How to Fail at Backpacking: 4 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

I was recently asked about my favorite travel memory. As I’ve been to over 20 countries (and lived in 5), it’s difficult to choose just one memory that stands out. Nonetheless, I was reminded of my first attempt at being a backpacker. It was unforgettable…because I was so bad at it!

* * * *

After an incredible semester in Spain, I took a 4-week tour around Europe before heading back home to the USA. During my travels, my then boyfriend (now husband), came to visit me for two weeks. We had carved out time to see Vienna, Rome and Berlin and hoped that the cold, winter weather wouldn’t take away from our uber romantic trip.

Mistake #1: Too Much Luggage

Everyone knows that the term backpacker refers to someone who literally carries all of his/her belongings on his/her back. This is meant to make it easier and more convenient to travel from place to place.

As a first-time backpacker, I was off to a terrible start.

Well, I didn’t quite understand the necessity of being able to carry all your own belongings and so, as a result, my poor boyfriend spent most of the trip carrying my extra-large suitcase, backpackers backpack (which was almost half the size of my 5’1″ body) and laptop case. I ended up carrying his reasonably-sized suitcase and a shopping bag which held a poster I bought while living in Spain.

Mistake #2: No Backup Plan or Meeting Point
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First Stop: Vienna, Austria

 Since international cell phone plans and access to wifi were not common (this was the time before smart phones), it was increasingly important to set up clear and specific meeting times and locations. One of our greatest difficulty on this trip was the fact that neither of us had working cell phones with us. It was my boyfriend’s first trip to Europe and I was nervous we wouldn’t be able to find each other at the airport once he landed. All we decided was that I’d “see [him] at the arrival gate”. To confirm this fear and raise my blood pressure to the max, as I patiently waited at the airport in Vienna, there was a bomb scare which forced an evacuation of the terminal. After a delay in his flight’s arrival and the reopening of the terminal, luckily, we were able to find each other…and so began our romantic trip.

Mistakes #3 & #4: Transportation Mishaps
Second Stop: Rome, Italy
Second Stop: Rome, Italy

All was well in Vienna until we had to catch our next flight from Vienna to Rome. Due to our early flight (Mistake #3: booking early flights) we had to wake up at 4am and wait outside in the cold with all our (okay my) luggage in tow. We were hungry, cold and sleepy, but we waited. And we continued to wait. After nearly half an hour, we realized that the tram schedule was different because it was Epiphany Day (Mistake #4: not familiarizing ourselves with local holidays and transportation schedules ). So we quickly dragged all our (my!) luggage down the streets of Vienna until we came across what I think must have been the only cab running in all of Vienna that morning. Our driver was surprisingly upbeat and happy to see us. Not only was he friendly and entertaining during the almost 45 minute drive to the airport, but we were able to enjoy the ride with festive holiday lights inside the cab and some incredible music on the radio, including the classic, Cotton-Eye Joe.

Lucky for us, we made it in time for our flight to Rome (and all other flights) and only lost my poster in transit.

Lessons Learned
Third Stop: Berlin, Germany
Third Stop: Berlin, Germany

Since this inaugural backpacking, multi-country tour of Europe, I’ve managed to:

– never book a 5am flight again;

– travel for 7-10 days with just a carry-on; and,

– see more new places with my (then) boyfriend (now husband).



 * * * * A N S W E R  B E L O W  * * * *
What tips do you have for first-time backpackers?
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4 thoughts on “How to Fail at Backpacking: 4 Lessons I Learned the Hard Way

  1. i think everybody is making (this) mistakes in the begin.. but it helps to know where you have to watch out..

    once i went with the airplane to barcelona. i had just one backpack and gave it all off without taking a lot of money or credit cards. and then they forgot my backpack in zurich and i had to wait in barcelona until the next day, with a little money! so always take the things you use with you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. yes, a lot! it would give a post 🙂 but I think the most important are:
        – make a scan of your passport, driver`s license etc. and keep it online.
        – hang on to your bags. take money, portables etc. always with you.
        – keep your money and credit cards on different places.
        – be open to new cultures, make friends!
        and the most importan

        – smile and relax 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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