let us know in the comment section below!

Photo courtesy of Flickr, Poldavo

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JP Bervoets

JP Bervoets

JP has spent the last decade working in the not-for-profit sector and has called Canada, the Netherlands and South Africa home. He’s travelled to over 30 countries and currently lives and works in Toronto, Canada. His interests include photography, cycling, playing guitar and working on Departful. JP co-founded the site in 2012.

Departful is a travel magazine that provides accessible, relevant, and thoughtful travel tips and ideas to inspire people to explore the world around them. We feature travel articles, travel tips, and photography based on our own experiences from over 100 countries covering all things adventure, culture, food and drink, technology, and gear. Made with ❤ in Toronto.

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