For those of you out there who are about to embark on your first backpacking trip (or are thinking about it), and, like me before I went on mine, would like to get some insight into what it might be like: here are my top tips and a little blurb about each!
- Don’t over plan (or have everything booked) before arrival.
My trip to Nicaragua was going to be my first time backpacking. It was a new concept for me since I am normally such a planner. I’m used to planning every single detail before going somewhere (to the extreme like what every hour of the day will look like). However, I wanted this trip to be different and to have the spontaneity that a true backpacking trip would have. So I held back (going off the advice from my travel buddy for the trip, my amazing cousin/soul sister Ellen, who had spent 3 months backpacking earlier in the year). All we had booked was where we would stay upon arrival in Managua and where we would spend Christmas. We had done a little research on good places to stay in each place we would possibly venture to, but nothing else was booked, which would allow us the freedom to decide how long we wanted to stay somewhere and where we would head next. And it turns out I loved how this felt! It was amazing and very freeing to not know what was next and to decide as we came to it. I’m glad that I kept the planner side of me in check and let the spontaneous side make the decisions. I was traveling in a way I never had before.
2. Have a general route in mind (places of interest, things you don’t want to miss out on, possible hostels you might stay at if you end up in a particular area).
You definitely don’t want to over plan or have too much booked before arrival, but a little research will help and will save a lot of time once you are there. I knew which things were “must dos” for me, which was important because it’s super easy to be too laid back and end up accomplishing nothing all day. Sometimes going with the flow leads you to amazing places and makes for off-the-beaten-path memories, and other times it can lead to sleeping in all day and never venturing out. For example, I made sure we didn’t miss out on Laguna de Apoyo near Granada or hiking up to the Jesus statue in San Juan. If I didn’t make an effort to plan these things, we might have ended up spending the whole day at the hostel bar instead (which is fine for some days but shouldn’t be the whole point of a backpacking trip). So a bit of planning can be good. It was also helpful to have some hostels in mind for each city we thought we might visit. Especially in a third world country where wifi isn’t always guaranteed, we could at least show up somewhere and have a name to drop for where to take us. You can definitely survive without doing that, but knowing what you’re looking for can make things more comfortable.
3. Allow flexibility.
I want to point out that we would have missed out on Popoyo altogether if we had planned our whole route before arrival. Because Popoyo was not on our “to do list.” It was just somewhere we knew we had to go after hearing our friends in Ometepe talk it up so much. We weren’t tied down to anywhere, so we decided to make a stop in Popoyo after Ometepe instead of heading straight to San Juan. I’m so glad that we did. We had the best surf lesson there and got to stare out over the most beautiful beach. It was the perfect detour, the kind that’s only possible if you are flexible with your travel plans.
4. Talk to everyone you can, locals and fellow travelers.
Don’t be nervous to strike up a conversation with people staying in your hostel. Almost everyone is going to be open to making a new friend and spending time together, which was a new concept for me having never been “on the road” before. It’s just the mindset. Even an introvert like me will be fine on their own.
5. Must bring items: earplugs (sleeping in a dorm is the opposite of quiet), headlamp/flashlight (many places will not have street lights especially if you are staying somewhere more remote), quick dry towel (so convenient), Febreeze (used more times than I would like to admit)
6. Know your surroundings and be smart.
7. You can wear the same thing every day and no one will judge you so don’t over pack.
8. Be open minded, but also be true to yourself. This is huge!