When I started traveling, backpacking was always the way I went. I love the freedom it gives you and I feel it helps immerse you even more into the experience of a place. I don’t exactly backpack travel as much as I used to since I stay longer in cities now, but it’s still big part of my traveling. Here’s 20 things I’ve learned from my experiences backpacking around the world (with a camera):
1. Bring your expensive camera
You might be worried about something happening to it, but why do you have it if you’re not going to use it when you’ll want it the most?
2. Pack light
I keep my camera gear in a messenger bag and the rest of my stuff in a carry-on sized backpack. I make sure not to pack it full too, leaving some room for a souvenir or two that I might want to bring back. Bring only what you are certain you will NEED.
3. Learn the Metro
In most bigger cities, the subway will be your quickest value for transportation. Sometimes they can be confusing at first so learning the colored map lines or downloading the metro app can be a huge time and frustration saver.
4. Buy an extra battery or two
Having your camera run out of juice is the worst. I always keep a fully charged back-up in my pocket.
5. Hostels are great, but do your research
Hostels are a great way to backpack on a budget and meet people. Hostels are not all the same, though. Luckily, with websites like Hostelworld.com and Hostelbookers.com, you can research them before staying. These sites are full of reviews from people who stayed there so you get a good idea of what type of Hostel you’re getting into. They also tell you important things like if the hostel has secure lockers, which is big when traveling with camera gear.
6. Going alone doesn’t equate to being lonely
Many people don’t understand why anyone would backpack alone, but it can be the best of both worlds. You have complete control and freedom of what you want to do. At the same time, you can meet people and make friends everywhere you go.
I’ve done both, solo and with others. When I backpacked around Europe solo, I’d do whatever I wanted during the day and then at night I’d meet up with people and go out. It was great. I didn’t have to wait for anyone to get out of bed and get ready, no debating what to do or where to go, and best of all, I could do as much street shooting as I wanted.
7. You don’t need to see every site
It takes time to see all the sites in every city. Trains, buses, taxis, walking and the time it takes to figure out where they even are. You want to spend more time enjoying what you see than looking for the next thing to see.
8. Don’t spend too much time googling safety concerns
Searching online for articles on a city’s safety is like looking up cold symptoms on WebMD. You’re probably going to die. In reality, this obviously isn’t the case. Looking up camera safety is even worse. You’d never bring your camera anywhere if you went by what you find online.
Bad things happen everywhere and the internet will find every single one of them. Most places are relatively safe, though. So take necessary precaution, but don’t worry too much.
That being said…
9. Be aware of your surroundings
Be smart. Observe your surroundings and trust your instincts. Don’t go down a dark alley at night. If a suspicious person seems to be following you, get somewhere safer.
Now I don’t always follow this completely. I like to walk away from the tourist areas because I usually find better photos there. Sometimes this probably isn’t the safest, but I still pay close attention to my surroundings and anything suspicious.
10. Walk when you can
I love walking everywhere. I feel it’s the best way to really get to know a place. It also provides plenty of surprises and things you never would have seen. For a photographer, this makes for the best photos too.
11. Buy a comfortable camera strap
Carrying a camera all day will make your neck and shoulders sore without a decent strap, especially after a few days. Switching the strap can make a huge difference. Personally, I use the Custom SLR Glide Strap and the Lance Camera Straps.
12. Don’t bring travel books
You can find all you need online now. If you enjoy planning for a trip with a guide-book, then use it to plan and leave it at home. I knew better, but still had to learn the hard way on my first backpacking trip around Europe. I brought multiple guide books for the different countries, but barely used them. Books are big, heavy, and an unnecessary waste of space when backpacking.
13. You remember the good times and forget the bad
Maybe you sleep past your alarm, find out the museum is closed, miss your train, or forget your phone charger. Traveling in a foreign place won’t always be easy, things will go wrong and there are times you’ll get frustrated. It probably won’t matter later, though, so try to realize that at the time.
I got stuck in the Frankfurt train station for 15 hours on the way from Prague to Amsterdam. Missing a whole day of sunshine in Amsterdam, while laying on a bench through the night, was beyond frustrating at the time. Now it’s just funny.
14. Eat a solid breakfast
When traveling in a foreign country, it’s not always easy to find something to eat. So make sure you start off the day full so you won’t be wasting the day looking for food.
14. Bring locks
Traveling with camera gear, you want to make sure it’s as safe as possible. So I bring mini locks for my bag and a bigger one for securing it in my place while I’m gone.
15. Slow down, Enjoy more
You don’t need to rush everything just so you can fit in more cities. More might sound better, but when it comes to traveling less can be more. Focus on enjoying the place you’re at.
16. Take plenty of memory cards
Even though I bring a portable hard drive, I don’t erase any of my memory cards until I’m home and have them all safely uploaded to my computer and back-up hard drive. It’s just an extra precaution in case something happens to the hard drive. It also means I usually go through a lot of cards. Memory cards can be crazy expensive to buy when traveling so you can save a lot of money by buying plenty beforehand.
17. Make friends
Meeting people, both locals and fellow travelers, and making connections is what you remember the most.
18. Check out apartment rentals
Sometimes you can find the best values by renting an apartment off of sites like bnb and craigslist. This is especially true during big events or festivals. When I was in Rio for Carnival, the prices raised sky high and many places had been reserved months in advance. So I rented an apartment for the week and had my own place and kitchen in Ipanema Beach a block from the most expensive hotel in Rio for $40 a night.
19. There’s an endless amount of places you’ll want to go
Travel is addictive. As soon as you come back from one dream destination you’ll want to plan the next one. My favorite place will probably always be the next one I’m traveling to.
20. Pretty cameras are for shelves
If you travel with your camera and actually use it, it will show after time. A pretty camera is an unused camera. I prefer to use mine.
So what are some things you’ve learned from backpacking? Tell me about it in the comments below!