It’s easy to find advice for those setting out on their first big trip, and a lot of it will advise you on how to stay safe, to save money or how to find yourself while you’re on the other side of the planet. You know, the big stuff.
But what about the small stuff? The trivial things that nobody remembers to tell you? Well, I’m here to help you learn from my many travel mistakes.
How to climb onto a rickety top bunk without a ladder
At some point on your travels a super friendly hostel worker will show you to your room and point at an impossibly high bed, with no ladder, and no obvious route to the top.
If you’re anything like me your heart will sink as you imagine having to return to reception to demand a different bed on the grounds that you are physically incapable of getting up there. Believe me, if the girl who resorted to hitchhiking half of the Inca Trail can do it, then so can you. Even after one too many Pisco Sours. The key is commitment, a lack of shame and total faith in your upper body strength.
Take full advantage of a good shower
There seems to be no rhyme or reason when it comes to the logic of hostel showers; you can be in the most developed city in the world only to find yourself covered in soap and shivering under a freezing cold dribble.
When you find a hot shower with good enough water pressure to actually rinse the shampoo out of your hair, you need to take it and run with it. You never know when your next decent shower will be.
It’s perfectly ok to want to do nothing for a day or two
There can be a lot of pressure when you are travelling to ‘make the most’ of every second. But doing something new every day, combined with being constantly confronted with diverse cultures, new people and different languages can be exhausting – you need to give yourself some down time!
I think I’d been travelling for around 3 or 4 months when I found myself having the insatiable urge to do absolutely sod all. Friends and family would always sound shocked when we skyped and I told them I was just hanging around the hostel that day, but giving yourself a day off from adventuring will help you to enjoy your trip so much more. It also gives you a great opportunity to get to know other backpackers, and to finally get your laundry done.
Become an expert free shelf chef
Most decent hostels will have a communal shelf of herbs, spices and food left behind by people who can’t be bothered to carry it in their backpacks. Trust me when I say that when used correctly (and if you’re not a fussy eater), you can live off these edible treasure troves and a bag of pasta, as I proved when I accidentally blocked my bank card in rural Chile.
Be creative, and don’t be afraid of unusual combinations. Just think of yourself as a kind of nomadic Heston Blumenthal and it all becomes a lot tastier.
Don’t feel obliged to follow the guide books
I spent a lot of time when I was younger traipsing round the world ticking places of interest off an imaginary bucket list that someone else had written for me, thinking I was achieving some sort of travel expert status. But did all of the places I visited actually interest me? No. Did I miss some really great things because there was somewhere else I just had to visit? Definitely!
I am really not a person who enjoys hiking, I hate the cold, don’t really like tents and I get very sick at altitude. Despite all of this I paid a fortune to do a 5 day Salkantay hike to Machu Picchu (hence the aforementioned hitchhiking). All because it’s one of those things that everybody ‘should’ do. With hindsight I’d have been a lot happier (and financially better off) getting the train and spending an extra few days exploring Cusco.
So there you have it, my top tips to make your gap year easier, and hopefully a lot more enjoyable. Remember, it’s your trip – spend it doing whatever it is YOU want to do! Unless the hostel has great showers, in which case just spend it showering.