Drug advice for first time backpackers

So you’re off backpacking for the first time, heading to far and foreign lands in search of adventure and new experiences… For many, this means the chance to let your hair down, to do whatever you want to do. For some, it means experimenting with drugs for the first time, knocking back a mushroom shake or picking up some Pakistani hash.

I smoked my first joint whilst backpacking in India. I was nineteen and soaking in some truly stunning mountain views. Unsure of what to expect, I had joined a small smoking circle of travelers and was curious to see what all the fuss was about. The first hit of THC hit me like a soft pillow to the face. I smiled, lay down and watched the clouds go by…

On my travels, I’ve experimented with a few different drugs on the road… a whole alphabetic soup of tasty experiences. Whenever I write about this topic, I tend to get angry emails from people but at the end of the day drugs on the road are very much a part of many backpacker’s experiences whilst travelling.

Whilst I do not recommend that every budding psychonaut down a mushroom shake, I do think it’s important to arm backpackers with the information they need to make an informed decision and to practise safe drug use – yep, there is such a thing.

mushroom shake


This is usually the most popular drug available to backpackers as it is cheap and relatively easy to find. Sharing a joint whilst relaxing with mates or enjoying a cheeky smoke whilst overlooking the mountains of Pakistan is a great way to end the day.

I myself have gone through phases of smoking a lot of weed and hash, currently, I’m taking a bit of a break as I focus on getting fit again – smoking too much can screw up your chest and adversely affect your energy levels so be sure not to overdo it.

Slowly but surely, marijuana is becoming legalised in more and more parts of the world and hopefully one day it will be decriminalised everywhere – until that happens though, you really don’t want to get caught smoking weed whilst travelling…

Some countries still have very strict laws surrounding all drugs, including weed, and there are plenty of scams out there – especially in backpacker hubs like Goa; be careful who you buy from. Thailand’s drug laws especially are very strict so you need to watch yourself…

Magic Mushroom Shake

The most widely available psychedelic on the backpacker circuit, shrooms can be found in many party hubs and are especially easy to find in Laos and Thailand. Most of the time, shrooms are blended up into a not-so-tasty mushroom shake. Banana or mango is a good choice of mixer.

I’ve taken mushroom shakes a few times in the past, personally, I prefer other psychedelics. If you are going to try a mushroom shake (keep an eye out for happy shakes and happy pizzas!) be sure not to overdo it and to be around people whom you are comfortable with.


For mind-blowing sex or a rave to remember, MDMA (the active ingredient in ecstasy) is the drug of choice for many travelers. The problem with ecstasy pills is that it’s impossible to know how much MDMA they actually contain and whether or not the pills have been cut with something else, usually, they have and usually, it’s speed. In general, you get what you pay for so beware of super cheap drugs whilst travelling. Be seriously careful with dosage when taking ecstasy and avoid mixing with alcohol – the results can be pretty horrendous.


LSD (or acid) is a truly mind altering substance that is very difficult to explain with the written word. I’m not going to try to cover what LSD actually does, but I am going to offer you a word of caution. LSD is strong, it’s not to be messed with – that means that taking it for the first time at a rave or large event is a truly bad idea, in my humble opinion. I believe LSD is best kept for spiritual exploration as opposed to partying. I strongly recommend sticking to half, or three quarters, of a tab when you try it for the first time. Erowid has a lot of great information which I recommend checking out.

It’s also well worth reading The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test, which will introduce you to the legend that is Ken Kasey. Beware when buying LSD – sometimes unscrupulous individuals will sell the identical looking Nbombs and pass it off as LSD; Nbombs will fuck you up. LSD can often be found in many backpacker hot spots as it’s easy to travel with.


This is really only for backpackers travelling to South America, especially Colombia or Bolivia. Coke is a great party drug and, in South America, is seriously cheap. It is however seriously addictive and kicking the habit is fucking horrible – expect cold sweats, nightmares and irrational thoughts. If you plan on doing cocaine whilst travelling in South America, try to keep a lid on it and not to do it too often.

mushroom shake

Operation: Cease Being A Cokehead in which I climbed Roraima for five days whilst coming off coke, fucking horrible.

There are of course many more types of drugs available whilst travelling but the above are the most widely available and, in general, are the safest options. Steer clear of opium and ketamine, they can push you deep into yourself from where it is hard to climb back out.

Drugs on the road

Many first-time travellers are also first-time drug users. I know plenty of backpackers who smoked their first joint, sipped their first mushroom shake or took their first pill whilst letting their hair down in the crazed party meccas of South East Asia. Some backpackers are interested in trying drugs simply because they are there, others are looking for something a little bit deeper. Whilst I don’t want to flat out condone drug use I am extremely reluctant to condemn it. Drugs are, to some, tools and they have been around for thousands of years.

Like any tool, certain drugs can only be used for certain tasks. Much like a workman attempting to hammer in nails with a saw, you can get into real trouble if you use the wrong drug under the wrong circumstances. And like a kid attempting to operate a jackhammer, you can find yourself in danger if you don’t know what you’re doing.

There is a compelling amount of evidence out there to suggest that psychedelics have important therapeutic applications. Recently, I met a wandering nomad who had suffered a life changing injury when he was younger. He told me that it was only when he began experimenting with psychedelics that he was finally able to put everything into perspective, let go of some negative feelings and move on. For some, discovering psychedelics can be a life changing moment.

On the other hand, if you have a history of mental illness within your family, it’s best to give drugs a miss. Marijuana, for example, has been linked to schizophrenia by some studies. At the end of the day – the most important thing to remember with drugs is to partake in moderation. As much as I like smoking weed, I find myself slipping into lazy habits when I smoke too much – in the same way, that drinking too much alcohol can get in the way of your everyday life, over the top drug use is not a good thing.

If you are planning on experimenting with drugs on your travels, it’s important to play it safe. Here are some tips for experimenting with drugs for the first time…

mushroom shake

Practising Safe Drug Use

Place: The most important part of any drug experience is the setting. You need to feel comfortable, you don’t want to feel overwhelmed by what’s going on around you.

People: Make sure you trust the people you are with, people can act differently to what you are used to when they are stoned – in the same way, that your best mate can be a total idiot when he’s pissed. Ideally, you want to be with a few friends you know well

Dosage: Don’t overdo it, if you’re trying a mushroom shake for the very first time then don’t go crazy and down the whole thing, pace it out.

Identify Risks: Be aware of the risks, when you are on drugs, or drunk for that matter, your ability to recognise risks can be impaired. Keep away from water (don’t go swimming) and traffic.

Alcohol: Do not drink alcohol and mix drugs, the results can be unpleasant.

Don’t drive: The biggest cause of death and injury to backpackers is still motorbike accidents… the chances of something going wrong dramatically increases when you are drunk or on drugs and decide to try and drive home. Just don’t do it.

Stay hydrated: Seriously, drink plenty of water.

Beware the rabbit hole: Avoid negative thoughts, they can spiral.

mushroom shake

Just Be Careful

When it comes to drug use on the backpacker circuit, there’s no ignoring it, it is out there and it won’t be going away anytime soon. For many backpackers, travelling is all about trying new experiences and drugs are a small part of that.

Do your research before you make an informed decision and be aware that there is a huge amount of misinformation floating around the internet. If you do have drugs on you, hide them properly.

Hidden security belt for concealing cash when travelling

I use this belt for hiding my money and rizzlas.

For a ton of useful, practical advice on staying safe on the road – read this post. 

Travel far, love often and, as always, only experiment with drugs if you truly want to. Never feel pressured to get involved in something which doesn’t interest you – whether it’s a cheeky smoke in India, a mushroom shake in Thailand or anything else at all.

Some backpackers prefer to watch a sunset with a cold beer in one hand, others prefer a joint. Each to their own, live and let live and wherever you may be on the road; enjoy the journey.

Disclaimer: Drugs are illegal and can get you in sticky situations.  I don’t condone drug use of any sort. If you intend to consume, please be safe. This article is not intended to persuade, but rather to inform. Please also note that all references to drugs on my travels are entirely fictional and definitely did not happen…

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Drugs on the Road


  • Thank you for this wonderful article. Very informative and educational. I hope to read more materials like this in the future because it is really something that we can use in our travel adventures!

  • Avatar Jzy says:

    Nice article. I think it might be worth exploring the pitfalls of buying drugs a little further so people know what to be aware of regarding common scams. A couple of things that come to mind for me are…

    1- sometimes corrupt police will work with dealers. The dealer sells to you and tells the cop what he just sold you . The cop busts you and takes the dealers drugs back and you have to pay a bribe. The cop gives the dealer the drugs back and the whole process repeats.

    2- Dealers are often sketchy and will tell you that selling to you is not safe out in public. They will tell you to meet them in some out of sight location (an alley or bathroom). Once out of sight you are a prime target for being robbed.

    3 – Buying from random unknown locals almost guarantees you will be overcharged and possibly sold something that is not drugs at all. If you are going to experiment try and make a local friend. When I was in Mexico I asked a street dealer about cocaine. He told me $80 US. I wasn’t really interested in cocaine but was interested on the going price. I saw a local buy from him in a public square so I sparked up a conversation. I asked him “how much does that guy charge?” He told me $20 US. If you can’t make a local friend try aligning yourself with a group of fellow backpackers who have already established some kind of local connection.

    4 – Rave type situations…. People taking ecstasy are easy to rob because they can’t fight back (or don’t really want to). Sometimes drug dealers will watch who they sell drugs to see how wasted they get and tip off their friends who will corner you. Some times the dealers aren’t involved and bad people will look for easy targets and raves tend to be full of them. Always try and be aware of your surroundings. That is not always possible on drugs so if you find yourself losing touch or maybe not being as aware as you should it might be best to consider how to move to a safer place for a while. Find a medic tent or a group of security people to hang around for a bit.

    Be safe and have great travels people!!!

  • Avatar Patrik says:

    Dear Will

    Your informative page on drug use while travelling is an excellent initiative that is lacking on all other sites out there, cudos! Must agree with you on all points and if people want to be fully informed they can follow the presented link to Erowid which is the bible for drugs. Also like your disclaimer «Please also note that all references to drugs on my travels are entirely fictional and definitely did not happen…« ?

    Love one, love all, and travel safely!

  • This is such an interesting post!It is often those that are reckless that get themselves in to difficult situations or bad experiences, and then that gives a bad name to the rest of us and makes it easy for others who have already a negative view of drugs and their users to point and say ‘look! told you so’. So yer, nice one!

  • This is a different but refreshing take on traveling. I am into health physically and mentally an do believe some drugs play a part in one’s journey. Tim Ferris has also got me curious about psychedelics.

  • A word to the wise – the crystal and smack in tourist spots in SEA are NOT as strong as people might want you to believe. Still, start with tiny amounts to be sure. The concept of tourists asking for ‘yayo’ in countries where it costs $300 a gram and being served #4 white smack instead is really stupidity 101… Ask for H by name if that is your poison. Always practice harm reduction. Never mix pills with alcohol. Build up a tolerance with weaker pills before you think about smack. NEVER use a needle in a 3rd world country, and most importantly – set a quit date (usually about 3 weeks after you start), purchase transportation out of the country for that date ahead of time, make damn sure you don’t have anything on you, and get ready for fairly minor withdrawals. Always keep $100 in cash just in case you need to purchase police ‘services’. Avoid repressive theocracies and totalitarian city-states in the region and stick to the friendly countries 🙂

  • Avatar Leanne says:

    Wow, I never thought I’d read a blogpost like this. It’s some interesting tips and things to look out for. Although I don’t ever plan on using drugs, it’s good to know what to expect from them!

  • Avatar Nitisha says:

    Hey Will,

    I have been following your social media for a while now, but honestly never took time out to deeply read your writing,
    But this post and the one on books really caught my attention.

    I am glad you speak about the use of drugs safely while on your travels. In India, i can presumably say that we are bursting from our intestines about travelling and travel blogging. And in the process, we get caught up with what just appears and social media attractive.
    I wish more and more Indian travellers, specially the Indian women can understand the dos and don’ts about the drug use. We have abundant marijuana in our hills of North and it can be used wonderfully if one is aware of the right sources. But the question remains, how right or how trustworthy your source can be? How do you even know if you are travelling to a place the first time around?? Often these questions crop up in mind as I take some women up North for their first experience in the Himalayas! And they want to experience everything!!!

  • This is such an interesting post! My interest was piqued when I saw something about a mushroom shake. Oh my LORD that sounds horrible hahaha. I have ZERO desire to ever take shrooms or hallucinate but to each his own.

    I bet you do get some flac for this post, but I think it’s something that needs to be covered….so I’m glad it exsits! And I’m sure drug use is extremely prevalent in the backpacking world and as that is mostly young people, it’s good to have resources from people who have “been there.” 🙂

    • Thanks Amy! Shroom shakes don’t taste as bad as one would think but hell, they aren’t exactly delicious! I do indeed get the occasional email about this post from the odd concerned mother! – Definitely though this is a topic that needs to be covered, knowledge is power and hopefully this will help the next generation of cosmonaughts go off into the stratosphere safely!

  • Avatar Heather says:

    Your first smoking experience while backpacking sounds like a memorable one! You make some very good points about remaining safe and staying out of legal trouble while abroad. Thanks for sharing!

  • Avatar John R says:

    Nice post Will, a topic that needs more open discussion and is something I am writing more and more about on my blog. I’m glad to see you have a section of practicing safe use, it is often those that are reckless that get themselves in to difficult situations or bad experiences, and then that gives a bad name to the rest of us and makes it easy for others who have already a negative view of drugs and their users to point and say ‘look! told you so’. So yer, nice one!

  • Avatar Beverley Lennon says:

    Wow, very well written. Your articles has helped me a lot while I am currently writing my thesis research on such subject relating to backpackers and drug friendly destinations.

  • Haha, I’m glad to see someone actually writing about this. I was considering setting up another blog under a pseudonym to talk about all the things I don’t discus on my normal blog for fear of my parents! Not sure I agree with the advise of not trying psychedelics at music festivals… 😀

    • I’m not saying not to try psychedelics at festivals just advising against it being the best first setting for newbies! 😛 Don’t set up a pseudonym, post as yourself, just try to remain impartial 🙂 – would love to read about your thoughts on this!

  • wait, backpackers take drugs!? haha great post. I actually wish I could write something about this because I’m an expat in Goa, which is a such a hotspot for psychedelics and such- just some tips or warnings, but I am too afraid it will open a can of worms where people msg me inappropriately, or my name in Goa becomes something i’m not & I’ll have the police knocking at my door! So I don’t even mention their existence which doesn’t seem right either so good for you acknowledging real life.

    • You should write something about this; just don’t write it under your name 😛 To be fair, I have had some flack from people on FB over this but I think it’s important to provide information so people can experiment safely 🙂

  • Avatar Jub says:

    Solid post Will, definitely something to think about for first time travellers as you will cross drugs at some point. Personally I stay away but am usually around someone taking something at sometime and have no issue with it.

    Backpackers are a good bunch for the most part, never seems to be any peer pressure I have come across which is wicked

    • Thanks Jub! It’s an issue I have wanted to cover for some time, drugs are a part of backpacker culture and ignoring them is a bad idea; it can present unfair challenges to those wishing to experiment. Totally agree with your point on peer-pressure.. 🙂

  • Really great topic to cover, Will, and you did it really well. I’ve had mixed experiences experimenting with drugs while travelling, some good, some bad. I would definitely say the doctors advice is important. I think it’s also very important that people be careful buying drugs illegally in other countries. You never know when something might go wrong and you have to bribe a police officer or worse!

    • Some great points here Crystal and I commend your off-hand acknowledgment that drugs have been a part of your life, as they have for myself on occasion. Hopefully the policies will change one day and allow for safer drug use for those who are interested 🙂

  • This is such an important topic, and I don’t think it is covered enough. I know I’ve come across a fair number of drugs and casual drug users in my travels. I stay away from the drugs (not the people!) because I know I am really sensitive and the potential downsides don’t outweigh the possible good times. Definitely the most important thing is to be safe… and DEFINITELY be with trusted friends. If you trip balls and have no one to look out for you, you’re screwed.

    • Thanks Colleen! Great to hear you approve, I would love to read more articles on this topic… It’s great that you know yourself well enough to fully appreciate the potential dangers, that’s the safest way to go…. and yeah; tripping balls alone can be pretty damn intense.

  • Great post. I am more scared by the legal side of drugs while traveling. I think many backpackers try to be “showy” about the drugs they are taking. The last thing anyone wants is to end up in a foreign prison having to bribe their way out! If I take/smoke anything, I make sure to keep pretty quiet about it instead of shouting to the rooftops (and to the city police) that I have them.

  • I cannot tell you the last day we haven’t been offered drugs….oh the backpacking circuit! We have never taken up on any of the offers, we stick the beer!

  • Avatar Sally says:

    Great article. I think sometimes people are too scared to talk about this. Truth being some nationalities see it as medicinal when used properly. I think in the western world (UK and US especially) we are told it is ‘bad’ so people go crazy when they do take something and it turns horribly wrong, thus increasing the stereotype.

    • Hey Sally! Thanks for your feedback! It is indeed a bit of a touchy topic which is kind of why I wanted to discuss it – I think if people are planning on experimenting with anything new, whether it’s drugs or white water rafting, the greatest danger is a lack of information! Thanks for reading 🙂

  • Avatar Manuel says:

    Nicely done, man! It’s good to read mindful, mature texts on the web about drugs. I can’t wait to smoke with people I’ve just met on the road! It’s definitely on my to-do list!

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