7 Things Nobody Tells You About Backpacking

I bought my first plane ticket for a solo trip to Africa when I was 18. I had decided to climb Kilimanjaro, pretty much on a whim and with the vague hope of impressing girls, and was looking forward to my first adventure. Before I left, my mum insisted on taking me to an outdoor store where I was piled high with everything from carbon fiber tent pegs (for a tent I did not have) to emergency flares. It seemed that everybody in the shop, and indeed all my mates, suddenly had an opinion about backpacking. I was bombarded with information from all sides and I studied up online to try and work out exactly what a backpacker was supposed to, well, do.

Seven years later and I have spent most of my adult life backpacking around far flung lands. I thought I knew it all, but it turned out that there are 7 things no one tells you about backpacking…

7 Things Nobody Tells You About Backpacking

1. You will never sleep

You will rarely sleep. Instead, you will get up super early to catch a sunrise, take advantage of the free hostel breakfast, steal bread for lunch and head out to go exploring. Around midday, it will start to get hot so you will find somewhere chilled to swim, play cards and perhaps have a beer or two. You’ll bump into someone you vaguely recognize and seven beers later you’ll be out on the town. Following a glitzy, loud, sometimes point blank shameful night you will climb over the bolted hostel gate and stumble into your dorm. You’ll sneak along the hall, make awkward eye contact with the couple having sex under your bed, climb your little wooden ladder and drift off to the gentle rocking of the bunk bed below. Five hours later, you’ll wake up to do it all again. When you do sleep, it will hit you like a tidal wave and you’ll simply lie down in the street to have a little nap. I’ve been known to fall asleep whilst hanging on to the outside of tuk tuks.

2. At some point, poo will become a problem.

Now, this all depends on where the hell you’re travelling to, if you’re lucky and headed somewhere relatively clean you might get just a bit of an upset stomach. If you’re unlucky, well, that’s a whole other level. I’ve seen a friend fall into a long drop toilet. Another time, my buddy came back from a toilet on an Indian train, he didn’t realise his shoes were covered in shit. I trekked with a girl who had giardia for 2 weeks. Another friend of mine had the shits for nearly six months after a particularly bad curry in Delhi. I, however, am pretty much bulletproof and have spent just 2 days out of nearly 1000 with stomach problems. My magic weapon – coconut water, nothing hydrates you as well as coconut water. If you can’t get that, put some salt in a coke – it’s a poor man’s medicine but it definitely works.

3. Your definition of “Clean” changes very quickly

Suddenly, the tank top smelling of beer will become your ‘Sunday best’. This is largely because all of your other tank tops smell of curry, fish (you hope) or shame. When you only have four lots of underwear and you’re in a humid, awesome yet sweaty country, it makes sense to go for dark colours. I tend to wear a tank top for about three days at a time, something I would never do in the UK, and by the time I am ready to wash it I am usually tempted to don a biohazard suit. Saying that, despite the fact that everybody is wearing sweaty, dirty clothes, backpackers still all somehow tend to LOOK amazing. After a very short period of time, you no longer notice sweat marks, messy hair or running mascara – everyone is fucking hot, which brings me on to my next point…

4. You will fall in love all the bloody time

You will meet people who you click with and spend every second of the next week with them. They will become your best friends, your partners in crime. You will look after them when their long distance relationship inevitably breaks down, they will look after you when you crash your motorbike whilst showing off to girls. You will head off exploring together, get drunk together and get lost together. Ultimately, you will have stronger connections with some of these people then your best friends back home. Sometimes, when you’re travelling you meet someone who you can fall in love within just a few hours – if you dig someone and the vibe is right, it’s gonna happen. The hard part is saying goodbye, you know you won’t see many of the people you meet again and frankly, this just sucks.

5. You’ll come up with elaborate plans to see EVERYBODY again

Mine is to get hold of a van and drive it all over the world visiting the people I have met on my travels… I then intend on recruiting a few choice individuals to build a village with me, in the forests man, so we can be, like, at one with nature. Seriously though, over a few beers, you’ll decide you simply MUST see so and so and will end up booking a random flight to the middle of nowhere, chasing down a bus or hitching out to the jungle in search of ‘the blonde girl with the Alibaba trousers’ (I never did find her).

6.Β You can find something for a dollar almost everywhere

Whether it’s a handmade scarf in India, a wooden carving in Guatemala or a clay Saki cup in Japan; you can buy something worth having for under a dollar in absolutely every single country in the world. Give me a dollar, point me in the direction of some random country, and I will find something awesome worth having. Since this is the case, why spend a fortune on souvenirs – the best things you can buy are often handmade carvings or paintings, and you can often get these very cheaply if you know how to haggle!

7. People all around the world are generally nice and will want to help you

It sounds too good to be true but the world is not as hostile a place as the media would have us believe. Every country has good people and every country has bad. Luckily, the good far outweigh the bad in every single country I have ever been to. I have been helped, rescued and befriended by local people on countless occasions. Meeting and connecting with different people around the world is what it’s all about and has always been my favourite part of backpacking. I travel not to explore places but to explore new vibes, new people and new cultures. Always remember, it doesn’t matter how stern someone looks – they will still have a sense of humour (except the French, those guy’s are stern motherfuckers). If you need to break the ice, I recommend handstands.

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7 Things about Backpacking


  • I enjoyed reading your article. I have read many on backpacking but this came across as a perfect blend of humor and information. I love how you described each thing. It felt like I was part of your experiences and I must say you have had quite a lot. *giggling*. Keep up the good work mate.

  • Haha so true! I think one of the things I’ve learnt over the years is that travel is not always fun, sometimes it can be downright awful! I used to feel guilty for having occasional ‘down day’ whilst travelling, like ‘oh I’m in an amazing place and I’m so lucky to be able to travel, I should be feeling really happy right now!’ – but that’s just not possible all of the time. When you haven’t slept at all on an overnight bus, your backpack smells of mould and you’re missing your Mum, it’s okay to have a grump! Right?

  • Avatar Ben says:

    Haha all of them are so true man, especially the poo problem. The delhi belly will get you eventually πŸ˜€

  • Avatar Mustafa says:

    Awesome mann you described everything i did or felt during my last trip πŸ™‚
    I hope we can meet someday

  • Avatar Callum says:

    Dude you’re style of writing is awesome, makes one want to get out there immediately.
    Shot for sharing your stories and advice.

  • Avatar Edgar says:

    Great article. Makes me want to leave today! Except the Poo. Hopefully don’t have to deal with it. The rest sounds exciting! I’m ready to explore.

  • This is great, not read anything as relevant and succinct as this before. I wish I had written it actually!

  • Avatar Sadie says:

    Hahahahaha! The “clean” part had me laughing out loud! I keep giving my boyfriend shit about how many times he washes his clothes a week, but for some reason he thinks its necessary. I say its a waste of water and money, but to each his own.
    So true about the all the awesome people you meet and become really close with in such a short amount of time. When I was single and had my travel relationships, you would have thought we had been together forever rather than just 2 weeks. Leaving them sometimes was harder than leaving someone I had been with for years.
    Really enjoyed the post!

  • Avatar Roberto Uc says:

    Totally agreed! the best part is knowing a lots of people, and you are right about the french people! love this post!

  • Avatar TJ says:

    Definition of clean. Crawling out of the Utah desert after 4 days with severe blisters. I got denied access to a hostel and slept in my car. The next day I went to roam with the buffalo on Antelope Island Utah. I found a coin operated show. As doon as my hair got wet it just stunk of wet dog. It took me a couple minutes to figure out that it was coming from me.

    • Jeez buddy; that sounds rough! Did you get some pictures? – sounds like they might be pretty amusing! I myself tend to have a constant aroma of dusty leather and goat with a hint of fine herbs.

  • Avatar Bouddha says:


    You cannot write that French are stern motherfuckers. Some are funny others are not. I would say that they are always complaining about everything!
    So when I travel, I try to avoid them :)! (I am French)

  • Avatar Tom says:

    Really cool article! I’ve just become 18 myself and was thinking to do something similar this summer! Did you do these trips on your own or always with other people?

    • I’ve done many of these trips on my own and others with friends / girlfriends from home… Sometimes I want to travel by myself and sometimes others are keen to join πŸ™‚ I enjoy both in all honesty.

      • Avatar Tom says:

        Cool! Do you mind if I ask you a few other questions? I’m really curious!

        • Sure thing Tom, fire away buddy! Would be happy to help! πŸ™‚

          • Avatar Tom says:

            Cool thanks! Where was the first place you ever went backpacking to? And when you go backpacking how long do you usually stay?

          • Avatar Tom says:

            Little edit: by first backpacking I mean: where did you go first backpacking after the event of Costa Rica?
            That story was also incredible to read by the way!

          • My first trip abroad by myself was when I went to climb Kilimnajaro, after that, Costa Rica where it all went wrong… It ooh about a year to recover from some injuries and after that I went round South East Asia for a few months then India, Nepal, India again, Burma and the rest of South East Asia (again!), hitched across all of Eurpe, wound up back in India for a year and sort of all over the place in between. When I was younger, I used to go on trips that were about 2-3 months long, over the last few years they have lasted at least 6 months and usually over a year – I come home in between, which is why they sometimes last just a few months, to earn some cash, seem my folks etc. This year, when I get back from South America – I have multiple short trips planned – a month in the philippines, a month in Vietnam, some time in Berlin and Croatia… but they are kind of work related πŸ™‚ For your first trip I would recommend ten weeks is a good amount of time πŸ™‚

  • Avatar Franz says:

    Hi, what’s happened with french people? Where did you travel there, just Paris? See you.

  • Avatar Steph says:

    Hi Will ! Thanks for this post, very enlightening, especially as I’m preparing to go round the world for the first time in the next few months… However I’m very sorry about the opinion you seem to have on the French : you must have been quite unlucky with the people you met because we do have a sense of humour and you do find nice people here too, ready to help and all. True, you’ll find quite a lot of stern faces in the metro in Paris on a Monday morning, especially if it goes on strike… But come on, there are good people behind the faces, with the same proportion of assholes and gentlemen/women as in any other country… well… I hope ! πŸ˜‰ Anyway, no hard feelings but it’s always sad to hear that kind of comment about your own country. Cheers !

    • I promise you this was just a joke, my best buddy is actually French! It’s like how people always say the English have terrible teeth, we really don’t… well, most of us don’t anyway! My apologies if I hit a sore spot, I actually have a lot of time for the French πŸ™‚

  • haha!! I love this!! So much of this is true and it’s hard to explain to people that are thinking about backpacking. We were overwhelmed with the amount of needless gear and ‘advice’ we received from non- travelers before we left. The definition of clean one gets me. We always comment on how we would have beer tolerated half of the things we are doing now at home. Lol

  • Avatar Lucy says:

    Awesome article – love the hygiene bit. I still remember the epiphany moment in India, when the sheer brilliance hit me… “WAIT… WHAT IF I SHOWER WITH MY CLOTHES ON?!”

  • Avatar Ashlyn says:

    I think we would be friends if we bumped into each other on our travels πŸ™‚

    And seconded on the French! πŸ˜‰

  • Avatar suru says:

    It is a nice article agree with most of them.
    It is really true on these points:
    Item-3: definition of clean changes!!! But may be when they go back to their country, definition of clean changes again?
    item-5) “You will come back with elaborate plan to see everybody again.” This happens to me:))
    Item-7: “People around the wold are….”
    You have etched these lines with gold : “Luckily, the good far outweigh the bad in every single country”
    “”. Meeting and connecting with different people around the world is what it’s all about “”
    “”I travel not to explore places but to explore new vibes, new people and new cultures””

  • Avatar Ayla says:

    I love this post and so true! I’ve met so many fantastic people from my travels most of who go out of their way to help us and expect nothing in return. The world is full of friendly people πŸ™‚ But how on earth did someone manage to fall into a long drop toilet?! I don’t think a thousand showers could make me feel clean after that!

    • Haha, honestly seeing someone fall in a long-drop toilet was pretty traumatising! I’ve never looked at them the same way again! Having people be generous to me whilst travelling has definitely made me a more generous person myself; it’s the main reason I am so active on Couchsurfing! πŸ™‚

  • I found myself nodding in agreement to most of these – especially this –> “Your definition of β€œClean” changes very quickly.”

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