Top First-time Backpacker Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
This is must be the number one backpacker’s error. When clothing is the number one culprit, the secret is accepting that you are not always going to be clean, or smell nice. Layers are important, but you only a few of each, and convertible trousers allow flexibility in all temperatures. One pair of river-crossing shoes (sturdy sandals) and hiking boots will serve for many different terrains and climates.
The Golden Rule of packing is that if you are not going to use it once every five days, you do not need it. Alternatively, if you get somewhere remote and find you have too much stuff, find a place to donate it.
2. HAVING YOUR BAG EATEN BY AN AIRPORT CONVEYOR BELT
It is commonly known that airport conveyors will chew up any stray tags, belts, buckles, straps and loose-ends.
The top solution is to tie them all together, saving yourself the pain of stitching sturdy material straps back together.
3. TIPPING AND PAYING FOR UNNECESSARY SERVICES AND OBJECTS
If you are able to plan in advance, it is highly advantageous to have an in-country contact, especially for your first night in a new country. They may be a tour guide or Receptionist of a hostel who can offer advice on the best way for you to get to your first place of rest. Although you might be paying someone else to give you a hand, rather than the porter at the terminal; at least it saves you rummaging through your rucksack, half-dazed and offering a poor estimate of what is an appropriate tip for their assistance and payment for the journey beyond.
Similar advice can be given when you are out and about shopping in towns and rural villages. Be polite, but aware that as a tourist the price they ask is likely to be at least three times higher than a local would pay. Do not be afraid to barter, and if you have a guide, ask them for advice on what is a respectable price.
4. CARRYING TOO MUCH UNNECESSARILY
Backpackers, in their endeavour to complete their challenge with as little assistance as possible, will commonly make things harder for themselves than necessary.
However, porters can be found in the most remote parts of the world, and are relatively cheap to employ on certain stretches of your journey.
5. GETTING BLISTERS
Blisters are the most likely bug-bear to backpackers travelling on foot. They can be caused by friction, sweatiness and a build of salt in your socks; all symptoms of long treks in both hot and cold climates.
Preventative measures include:
1) Wear-in your boots prior to departure. This includes walking on flat AND steep terrain.
2) Find the socks that work best for you, your boot and your activity. Trekking socks will often have extra cushioning or a double lining to prevent friction between your skin and the inner lining of your boot.
1) Carry Compeed, or a similar brand of blister plaster with you. If you have any inkling that an area of your foot is rubbing in your boot, STOP, and apply a blister plaster to prevent further damage.
2) Important Note: Compeed and other blister plasters are brilliant for low-altitude trekking. However, at higher altitudes, your skin will not heal in the same way; making such plasters futile. If your skin becomes raw trekking at altitude, you should cover it during the day with a regular plaster and then remove it at night, using Savlon or a similar anti-bacterial cream to prevent infection.
6. LACK OF PERSONAL HYGIENE
Hygiene is an all-encompassing word. This can be anything from washing your hands before cooking/eating/after going to the loo, through to personal illness.
Top advice is to be aware of any personal medical issues that may arise or being enflamed during travelling. Seek advice from your local GP/Doctor prior to departure and find out what medicines you are able to order in advance and self-subscribe if needed.
In general terms, carry hand sanitizer and a small bottle of eco-friendly soap with you at all times. It is strongly advised to try and wash yourself (including your private parts) with soap and water once a week, but using baby wipes on a daily basis will give you a cleaner, fresher feel.
In the case of self-administering medicines, anti-biotics or pain relief; always make sure that medicine is appropriately stored. If needles are involved, make sure that they are always kept in separate sterilised packages. It is also often useful to carry extra sterilised needles with you if there is an incident where you are hospitalized.
7. WATER-RELATED ILLNESS
Water is the most likely culprit for illness when you are out trekking in rural areas. It is vital to have a steady, clean water supply to ensure good health.
Carrying good quantities iodine/chlorine tablets is strongly advised to sterilise water (even when it is sourced from a seemingly safe source). In addition, water bottles should be regularly cleaned with products like Milton, to make sure that no bacteria is trapped in and around the mouth-piece.
Companies such as Aquapure now offer water filtering systems which are highly efficient and do not make the water taste any different, which may be preferable to some travellers. However, in mountainous areas, these bottles are ill-advised because water sources are likely to have high sediment loads which are likely to block the filter.
8. RELYING ON TECHNOLOGY
In many places, charging opportunities as well as telephone- and internet signal can be sparse, and in other places such services are banned for security purposes.
The best advice is to plan ahead. Buying a good old-fashioned travel guide from companies such as Lonely Planet will stand you in good stead for information on climate, currency and travel prior to arrival; as well as tips for tipping, touring opportunities, dining and accommodation in-country.
If you are in transit and find yourself lost, it is often a good choice to put your faith in some local advice. More often than not, people are honest and helpful, if you are patient and kind in return.