10 Common Rookie Mistakes in Backpacking
Nobody's born knowing everything. With experience and mistakes, comes wisdom. Your own experience is without a doubt the best teacher, but sometimes it is not necessary to fall and learn from the mistakes that others have already made. Here we present a list with the 10 rookie mistakes backpackers usually make during their first experiences. Read them and avoid these headaches in your next trip!1- Excess weightWhen you travel as a backpacker, the limited space in your backpack may seem like a precious commodity (and it is). But equally or more critical is its weight. It might seem like an obligation to fill your new 65 lts backpack to the top and get to use all the available space. Big mistake. For a common person it can be torture to carry a heavy backpack for hours, loaded many times with things that aren't really necessary. Your backpack can become your worst enemy during your trip.
What backpack should be used or what things should be taken with you are topics that deserve their own article. Suffice to say here that common sense should be your guide, carrying strictly what's necessary and essential. In respect to clothes, take a basic change of clothing, the concept of "dirty laundry" can change during these trips, and many times we have the opportunity to clean along the way.2- Lack of flexibilityPreparation and planning before a trip are important. It is good practice to have an idea of the places one is going to visit, knowing how to get there and the pertinent precautions that have to be taken in each case. Having all the reservations made and a strict itinerary may seem like a good idea. However, by doing this you lose flexibility and the capacity for improvisation. Frequently the best moments during a trip come from improvisation; staying a couple more days in that place we liked, or staying less time in another place we thought was going to be more interesting.3- Wrong choice of companionThis point is very important, and many times can turn our trip into a complete disaster if it is not considered. Travelling as a backpacker is one of the most enriching ways of travelling, but it is also more demanding and sometimes rough, where a lot of unexpected things or problems can occur. Choosing a good companion is fundamental, because with this person (or group) we are going to face these difficulties and share 24 hours a day.
It is not the same to enjoy a beer with someone on a weekend than spending every minute with him/her for days (sometimes weeks). She may be too lazy, or he may be too bossy, or simply his/her personality just doesn't adjust to you. For this type of trips is ideal to travel with someone we have already had experience travelling with. Of course there will be times when we just can't know for sure, but for the times we do know, it is better to avoid them. Better alone than in bad company, some say.4- Forgetting sunscreen and waterIt is not uncommon to forget sunscreen when backpacking. More so when backpacking to the south of Chile or to Patagonia. The perspective of cloudy days and low temperatures may lead to the conclusion that it is not necessary. Big mistake again. The south of Chile, and specially the austral region, have high levels of ultraviolet radiation due to the hole in the ozone layer. This radiation pass through clouds, so we can get sunburned even on a cloudy day. If you are planning a trip to a national park, long periods of time exposed to the sun are more than likely. Do not forget your sunscreen! In this same scenario it is also important to bring water with you to stay hydrated. It is easy to underestimate the distance we have to walk before we can resupply our water bottle (this is obviously less relevant when backpacking in towns and cities).5- Inadequate foodUsually when we go backpacking, eating becomes an activity we are forced to do in order to survive, rather than any other reason. We would gladly rid ourselves of the necessity to eat, in order to reduce our costs or eliminate those extra pounds of food in our backpacks. Since we can't do this, we might as well make the most of what we carry and give some thought about what we actually need. This subject is particularly important regarding long treks in isolated places, where one must walk during hours and there is no access to stores or supermarkets, and one must carry all the food starting from day one.
Again, this subject merits its own article. Suffice to say here the criteria that should be considered: easy to transport food, easy to prepare and cook, known to us (we are sure we are not going to suffer an allergic reaction or food intolerance), preferably non-perishable products and a contribution in energy and nutrients.6- Lack of cashSometimes, for trusting too much in credit cards and ATM machines, one decides to carry little to no cash. This is risky, since there's the possibility of arriving to a small town or locality with only one or two ATM machines, which might be out of money or malfunctioning. The latter scenario is more frequent than you think. You run the risk of running out of money in isolated places, or missing activities that require cash. It is good practice to bring some cash with us at all times, although the other extreme is equally risky. If we carry most of our money in cash with us and get mugged, it is not necessary to say what a serious problem that can be. Balance is always good. It is also good practice not to have all your cash and documents in the same place.7- Inadequate footwearFor those who have not backpacked in the middle of forests, hills or rivers, it can be easy to think that a good pair of sneakers are more than enough to go anywhere. Footwear, depending on the circumstances, can be fundamental. For example, a pair of trainers can make really dangerous a loose rock trail over a hill. For humid and swampy areas, using footwear that is not waterproof means you will have your feet soaked from the first minute.
It is recommended to to find out about the conditions of the route one plans to do, and bring adequate footwear. Another piece of advice: do not bring new footwear. It is recommended to give it some use before the trip to avoid blisters.8- Lack of disconnectionIn these present times we are more and more connected (to the internet at least). The use of smartphones, laptops, social media and wireless access to the internet from almost anywhere have as a consequence that our attention is focused on a screen instead of our surroundings. While we travel it is really tempting to keep paying attention to whatsapp, facebook and other social media. Backpacking is an excellent opportunity to disconnect from our daily routine, to enjoy the moment and the place where we are at. There will always be time to upload your photos after the trip, and your friends will still be in whatsapp when you return.9- Turn inwards upon oneselfBackpacking is more than enjoying landscapes and visiting towns and cities. Is a way of traveling more intimate and authentic, in which we have the opportunity to learn and share with other people, from who we get to know the essence of the places we visit. Sharing a coffee with a local, or a beer with a fellow backpacker can be experiences as or more rewarding than visiting an emblematic church, or enjoying the view from a hilltop. Travel always with a disposition to listen, learn and share. If you turn inwards upon yourself or in your group, you miss half the experience!
10- Lack of attitude and good dispositionBackpacking, like was mentioned, is one of the most rewarding ways to travel, but it is also harder, more demanding and exhausting. One can be waiting for hours while hitchhiking, walk for hours under the rain or miss a bus. You can lose your documents, brake your tent, and many other problems and unexpected situations can occur. It is not about being always afraid of things that might or might not happen, it's about accepting them and facing these obstacles with a good attitude and disposition, knowing that difficulties (and their overcoming) form an integral part of the experience. Patience, initiative and a positive attitude in the face of adversity must be your mantra as a backpacker.If you found this list to be interesting and useful, share it with others!