9 Lessons I Learned While Backpacking

Backpacking is a unique kind of travel. While the allure of city-hopping and taking little with you is real, it also comes with its own challenges, which are all part of the adventure.

These tips might help keep challenges from becoming major derailments to enjoying your trip.

1. Always carry a paper map.

There will come a time when your phone is dead and you have no clue where you are. A paper map—even the free ones handed out at tourism offices—can really be a saving grace when trying to navigate yourself back to familiar ground.

2. Get a public transit fare card as soon as you get to a city.

City buses often want exact change and that gets real old real fast. Plus, fares are often cheaper if you use a reloadable fare card to pay. Find a transit station and load some money onto a card. You’ll thank yourself.

3. Bring a mobile charger and charge it.

If you are taking pictures on your phone or posting Snapchat or Instagram stories during your day, your battery is going to take a hit. Have a mobile charger—they’re pretty cheap these days—and charge it every night!

4. Take bathroom breaks when you can.

One of the hardest things to do in the middle of a city can be to find a place to pee. Restaurants and coffee shops are getting stingier with who they’re letting into their bathrooms, so you might be bounced from a few places when you ask if you can use their throne. So, when you have a bathroom available, use it, even when you don’t really have to go that badly. You will thank yourself.

5. Paper weighs a lot.

Paper handouts, flyers, maps, and tickets that you might shove in some random pouch actually can start adding some serious weight to your bag, and in turn, your shoulders. Ask yourself if you really need to keep something. If you think it will be sentimental, take a picture of it. Sometimes that can be just as good. 

6. If you’re staying in a hostel, get the bottom bunk.

Grab that bottom bunk before anyone else does. It’s just better not to have to climb a ladder to get in bed, especially when the person on the bottom bunk might be asleep.

7. Hostels are a lot less lonely than AirBnbs.

If loneliness is a concern for you, take it as a factor when considering whether to book a shared room in a hostel or a private one, perhaps in an AirBnb. Even if you don’t talk to anyone, just having people around you can make a big difference.

8. The bus can take you a lot of places.

A spot might seem far off on the map, and you’re about to open up that Uber app. Hold up. Check if the bus goes there. City bus routes are often more extensive and useful than you think, and can get you there at a fraction of the cost than a taxi, Uber, or Lyft. Google Maps search generally has a great knowledge of the local bus routes and can guide you on taking the bus in what is probably an unfamiliar place.

9. Just sitting for a little bit to recharge is important.

If you are packing a lot into your days, it’s easy to run around and tire yourself out. Find time to just sit somewhere, a park or a café, and just be with your thoughts for a little bit. It goes a long way.