Backpacking for Beginners: 8 Things you Realise on the Road

Last Updated on January 1, 2023

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For many people, backpacking is a way of life.

Putting the bare essentials into a pack and setting out to go who knows where on the open road can be thrilling, but it can also be daunting on your first time backpacking.

Everyone starts somewhere, but backpacking for beginners can be just as fun and adventurous as backpacking with experience. For a lot of people, the first time is the best time!

I love backpacking, and like many people I didn’t know what was best and what was questionable on my first trip.

In fact, I could write a massive list on all the things I learnt when I first went backpacking but I had to pick just 8!

Backpacking for the first time is an amazing experience to have and you will never regret doing it.

So here is a mini beginners guide to backpacking, highlighting some of the most important and surprising things you realise on your first backpacking trip!

🧳 MUST-HAVE: Before you head out on your trip, make sure you have travel insurance. I recommend either SafetyWing or World Nomads.

Backpacking for Beginners: My Top Lessons

1. Travelling Alone isn’t so Bad After All

Days before I left for my overseas backpacking experience I thought to myself: What have I done? Have I made a mistake? What is backpacking going to get me into?

But don’t worry. Feeling unsure and scared is totally normal, and it’s the same for almost everyone getting started backpacking.

As soon as you settle down into your backpacker life you may feel an overwhelming feeling of loneliness.

I assure you this passes in a day or two once you get comfortable talking to people and enjoying your own company. Chill out, take a deep breath and enjoy being by yourself.

Being alone means you have no timeframe and no having to stick to other people’s schedules; you can do what YOU want, when YOU want.

2. Making Friends is Not Daunting like in High School

You will soon find out that there are hundreds of backpackers around you that are in the same situation. They might be travelling alone too and wanting to connect with people.

It isn’t as hard as High School where you feel everyone is critical and may not want to talk to you.

You will find everyone is friendly and easygoing so take the first step and give a friendly hello to the person sitting next to you.

Who knows, they might be on their first backpacking trip too!

3. You Packed Way Too Much Unnecessary Crap

One of the main backpacking tips for beginners is: you are probably carrying too much stuff.

I brought way too much stuff with me on my first backpacking adventure. When I arrived into London I got rid of half my stuff.

Remember, you can always buy something when you get to your destination so don’t worry too much about taking stuff for those ‘just in case’ moments.

Check out my post on what to take in your hand luggage to give you an idea of the bare minimum you need to take in your carry on bag.

Especially if you are backpacking the weight is so important. You don’t want to be carrying a pack that is just on the 20kg weight limit for your airline.

Only pack between 10-15kg worth of stuff so there’s no chance an airline will take issue with it.

Also, remember you have to carry all of that on your back at the end of the day! It’s something people overlook when they plan everything out in their heads.

Beginner Backpacking 101: the heavy backpack goes on your back all day, every day!

If you’re heading somewhere with a lot of beaches e.g. Thailand or Bali, remember you will be lifting your backpack on and off boats.

When I went to Bali I didn’t want anyone touching my backpack which meant it had to be easy for me to pick up without being on my back.

It was a pain in the arse and multiple times I needed help because it was too heavy for me.

📸 PRO TIP: My go-to camera for all my travels is the Sony A7iii – I highly recommend it!

Try out these backpacking tips for beginners, person seen only from the legs down wearing black trousers and white plimsoll shoes standing on black rocky ground on a grey day

4. You Realise you No Longer Care How you Look and you Just Want to be Comfortable

As a backpacker you will be forever walking so make sure you have packed comfortable and versatile clothes.

You will soon find out playsuits are inconvenient and a simple tee, shorts and sneakers (or sandals if you’re in hot weather) is the perfect outfit for exploring.

I usually wear bare minimum makeup (if any). Simplicity and being practical are the two key words that will mean the most in your vocabulary.

People who have been backpacking for life will swear by it!

👡 PACKING TIP: Looking for the best shoes for travelling? I highly recommend getting a pair of Chaco’s They are my favourite!

5. Most People are Willing to Help You

Need help? You will get nowhere if you don’t ask people to help out. It is vital and everyone isn’t as unhelpful as you first thought.

So one of the most important backpacking beginner tips is, if you need help, ask for help, no matter how difficult it may seem at first.

I have had to try and sign language to an old Spanish man with no knowledge of English so I could get directions and I have also had to knock on a car window to ask for help.

Have no shame in asking people to lend you a hand! Most people can recognise someone genuinely in need, and most of the are just average folks who are happy to help.

6. It’s Okay to Get Lost!

It should be a given that part of the point of backpacking for beginners is to go wander off and get lost! Who knows what you might discover off the beaten path?

I find that the times when I am totally lost and not worrying about maps or a general direction, are when I have the best time and find the most amazing spots.

Keep the map tucked in your bag for emergencies only for one day and get lost. You will have the most fun, trust me!

📦 PACKING TIP: Don’t leave home without a solar powered battery pack so you can keep your devices connected at all times.

7. You have Finally got the Meaning of What It Feels Like to have Freedom

Giving up all responsibilities and just being you is the best feeling I have had in a long time. Having the freedom to do what you want, when you want is absolute bliss.

Backpacking for beginners can be an extremely liberating experience, so enjoy it while you can before you get too old and have restrictions!

8. If it Sounds Too Good to be True, It Probably Is

If someone is offering something for free or for a very unrealistic price, then stop and think to yourself if it could be a fake or a scam.

SO many tourists get sucked into something and then have no choice but to give them the money.

Scams can lead to dangerous situations so just do what you feel is right and have a think for a minute whether it sounds too good to be true.

Trust your gut feeling; it is your strongest protector.

Frequently Asked Questions

✅ How long should first backpacking trip be?

That depends from person to person. Generally, a short trip is best when talking about backpacking for beginners; a few days or a long weekend over a relaxed distance.

✅ What age should you start backpacking?

It’s never too late to start! For many, the best time for backpacking for beginners is in your late teens and early 20s, possibly just after school but before starting a career of some kind.

What did you learn from your first backpacking trip? I would love to hear about it in the comments below!

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The Comments

  • Thirumal
    January 22, 2016

    You read my mind Anita! I have learned all of these lessons after my first trip, especially packing too much stuff.

  • kbernard23
    April 22, 2016

    I’ve had every single one of these thoughts while solo backpacking. And I’ve reiterated these points in blog posts and to so many other would-be travelers hundreds of times lol – Great post!

    • Anita Hendrieka
      > kbernard23
      May 10, 2016

      Haha thank you, glad you liked it!