Whether your first trip consists of hitting the road for a few weeks or an extended multi-year trip, there is an adjustment to the senses that occur. Gone is the familiar when far away places call your name. There will be feelings of excitement, fear, anxiety and joy that arise, sometimes all at once.
Don’t be concerned, these feeling are normal. Family and friends may be concerned about the locales or the unknown nature of the trip. People who don’t have wanderlust often don’t understand those who do. Do your research to alleviate the anxiety of the unknown for you and your loved ones.
That being said, travel is the best way to experience new cultures, landscapes, and people. If you haven’t visited a place, you don’t know it… period. There is a period of preparation that must happen.
Packing lists must be written, reservations made, guidebooks purchased, backpacks bought along with a myriad of other details that must be attended. For long term travelers, finding a way to shut down your local life can take much effort.
1. Am I Ready?
While preparation is important and recommended, you will never truly be ready for everything that life throws at you. Talk to any couple that just had a baby and they will tell you that’s just how life is! When it comes to backpacking there are some key elements that you need to at least be aware of though.
See how ready you are by asking yourself these 6 questions:
- Do you want to live out of a backpack/suitcase for an extended period of time?
- Are you ready to jump leaps and bounds out of your comfort zone?
- Are you willing to really listen to other people’s perspectives before forming your own opinions?
- Can you learn to be patient and tolerant, like a zen master?
- Can you live away from your family and friends?
- Are you ready to discover the best person you can become?
If you answered an honest YES to each of these questions then you are ready to take on the challenges that backpacking provides. Bear in mind it will not be a walk in the park. There will be times when you want to throw your hands in the air, pack your bags and call it a day. Just understand that with each obstacle you overcome, your personal armor grows and you become a stronger, better person.
2. Important Tips for Newbies
Here are some great tips that we have learned to set you off on the right track. On your journey you will learn so much more…. but that is all part of the charm of travel so we will leave you to discover them for yourself.
Omit the phrase “You should…” from your vocabulary
Smile. It warms up even the coldest interaction and makes you approachable.
Learn to at least say “hello” and “thank you” in the language of the country you are visiting. If visiting a region where a common language is spoken, at least learn numbers and travel phrases (Where is the bathroom? How much does that cost? What is this? etc.)
If you get in a bind, polite, humble and friendly persistence wins the day.
Respect local mores and values. Don’t go shirtless or in a bikini top where the locals are conservatively dressed.
Befriend other travelers. Experiences are great shared.
Ask questions of locals. Be friendly. You could be invited in for meaningful interactions.
Be tactful when discussing politics or the monarchy, even when you are asked about it. You are a guest in the country and don’t want to offend.
When you don’t know what to do, a long aimless walk can take you places you never imaged.
Every day is not eventful. For long trips, it’s great to have down days for resting, planning, paying bills from home, etc.
Keep an open mind and heart.
Understand that it is impossible to see everything. The more you travel, the longer your list becomes.
Most importantly – Have fun!
3. Hit the Road Running
When you finally hit the road, the mental shift is exhilarating. All of your preparation pays off and you come to the realization “this is really happening!” Arriving at a new destination is such a rush! After making your way through the airport, bus terminal, port, etc., there is a wonderful feeling of accomplishment. Relish this.
Now, be prepared to have your fundamental assumptions challenged. The best way to experience a new country is to enter it with an open mind and heart. Do not bring the attitude of your country with you. Service may be much more relaxed (slow) or even overly efficient (rushed). People may not know your language. You may find that your guidebook and the internet are not the bible, and things have changed. Flexibility is the most important key to enjoying your experience.
4. Get Lost
Getting lost in a country where you don’t know the language can be disorienting. This is normal. Relax. A smile, pantomime, and a little patience can yield extraordinary results. It’s all part of the adventure. These experiences should be cherished. They are what make up your travel stories and give you your travel chops.
Part of travel is getting lost, being a little uncomfortable and feeling disoriented at times. This is what it takes to transition from a vacationer to a traveler. This is the small price that is paid to interact with local people and get to know the real culture of a place. You could find yourself being invited into a native person’s home for a celebration or just a random conversation that helps you to understand the local culture. We’ve personally been invited to local birthday parties, worship services, farms, bars, tea and celebrations. The benefits are tremendous.
Travel changes you. It changes your perspective on life, people, politics and culture. So enjoy your journey. Make friends, both local and other travelers. Take that road that isn’t on the map. Get lost. Have a real adventure to remember when you are old. Most of all, enjoy the journey.