If you have never been backpacking before, there are a few things to keep in mind that I wish someone had given me a heads up about. Trying to to figure it all out on your own isn’t always the best use of your time. Making your own mistakes that you learn from is one thing, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from others’ as well.
Don’t spend all your time in the tourist areas taking pictures of every building photographed 5 million times that day. Do a free walking tour. These are usually found in front of the most central location of the city, such as a Cathedral or major building, and are typically conducted by a local. Ask as many questions about where to go, what to try, best places to eat, and anything else under the sun. Then spend the rest of the day soaking in the sun at a local park or watching street talent in the city center, or just aimlessly wandering streets off the main road.
Always prepare for delay. No matter what, you will experience some kind of delay. Either your bags made it on a later flight and you have to wait for them, or there was an accident on the rail tracks and your train now has to wait to enter the station or your bus got a flat and new a bus is on its way to the rescue. Murphy’s Law: If anything can go wrong, it will. So leave yourself that buffer time because if you don’t use it, you now have spare time for other things.
When in doubt, ask 3 different people for consistency. If you don’t know where you are, where you are going or have any question at all, it’s always a good idea to just ask around. However, it’s no guarantee the person you ask is going to have the right answer. Therefore, to save yourself time and more unanswered questions, just ask another couple of people. If they give you the same or similar response, it’s probably right.
Overnight trains aren’t for everyone. Be prepared to be cramped. If you’re over 6 feet tall you may not want to take this option. And definitely do a 2 or 4 person room at max. You won’t believe how they cramp 6 people in these carts. Make sure you are absolutely exhausted when you get on the train and have some headphones so you can more easily let the rocking of the train cradle you to sleep for the remainder of the night. My suggestion is take the top most bed and keep your stuff near your head – just to be aware of any potential theft by your neighboring bunkmate.
Give yourself at least 2 to 3 hours in each city to get lost then acclimated. It doesn’t matter if you have a map, you will get lost. It’s a good thing. You want to get lost and figure out how to find yourself so you understand the lay of the land more quickly. Within a couple of hours you will be a pro in that area and start helping other tourists with directions. Once you know one area of the city you are in, it becomes 100% easier to figure out the rest. Especially the public transit and street naming conventions.
Always have a backup plan. It is easy to get too comfortable with your surroundings and let down your guard, but what if you do and something awful happens like a thief grabs your bag next to you while you are laying on the beach in Barcelona then charges over $1000 to your credit card within an hour. Trust me, it happens. Make sure someone back home can access your accounts before you leave to send you anything you may need more quickly. It is also a good idea to carry a photo copy of your passport in a separate place as well. Finally, know where your local consulate and police station are. If something does go array, these are your first stops as soon as possible.
Don’t go out drinking alone. Make sure it’s with someone you trust to get you back safe. Drink with friends. It’s more fun that way anyways. If you are staying at a party hostel, you will likely be going out with the people in the hostel so make sure you have them in sight and know when they are going back so you can stumble back at least in the right direction.
China_Guangzhou_Kimberly-Cushing.jpgDo something crazy-but don’t get arrested, knocked up or stabbed. You are far away from home and may never come back. Do something that takes you out of your comfort zone or something you may not be able to do back home. Go caving in Budapest. Participate in a dance off in an underground bar in Berlin. Sky dive in the Swiss Alps. Now is the time to experience and push your limits. Just know where your limits are so you don’t go too far.
Travel by train when you can. You will see much more by train. You can use the time to collect your thoughts, reorganize your bag, see the scenery between destinations and maybe meet a new friend. However, if you do decide to travel train, make sure if you have a rail pass, it is completely filled out. Some train Nazis will know you are a tourist and try to take advantage. If your pass is not complete, they may try and charge you the full fare or threaten to kick you off at the next stop.
Eat where the locals eat. Drink where the locals drink. The best food and cheapest drinks are usually where the locals are. The hotel concierge or Yelp may have said this restaurant in the most tourist part of the city is 5 stars, but the bar in the alley behind the hostel is packed with locals. Go with the place in the alley. 9 times out of 10 it will be the best you have ever had and most affordable. Plus you can mingle with new people who actually know the real deal about where to spend the rest of your time.
Article source: http://blog.wehostels.com/10-tips-for-first-time-backpackers/