Given the difficult times we’re all in, travel is probably one of the last things on anyone’s mind. We’re all dealing with the current global situation in different ways. I recently decided to take time to reflect on the past to see what I could learn about myself. I reflected on my past travel experiences and realized that…. I made A LOT of easily avoidable mistakes while travelling. A lot is not an understatement either. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m still not the most experienced traveller and still have a looooong way to go. I’m also fully aware of the fact that mistakes force us to grow into better versions of ourselves, but let’s be real here, some mistakes really suck…especially when they’re avoidable! I didn’t only make mistakes though! I also learned a lot of travel related tips, tricks and lessons as I went along. I decided to compile a list of the biggest travel related lessons that I learned during my few adventures up until this point. I want to be open and transparent because if I can prevent at least one person from making the same mistakes that I made or to come to certain realizations in a few minutes rather than months or years, I’ll sleep better at night. A lot of these may seem like common sense, so don’t roast me too much if you can’t wrap your head around how I didn’t know some of these things before hand. This will be based solely off of MY opinions and experiences, so please remember that you’re allowed to disagree with me. If you’re a regular, you’ll already know that I strongly encourage different ideas and dialogue!
Alright, without further ado, let’s get right into it!
Are you a solo or group traveller?
This is one of the first things that I think you should try to figure out if you want to start travelling. Would you prefer to travel with your friends or alone? They both have pros and cons. Travelling with friends means that you’re almost never really alone and you can share the experience with someone else which is beautiful. There’s something magical about discovering a new place with somebody you care about whether that be a friend or a romantic partner.
Another benefit is that you and your friends/ partners can be drawn to different things. The person you’re with may discover something that you end up loving or something that you never would have thought of trying had you been alone. My one friend and I went to Montreal and Quebec city and our differences led to us finding a lot of interesting hidden gems that we wouldn’t have found without each other. Everybody has different strengths and weaknesses and travelling with friends allows you to take advantage of each others strengths in order to have more fulfilling adventures.
Travelling solo, on the other hand, means that if you don’t make friends along the way, you’ll be… you guessed it… SOLO! I personally lean more towards solo travel because I can be very unpredictable and spontaneous when I travel which means that it can be difficult to travel with other people because we may want to do different things or go to completely different places. I’m also an Ambivert (Somebody who feels pretty 50/50 between being introverted and extroverted). Due to my Ambivertedness, I don’t like the idea of being with another person 24/7. I also don’t like the idea of being alone 24/7. If I’m with people all day, I feel overwhelmed and shut down, and if I’m alone the whole day, I feel lonely. The middle ground between the two is where I thrive.
Sometimes I just want to take that 4 hour bus ride alone, so I can read a book or brush up on whatever language I’m learning. Sometimes I want to take that 2 hour train ride and reminisce about high school years with an old friend. Solo travel allows me to have time alone to recharge and then go and interact with people when I feel ready again.
Both Solo and group travel are great. Neither one is objectively better than the other, but I personally tend to lean more towards solo travel because it suits my personality type better. I didn’t know this at the beginning. It didn’t even dawn on me that this was something that was even worth knowing. It’s a realization that came with time, but I still think it’s a good idea to at least start thinking about it as soon as possible. To be completely honest, the idea of travelling alone scared me and I thought I’d NEED to travel in a group to enjoy myself, but now I know that both are great, but that my personal preference is to travel alone and make new friends upon arrival.
Backpack or suitcase?
Do you prefer caring around a backpack or dragging around a suitcase? Everyone is different and there’s no objectively correct answer to this question. You can usually fit more into suitcases, but backpacks usually offer greater mobility. Everyone travels for different reasons and has different wants and needs, so this will vary from person to person. I travelled with suitcases for the longest time because I always thought that I needed to bring absolutely everything with me wherever I went and suitcases allowed me to do that. I used to always stare at other travellers who were somehow able to only travel with backpacks and just wonder “But how…?”. I could never understand how they could possibly fit everything they needed. I decided that I’d stick to lugging suitcases around. Don’t get me wrong, dragging my suitcase long distance over cobblestones in Europe or up hill SUCKED, but at least I had everything I “needed”
A few years later, a guy I met was able to get me a discount on a backpack at a store at the mall and I soon walked out with my first 80 litre backpack. I experimented with how much I could fit into it and was absolutely stunned to see that I could actually hold pretty close to the same amount as my suitcase (Minus the extra pairs of shoes). I decided to take a chance and took it with me when I moved to British Colombia to do seasonal work during the summer of 2019. It… It was a whole new world. Transportation was suddenly so much easier. I could run with it if I was ever late without having to worry about the wheels spinning out or getting caught on things. Going up and down stairs was no longer as much of a nightmare. I began to wish that somebody had burned my suitcase and blessed me with a backpack to save me all of the hassle that I thought was “normal”.
When I went back to British Colombia to work the same job during the summer of 2020, I decided to try going with a 40 Litre backpack because that would mean that I would theoretically no longer need to pay the insane prices some airlines can charge for you to check your bag in. I suddenly no longer needed to wait forever for my bag to come off the luggage carousel. I can’t tell you guys how euphoric it felt to take my seatbelt off, grab my backpacks and walk off the plane and to my destination while almost everyone else had to go and wait for their things to be taken off the plane and transported to the luggage area. To be fair, there are tons of suitcases that fit into carry on, so this isn’t something that’s exclusive to backpacks, but the speed at which I was able to move wouldn’t have been possible for me if I had had a suitcase.
Another bonus was that I also suddenly no longer needed to worry about my stuff getting lost because it was always with me. I’ve been privileged enough to never have had an airline lose any of my things, but the horror stories I’ve heard make me not want to even take any chances if I don’t have to. Once again, this is possible with suitcases if they fit into carry on. I’m going to dedicate a section of this post to why I try to only travel with carry on luggage, so stay with me.
As I said though, everyone is different and just because I refuse to ever lug a suitcase around ever again doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t. Everyone has different needs and some may benefit from suitcases and others may benefit from backpacks. They both have pros and cons. My back hurts after long distance walks with my backpack on for example, but that’s just a personal problem thanks to a work related injury I suffered when I was younger. I’m not going to lie, I do miss being able to take a break from lugging my suitcase and sitting on it while I rested. You can choose either one or even both. I just highly recommend playing around with the two of them to see which one suits you best.
Do you really need all that stuff?
As I mentioned above, I used to overpack. I’m not kidding, I used to seriously overpack. Why did I need 13 pairs of socks, 15 pairs of underwear and 11 shirts, and 4 sweaters for 19 days in Germany… where I’d be staying at friends houses… Friends that had fully functional washing machines and dryers? I still don’t have the answer to this question, but that’s only a portion of what I brought to Germany back in 2015. The benefit was that I only had to do laundry once during those 19 days, but I still had to pay to have my suitcase checked in. There’s nothing objectively wrong with travelling with a lot of stuff. Some people just need to bring a lot of stuff with them when they travel, but I still think it’s healthy to sit down and at least ask yourself if you really need everything you’re bringing with you and to see if you can leave a few things behind.
I always try to sit down every once in a while and ask myself what I needed 100% and what ended up just being dead weight. I try to discard as much of the dead weight as possible. I now try to travel with only 8 of each item of clothing; 8 pairs of socks, 8 underwear, 8 shirts and only 2 sweaters. I keep 7 of each item in my bag and wear the rest. Same with the sweaters. I either wear one or wrap it around my waist and pack the other one in my backpack. More experienced backpackers may read this and be shocked at how much I still have, but it’s still a work in progress. My goal is to get down to 5 of each item and to just do laundry more frequently. If I absolutely need something, I should be able to just buy it at the destination. Packing for a rainy day is a good idea, but don’t fall into the trap of packing for a rainy month or year. Washers and dryers exist. You’ll be fine! Take it from the 4 sweater guy!
Leaving behind what I don’t need and only using my 40 litre bag alongside a small, compactible 35 litre school/ travel bag have allowed me to save hundreds of dollars on checked luggage fees.
Once again, only YOU know what you truly need, but still take time to try and leave behind things that aren’t essential if you can. It can literally save you hundreds if not thousands of dollars. I personally find having less very liberating. I don’t waste as much time figuring out what to wear because I hardly have any choice. I know this sounds like a bad thing, but it frees up so much mental energy and actually lowers my stress.
You’ll change and grow… A LOT
The last thing I wanted to mention here is the immense growth and self discovery that goes hand in hand with travel. This will vary from person to person just like with the other things. Some people travel to relax and chill and some people travel to get to know themselves better. I started off travelling with the goal of enjoying myself for the most part, but as I got more experienced, I began to realize how much it was forcing me to reflect, grow and to change. I had no idea that travel would have such a profound impact on me before I started doing it. I honestly tried to resist a lot of the changes and revelations that came with travel. Change and growth scared me. It took me a while to finally accept the inevitable change and start sailing down the river instead of trying to swim against the current. I wish I’d known this at the beginning, so that I could have put up less resistance and allowed myself to just flow, grow and learn.
Everyone is different though. You DON’T have to travel for the same reasons that I do. There’s nothing wrong with relaxing at an all inclusive, just like theres nothing wrong with hiking through the Peruvian jungle, battling insects, diarrhea and altitude sickness. I know people that have done both and they all claimed to have enjoyed their experiences. The enjoyment from the all inclusive makes sense to me, but I can’t wrap my head around how getting diarrhea in a jungle at 3500 metres above sea level is enjoyable, but like I said, everyone travels for different reasons… even if they’re “shitty” reasons. ba dun tssss.
Don’t fight the change. Allow yourself to flow and grow! I wish I had known that at the beginning, but hey, you live and learn!
Wrapping things up!
Alright, well those were the 4 things that I wish I’d known before I started travelling. I do understand that part of the fun of travelling is making mistakes and learning from them as you go, but I still hope that these words of advice can make the journey a little more enjoyable and hopefully a little less bumpy. I truly believe that it would’ve been nice for me to have known these things at the beginning, but my experiences wouldn’t have been as profound if I had figured everything out right at the beginning… Wait… ok I’ll be honest, I do wish that I could’ve gone back in time and talked myself into ditching suitcases in favour of backpacks a few years earlier, but I might not have appreciated backpacks as much if I hadn’t spent hours lugging my suitcase over cobblestones, second guessing whether travel was even the right thing for me while also praying that the wheels on the damn thing wouldn’t break or fall off.
Remember, these are just suggestions. You don’t have to actually follow my advice if you don’t want to. It’s honestly fine. I won’t even know unless you explicitly comment saying that you won’t be following any of my advice (Which is fair and welcome too). These are just the things that I’ve personally learned over the last few years and that have helped me and I wanted to share some ideas.
Anyway, I hope you all enjoyed this and that it can be of use when the pandemic slows down and we can get back to going on adventures. Thanks for reading and I’ll probably release a second part after more careful thought and reflection! Stay safe, everyone and I wish you all a happy and safe 2021!
Please share with anyone who may benefit from reading this!