5 Common Mistakes Every Solo Backpacker Should Avoid

And make the most of it.

A few weeks before I embarked on my first ever solo backpacking trip in Europe, my older brother gave me some advice I would never forget, “Go alone. Trust me, you’ll thank me later.” That simple message turned out to be the best piece of travel advice I would ever receive, and he turned out to be completely right. After completing two solo-backpacking trips in Europe and South America, I’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way but also learned a lot about how to travel solo and make the most of it.

Here are the top five mistakes every solo backpacker should avoid.

1. Don’t Over Pack

This applies to all travelers of course, but many first-time backpackers will often pack way too many things in their bag and it’s mostly due to over preparation and potential fear of leaving something “valuable” behind. We often forget that many of these countries have all the same essentials we normally buy at home, and carrying so many articles of clothing or toiletries, for example, are really unnecessary.

I made that mistake when I traveled to Europe for the first time in 2012 and I had about 10 shirts, several jeans and changes of clothes but only one pair of shoes in my big 90L bag. First, there’s no need to have that many changes of clothes when it’s must better and more convenient to purchase clothes along the way. Second, I made a huge mistake only packing one pair shoes when I should have had at least another pair with me (Think about it, one pair of shoes for hiking, trekking, and going out at night? Not very smart but I didn’t think about that.) And finally, unless you’re trekking through Patagonia or exploring some far off region with no way to restock on supplies, you don’t need a 90L bag – a 45L-65L bag is all you really need.

2. Don’t Over Plan Or Book Far In Advance

Admittedly, this isn’t much of a concern for me because I’m a very spontaneous person and change doesn’t bother me one bit, but I feel it’s worth mentioning because I’ve met so many travelers who have a problem with over planning or booking too far in advance. Now it’s always a good idea to book a hotel or hostel for the first few nights in a city, but after that don’t make concrete plans. Rely on the advice and wisdom of fellow travelers you meet on the road and don’t be afraid to let their advice guide you to where you want to go next.

You never know, maybe some amazing new city or destination will be added to your itinerary as a result of heeding the advice of your fellow traveler. And don’t be afraid to change your plans either. Trust me, I have plane tickets, bus tickets and train tickets fully paid for but never used, because my travel plans would change quite a bit depending on who I met or what recommendations I received (Budapest and Scandinavia come to mind). Keep an open mind and you’ll be fine.

3. Pick Your Travel Partner Wisely

One of the best parts about solo traveling is the freedom of movement it affords, meaning you can travel anywhere you want, and at any time. However, I’ll be the first to admit that I was really nervous the first time I stepped off that plane in Barcelona and I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing here?” I had no real reason to be traveling in the first place, let alone traveling solo, and yet here I am in a new country without knowing anyone or anything about this country, its culture, how the way the city worked, etc. I was just there.

Though I was traveling alone, that didn’t necessarily mean that I was alone since I stayed at hostels and I met fellow travelers, which presented a great opportunity for many of us to travel together. However, be sure you team up with travelers you feel compatible with to prevent future headaches or silly arguments on where to stay, what to eat or what to do. The same rings true if you decide to travel together with friend prior to your trip. Depending on the length of your trip and as much as you may love your companion, you’ll eventually grow tired of their presence and will want to have some serious alone time, which is completely natural. It’s always a good idea to plan some solo time for all people involved to prevent either side from going crazy.

And what’s even worse is if you happen to travel with someone but you can’t get rid of him or her! It’s happened to me a few times, where I’ll be traveling with someone for a few days, which then turns out to be a few weeks, completely not my intention and now I’m trying to figure out a way of getting rid of this person. Sometimes there’s no real gentle way to say this and it’s best just to let that person know you want to continue on your trip alone. Don’t feel bad about it, but just be prepared in case it happens.

4. Trying To See Or Do Everything

Now this is my biggest problem, I must admit. I have a terrible habit of wanting to do everything and more, and as a result I end up seeing less. When I went to Europe for the first time, I ended up visiting 30 cities and 15 countries in three months. Then, a few years later, when I went to South America, I visited 72 cities, eight countries and four islands in seven months. That’s way too much traveling in such a short time span. You have to have a very ambitious personality and complete disregard for sleep to maintain such a high level of activity and movement (anyone who knows me knows that I never sleep!)

It actually didn’t bother me too much because I like being active and always on the move– and as the Business Partnerships Associate of Jetset Times, I love being busy which only made my work and traveling schedule on these trips that much more enjoyable – but I still wouldn’t recommend what I did to anyone heading out on their first solo trip. It’s much better to take your time, travel slow, stay in city for four or five nights or longer and absorb as much as you can before heading out to another city or destination.

Not to mention, if you only have weeks to spend in a country, too many travel days cuts into your site seeing experience and becomes counterproductive at that point. You can’t see or do everything in one shot, which is completely fine. In fact, it just gives you an excuse to come back, right?

5. Not Taking Enough Photos

Another huge regret of mind is not taking enough photos, not of my travels, but of me! When I first started traveling, I was so focused on being in the moment and concentrating on having a great time with newfound friends, experiences and so forth that I never bothered to take photos of myself to capture these special moments. As a result, I only have three or four photos of myself in Europe in the three months I spent there. Considering we live in the age of selfies and posting lots of photos via social, I never placed an importance on taking photos of myself because I honestly didn’t care (anything that takes away from the moment, just isn’t worth it to me).

It wasn’t until I was in El Chaltén, Argentina, when a friend of mine named Danny, asked if I wanted my photo taken in front of Mount Fitz Roy. We had spent the entire morning trekking for hours on-end to reach this point and it would be a great photo op of course to commemorate the experience. Bu after seeing so many people pull out their cameras and take photo after photo, selfie after selfie, for some reason I felt annoyed and declined his request. I explained to him why I didn’t want to, but then he said something seemingly very simple, yet incredibly profound, “These photos aren’t for you, it’s for your kids, so you can tell them about moments like this.”

I had never thought about that before and that simple comment completely changed the way I felt about travel photos. I want my children to know about my travels, so hopefully they too can follow in my footsteps and embark on their own grand adventures and experiences. I have two nieces and a nephew and it’s always been my dream that they too can travel and experience the world the way I’ve been very fortunate enough to do. But that excitement or sense of curiosity cannot be sparked in their minds without photos to help start that conversation. After that moment of clarity, I wholeheartedly agreed with Danny and he took my photo at Lago de los Tres, as I stared in awe at this pristine lake, which remains one of my most treasured traveling photos and memories. And now I take as many photos as I can when I travel so I can help inspire those who mean the most to me.

Jerry Alonzo Leon

Contributor

Jerry's favorite country to travel to is Spain. When he's on the road, he keeps it real simple with a pen and a pad. His travel style is spontaneous, easygoing, and always in search of a great adventure.

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