Absolutely Groundbreaking Backpacking Advice

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‘Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and recycling it for more than it’s worth’ – Mary Schmich

I’ve backpacked, worked, lounged about, volunteered, romanced, and generally fucked about in well over 30 countries. And during my time I’ve learnt a few things about moving from one place to another with a massive bag.

So here, in no particular order, is some earth-shaking guidance for the better backpacking:

Take shitloads of photos… but not too many.Photograph yourself, obviously, but make sure your shots are not just endless reams of selfies on the beach, or of gormless muppets smiling in front of monuments. Shot small things as well. Capture unstaged and natural moments when nothing much is happening, like waiting for a bus, eating dinner, or whatever.

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In the process of taking shitloads of photos

Seek out long, uncomfortable journeys on public transport. There’s no denying that long buses can be insufferable, but watching the countryside and people going about their lives from a window is like a beautiful, mega-HD documentary. Oh, and the elation of exiting a minibus after 12 cramped hours cannot be understated.

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Take taxis when that gets old. Once in a while you’ve gotta fuck frugality off.

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Get something stolen. Well, don’t actually. What I mean to say is don’t get too down if something does get lost or stolen. It’s bound to happen if you take too much stuff with you.

Grow a beard, if you can. 

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Jesus, I am sexy!

Do something with your hair! Grow it long. Shave it all off. Get dreads. Get it braided. Get a mohican. Get a fucking monk doo. If you’re gonna be gone a while, you might as well celebrate the fact by looking an absolute dickhead! (For dickhead, see above photo)

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Write a diary. Writing down your emotions, fears, thoughts, or describing a scene and reading it when you’re still on the road is great to see how much your experience has changed since you started.

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Write a diary! This is groundbreaking advice, is it?

Re-reading them years later is like travelling back in time to moments, emotions, feelings, fears, etc. you’d forgotten.

Don’t spend all your time with other travellers. Interacting with the locals, even if you don’t share a language, is far more fascinating than listening to some dickhead-with-dreads massacre Bob Marley on an acoustic guitar.

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Don’t try to out-backpacker other travellers

‘How long you been travelling, man?’

Two weeks

‘Ah yeah. That’s far too short. We’ve been on the road for about 6 months. You just can’t get a feel for a place in two weeks. Where did you stay in Laos?’

Luang Phrabang

‘Ah, it’s way too touristy there, man. We stayed in a small hut 10 miles out of town. It’s was great. We only paid a dollar a night. We got to see the real Laos.’

Great. We stayed in a hotel near…

‘How much did you pay for that?’

Erm… about fifteen dollars a night

‘Huh! That’s so expensive, man. Where you going next?’

Vang Vieng

‘What!? It’s too touristy there, man. You want to head Sam Nuea, it’s not in the Lonely Planet.

Don’t get involved in backpacker one-upmanship. At the end of the day, even backpackers are tourist scum. Explaining how frugal, or off the beaten path you are does not make you look cool. It makes you sound like an arrogant pisshead.

Spend all your money. Don’t be a tight-arse. Do stuff, visit places of historical significance, do day trips, get wasted, get out of your comfort zone. And if your tuk-tuk driver rips you off by a couple of quid, don’t worry about it.

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Deal with home when you get back. Don’t worry about what you’re going to do when you go back home. Stay in the moment and try to enjoy the trip.

Accept there will be times when you hate travelling. The madness of moving from one place to another like some sort of anthropomorphic virus, the touts and their ceaseless attempts to draw money from you for their fine array of tourist tat, the sheer inconvenience of living from a bag, the hostels and the absolute wankers who ferret through their bags at 6am. But hold on, it’ll pass.

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This guy has seen better days!

Go slow and don’t bother planning that much. Shit will happen that you cannot control, so be flexible. Know roughly where you want to go and see what happens.

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Don’t forget to bring a towel.

Eat! Don’t diet on the road. You’ll probably lose weight anyway. Don’t listen to the travelling platitudes of only eating local food. If you want to eat Maccies, then eat that shit. It’s what all food will become anyway.

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Fat-bastard time!

Trust strangers. Despite the shit mainstream media and its culture of fear force feeds us all, the world is not as full of murderers, rapist, paedos, terrorists, kidnappers, or extremists as they would like you to believe. In general, you’ll find that most people are bang-up do-good citizens. But obviously… keep your wits about ya!

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Despite the pissed off look on his face, the guy in the cool hat is not a murderer, a rapist, a paedo, a terrorist, a kidnapper, or an extremist. That elephant probably is though.

Well… most of that was rather banal. But maybe one day, someone out there in the vast emptiness of the worldwide web will find some of my advice useful. What is your advice for backpacking? Let me know in the comments below… Alternatively tell me how much I suck on a Reddit forum. 

19 Comments

  • Tyler says:

    You seem cool as hell man. I really enjoyed reading it and will try to remember some of the tips when I make my first backpacking trip.

  • jazzydeath says:

    Good read Ben. Some top notch advice there :) We should go travelling together like

  • Loved everything about this post – especially the part about not mingling or being a backpack one upper! Man, those people really get me going. You know the other one uppers that make me wanna strangle myself? Writer One Uppers!!! “Oh you have a blog? That’s so cute. I write for a magazine so…” <– That is a direct quote from a girl I met last year -_- Great stuff! Keep it coming!

  • Nadia says:

    Besides Spending all my cash, I like your list a lot. I’ve been trying to capture the small bits and pieces with my own blog and it’s slowly starting to come together as I learn more about travel and myself. My advice for backpacking? If you decide to travel with a buddy or two, choose your company well because it can really add something special to your trip.

    • Hi Nadia. Thanks for commenting! I always end up spending way more money than I budgeted! Hahaha. Yeah, choosing who you go with is very important. I was going to suggest try travelling alone once, with a friend(s) once, and with a lover(s) once.

  • Leah says:

    This is by far one of my favorite articles I’ve ever read. I couldn’t agree with you more! Trusting strangers was hard for me at first, but I quickly learned that most people are awesome. I also quickly learned that when you leave your towel in Amsterdam and don’t realize it until mid-Germany, you get annoyed quickly.

    • This is by far my favourite comment! Thank you very much!!! Yeah, as a Brit I usually distrust anyone who wants something from me. It has taken me the best part of my life to stop thinking like that, and when you do, travelling / life in general is much better. And yeah, towels are crafty bastards… they always try to escape!

  • Scott Herder says:

    I really enjoyed this post. I did some long term backpacking once and really felt like a lot of people were just one upping each other. It is quite annoying.

    But the thing I resonated with the most is looking back on how I initially reacted when getting scammed by tuk-tuks. I really let i ruin my day a few times and when you think about the amount it costs it just simply wasn’t worth it.

    Also Photos Photos Photos – couldnt’ agree more. Have recently wanted to start geotagging them so one day when it’s all done I can look back at the journey from a different perspective.

    Great post!

  • This was hilarious, and hey the reddit hate wasn’t too bad as far as I can tell! We’ve gotten way worse on there, haha. I upped it as well. :)

    Some great practical tips — do stuff, shit happens, and don’t be a dick I think sums it up nicely. We were younger when we did a lot of backpacking, but now we prefer not to be in a room with bunk beds and sweaty 21 yr olds. Always always always spring for the private room with AC, and have no shame about it. 😛

  • Great post. I’ve always been in awe of the backpackers. It’s not a lifestyle I think I could handle, but I have so much respect for those that can. I prefer the expat lifestyle, and traveling at a slower pace. I really loved the insight into life on the road.

  • Danielle says:

    hahaha I LOVED this! I also LOVED that vegetarian buffet in the tourist-laden Luang Prabang. It was so bomb! I totally related to this and lol’d quite a few times. I especially ALWAYS tell people to take the train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai or take the 16 hour bus from Vietnam to Cambodia because even though they were miserable while it was happening, they’re some of my greatest backpacking memories. Great post and I love all your emphatic fucks :)

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