Backpacking the world or taking a gap year can be one of the most exhilarating, life changing experiences of your life, but at first it can also be just a little bit daunting. These essential tips will help you settle into the backpacking lifestyle comfortably and at your own pace and let you get ready to see and experience all the awesome things a gap year can give you.
The first few days in any new destination are a critical decompression phase of your gap year journey, as the backpacking lifestyle can take a little bit of getting used to at first. Culture shock can often hit you around the face like a baseball bat when you first arrive, and with new environments, new languages and new cultures coming at you from all angles all the time, it is hardly surprising many first time travellers can often be left feeling bewildered and overwhelmed.
This is known as culture shock, and it is not uncommon.
That is why it is important that you give yourself time to ease into your new backpacker lifestyle. These tips will help you do just that.
Pre Book A Nice Hotel Or Private Room.
I know you are probably on a backpackers budget and want cheaper hostels and guesthouses, and normally I don’t advocate pre booking anywhere. Those are generally the norm when on the road, but there are a few exceptions to those rules and this is one of them.
Arriving in a new place can be daunting, you don’t know where you are, what is going on around you, you will probably be tired from a long flight and your senses won’t be attuned to the environment yet. So book yourself a nice, private hotel room for a few nights before you leave and use a licensed taxi to get you there once you arrive.
This not only makes sense from a safety point of view if you are arriving late at night (because you don’t want to be wandering around somewhere new after dark looking for a place to stay), but it will also give you a little bit of home comfort to rest properly and rejuvenate yourself before you step out and start exploring.
Give Yourself A Couple Of Days.
This one is important. So many first time travellers try to hit to ground running and jump straight into their itinerary the second they arrive off the plane.
If you are just on a week long holiday this may be justified, but odds are if you are travelling independently you aren’t, so relax!
You have all the time in the world to start exploring your itinerary, so when you first arrive in your first destination, just give yourself a day or two to rest and relax. Don’t plan anything, don’t do anything major, just rest up. After a couple of days you will be much more ready to take everything in without feeling overwhelmed.
If you are starting to sense a theme here, you’d be right! Everything may be a little scary at first as well as exiting and exhilarating, don’t worry that’s completely normal. Just remember this is the start of an amazing adventure and there is no need to rush things. Take a deep breath, relax and start your trip on a high note.
Get Your Bearings.
Feeling lost when you first arrive is one of the most overwhelming feelings any first time traveller can have, but it is completely normal too. By taking a few days to rest and by having a nice comfortable base to go back to, you can explore your surroundings gradually and easily. You will be able to get a handle on where the MRT stations are, where the public transport is, where to get a taxi or a tuk tuk from and where most things are in relation to where you are staying. That way after a couple of days when you are ready to hit your itinerary and start exploring properly you won’t be wondering around like a lost tourist with your head in a guidebook and a huge map sticking out of your pocket.
Take A Slow Walk.
This is one of the best ways to get used to your new surroundings without feeling overwhelmed. Just take a nice, easy walk around your immediate environment, even if it is just the immediate street your accomodation is on, and you will probably see just how easy it is to find accommodation in a new place when you see how many hostels and guesthouses there are for you to walk into, and how many bars, cafes, shops and other essential places that there are within a short walking distance. Don’t underestimate this subtle bit of knowledge, as it can really provide a huge confidence boost the first time you arrive in a new place without any plan or pre booked accommodation. Remember, in these first couple of decompression days you can easily get a tuk tuk, taxi or bemo (depending on where you are) back to your hotel if you stray a little too far.
Talk To Other Backpackers.
Other backpackers are a great source of information and inspiration, and this is just as important if you are travelling with someone as it is if you are travelling alone. Just making the effort to say hi to someone can really make a huge difference, so whilst you still have that comfort zone of a private room head to a backpacker bar, get to know where the good hostels are, where the good eating spots are. Make some friends! One of the best things about backpacking around the world is the friendships you make.
First time travellers can often feel a little homesick at first, especially if they are feeling the effects of culture shock, so just call home. Let friends and family know where you are, that you are safe, bask in the familiarity of talking to them, then let it go. Let that small bit of reassurance assuage any feelings of homesickness and then remember that you are on the trip of your lifetime.
Remember That There Is No ‘Right’ Way.
This is your gap year, your backpacking trip. There is no right or wrong way to do things it is entirely up to you how you explore the world. You can go at your own pace, see and do things as and when you want to and travel on your own terms. That is the beauty of independent travel! It is all up to you!
So take a few days, relax, take it easy, then get out there and enjoy the time of your life!
What do you think? Did you enjoy this article? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or please join in the discussion on my Facebook or Twitter pages on this important topic, and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons and spread the word.
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How To Deal With Homesickness On Your Gap Year.
Is Backpacking Changing Or Am I?
Travel Safety Advice For Arriving In A New Destination.
What I Wish People Had Told Me Before I Planned My First Backpacking Trip.
I cannot recommend Michael’s advice highly enough. I’ve nearly completed putting online my diary of 30 years ago when I spent 13 months going round the world. In reliving those still vivid memories, I am regularly jolted into nostalgia mode by his posts here.
One point: spend some time on reflecting on what you learn almost every day and keep a diary. What seems strange to you at the time will generally be commonplace to the communities you pass through. You will return home better informed and a better person for it.
Thank you for the high praise! I totally agree about keeping a little journal or diary. It doesn’t have to be much, just jot down your thoughts and a few details if you aren’t into writing, but as you say, years later you will be thankful for it. Thanks for commenting. 🙂
Thanks for the tips, Michael in particular about pre-booking some accommodation before you arrive. It doesn’t matter where or what it is, it’s just sometimes good to know you have something certain when you arrive in a new place – usually after a lengthy airplane journey.
Anytime. It’s certainly good to prebook in some circumstances but definitely not all. I much prefer to turn up and find a place when I’m there, but there are certain situations where it may be easier to have somewhere waiting for you. 🙂
Good blog, some good advice for new travellers
Thank you very much. 🙂
Brilliant advice! Love it!
Thanks, hope you find it useful 🙂
I have just found this and wanted to say thank you, it has been very reassuring! (Along with the tips from the rest of your site!) Thank you.
You are more than welcome Charlotte, I am happy it helped!
Love the reassurance here. As an experienced traveller myself I see this all the time in places like KSR where newbies just look like deer caught in the headlights. Relax, you’ll all be okay.
Haha, so true!
Definitely agree with the give yourself time at first, at least for a few days. Just get to your accommodation, chill, relax, and scope out your surroundings. After a few days you’ll have the confidence to explore a bit more and you’ll just keep going after that
Exactly. It really is the best way.