So I wasn’t the most experienced traveler before moving away to the UAE and even if you include all my adventures and travels since October, by standard traveller terms I’m still a padawan.
So I thought I would share with you as what I learnt on my first *real backpacking trip. All things I already thought I knew, but ironically hit home, abroad.
1. Watch Your Alcohol
Over the years I’ve enjoyed a party or two, maybe even three, I won’t pretend I’m angel but I’m not proud over the level of consumption either. However I’d like to think that I could at least handle my alcohol to a certain extent.
Fast forward a few years and I’ve cut back on my drinking. I think its called growing up and knowing when it’s appropriate or something like that. When you do that, your tolerance goes down.
I did not think I could not handle it anymore. Turns out, beer yes, spirits – no.
This lead to two rather messy nights (in the first three), one hilarious though I had a banging hangover the day after and wasted it sleeping and then bumming around. The other…. Well I was rat arsed, pure fresher style wankered (for non-Brits, I might have had one too many). The next day barely existed then having to catch a coach to another city, I felt like I was going to chunder…. Again or was it again, again?
Just because I could go balls to the wall several years ago, doesn’t mean I can still do that now! Knowing limits is important, I’m not talking about having 2 and going home, just try and not be a moron and go overboard. Your body and wallet with thank you the next day.
It was really good fun, apart from the days after….
This can be really important in some countries as there is a big business in fake alcohol and also environments aren’t always safe. Nothing happened to me but something could have, be smart and stay safe!!!
2. Control Your Budget Or Maybe Have A Budget?!?
So this I vaguely set out before I went (like most normal people). But I do use the word vaguely, I didn’t have a clear cut budget and being rather ‘indulgent’ lets say, with alcohol, what little structure of a budget that was there, became obsolete very quickly. If I’d gone out with less, I would have spent less (obviously) but I also wouldn’t have gotten as drunk so could have been an all around winner.
One thing I had worked out was how much the hostels, bus tickets and roughly what the cost of attractions would be. Some of the hostels seemed more expensive, even converting it back in GBP it didn’t seem the price on hostel world. I’m not entirely sure how and I did just kind of accept it – I’m not sure if I should have contested it or if I had worked it out wrong. More research would have worked better!
Free walking tours… Yes they are free, they ask if anyone would like to give any donations or tips so I know that means you have a choice. I did tip and I knew about this before – though working in the outdoors and in the service industry I appreciate tips and I always tend to tip generously. I hadn’t planned on tipping as nicely as I did, but I couldn’t help myself they were awesome! I didn’t think collectively as in reality they all add up.
The free Boyana Hiking Tour takes you up to the waterfall and also the church if you’d like to go it. I definitely recommend going on the walk as it’s not too difficult or long but really enjoyable.
So all of these little things really accumulated to the word ‘budget’ being in the dictionary rather than something that existed on my trip. When I went I wasn’t completely strapped for cash but I feel this could have been a bit of a bigger issue if I was on a long trip rather than the short 9 days away or if I had to be a bit stricter.
3. Plans Don’t Work, If You Don’t Have The Time
Basically I could have potentially got more done if I hadn’t had a hangover some days or if I hadn’t done things with other people. I put so much pressure on myself to be busy and to see as much as possible I ended up being behind ‘schedule’ and missing out on some things I hadn’t even planned for!
Previous trips I had spent a few days in just one city, hanging out with the amazing company of me, myself and I and just ‘got shit done’ like Dubai In A Day. In Bulgaria I actually met people and enjoyed spending time on a beach, in a bar or as simple as playing board games.
Nothing better than a beer on a sunny day at a beach, I also learnt a new game, it took a while to learn, but it was actually really interesting – maybe even better than monopoly!
In my plans I didn’t really leave any wiggle room to actually spend time with people I’d met. My plans weren’t working because I didn’t actually have time as I’d chosen to do other things. Missing out initially made me feel bad about myself, bad that I wasn’t doing what I should, that I was wasting my time as I hadn’t maximised every minute .
I wasn’t. I was just having different experiences that I wasn’t used to because initially I wasn’t meeting people and doing things, I’d started as a solo traveller but doing EVERYTHING solo.
It’s made me understand that if I ‘go with the flow’ then it’s either a plan less or have more time – preferably the latter. Simple.
4. Carry On Clothes
I worked so hard trying to think of a Carry On style joke, I just couldn’t do it.
OK, so you really can definitely just cut this down to experience – which I thought I had a little more of from going to Dubai a lot, Doha and a few other places. A day or so before I left I heard horror stories of Ryanair and their very strict baggage rules I checked my day packs dimensions online, it was a touch too big. Then came a bit of a mad panic as I didn’t want to risk it – putting a bag in the hold with no locks and expensive equipment seemed like I was asking for trouble! I then checked my small day pack and it was clearly in the dimensions I briefly calmed down but it threw up the issue of what would I be taking? I’d planned for a bag pretty much twice the size. I had already planned to do some washing and I did get some packing cubes on ebay – they were cheap and only worked for 5 of the 9 days, maybe some slightly better quality would be more durable.
I got it all out, halved it, got frustrated, tried to make sure that most things were interchangeable, halve it again but in the end I still had somethings that I barely wore and were a bit pointless. Learning what I actually needed to survive was really interesting and while figuring out what I’ll need will of course change with location and potential weather but my frustration and worry was unnecessary. Turns out my Osprey Talon 18 litre backpack was actually pretty roomy!!!
5. Relaxing Is OK
This one I will say is on a huge number of travel blogs and videos and I did believe it, but I thought it was more of a long term traveller issue.
Even with 9 days, the busy days were BUSY, the hangover days were heavy and doing different things with new people were unplanned. I felt incredibly guilty for just relaxing on the hangover days, but also guilty for the days when I went out with others and we relaxed in the park with a beer or on the beach etc. I always go full throttle when I go somewhere, trying to get the most out of my trip, the greatest bang for my buck as it were. I don’t know when I’ll be returning so it makes me anxious that I might miss out.
Everyone I met told me it was OK to have rest days and it’s good for not burning out, it’s good to just relax and meet people because meeting people is one of the greatest benefits of travelling. Realising this initially made me feel a bit dumb as it’s quite obvious but it goes against my fast and hard approach I feel it will be an important thing I have to remind myself as the trips increase in length.
At The End Of The Day
All of these experiences and lessons can be worked on fairly easily and I’d like to see what the change could actually be. I’m soon off to Budapest and hopefully I’ll make sure that I’ve taken something from this trip and I can more forward both figuratively and literally.
I did have an awesome time in Bulgaria, it was a beautiful country full to the brim with history and culture. Lots of interesting and exciting places to see and I also met some really incredible people. I shall return to see more of you!
***I would like to clarify when I use the term real it is in comparison to my previous experience that could be classed as a weekend city breaks.***
Tip Of The Trip: I don’t really feel I need to add one here, I hope you can learn from my lessons though.