10 Ways to Prepare For Life as a Backpacker

Updated July 18th, 2018.

By Jessica Bryn Thomas

Adaptability (adj.) = Ability to adjust easily to a new environment or different conditions.

Adaptability is a generally useful attribute to have in life, but when travelling on a budget, it is essential. If you are thinking of going abroad for more than just one or two weeks, you simply must be able to adapt to whatever life throws at you!

10 things to try before you leave home:

1. If you are usually the sort of person who follows a strict schedule every day that’s hard for you to break, I suggest you start by calling in sick for work for a day or so.

2. Eat noodles for breakfast instead of your usual cereal and fruit.

Shan noodles for breakfast in Myanmar.
Shan noodles for breakfast in Myanmar.

3. Take a cold shower, don’t blow-dry your hair and don’t put on make-up.

4. Go around town and ask people where they are from if they know much about the area, and if there is a cheap restaurant nearby.

5. Take public transportation as far away from your neighbourhood as you can and don’t take a map or a GPS.

Public transport in Southeast Asia
Take a tuk-tuk to a new neighbourhood!

6. Go find a bar or coffee shop and order the cheapest thing off the menu while sitting there reading (or pretending to read) a book or newspaper.

7. Go to a different bar, preferably one with a good happy hour, and drink some cheap beer with your friends, or, better yet, take the opportunity to get to know whoever is next to you or the bartender.

Angkor Wat Bar, Cambodia
Pub Street in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Outside of the famous Angkor What? bar!

8. Take a cab back to your place and haggle with them about the price.

9. Once you are home, make sure to turn off the air conditioning or the heat (depending on the season).

10. Have some friends blast music in the next room.  If you know someone with a rooster, place it outside your window for the night. This is a good start.

Sleeping:

To get ready for the travelling life, I lived in a basement. I, however, did this only save money, not to get used to strange living conditions. I started out as a pretty adaptable creature, as this basement was actually far worse than any place I stayed in Southeast Asia. That’s not the point; you probably have no reason to go stay in a basement. But maybe you want to travel to Asia. And as far as that goes, there might be some things that take some getting used to!

Eating:

I found ants, hairs, and sometimes completely unrecognizable substances in my food. For all you sissies out there who scream and demand tons of money from restaurants, if there’s anything wrong, you’ll have to train yourself to stop that. Or find some way to cook for yourself. The ants were the only thing really worth complaining about, and in that case, we just got new plates and new rice.

Showering:

I have gotten used to taking cold showers in a number of small, dark, and sometimes buggy bathrooms. In most of Asia, there’s not a separate shower, you stand in the regular part of the bathroom and let the water drain through the floor. There’s really nothing wrong with this system, it makes perfect sense. It just might come as a surprise if you didn’t know to expect it.

A toilet in Southeast AsiaNot all the toilets in South East Asia are like this!

Buying:

Then there are just random things to get used to, like traveling salespeople coming into restaurants while you are eating to demand that you buy a book or a pair of sunglasses from them, even if you are reading and you have sunglasses on your head – I have been offered a motorbike as I was on a bicycle, no joke.

As far as salespeople are concerned, you will get used to a constant string of questions and shouts: “Hello, motorbike!“ “Hello, massage!“ “Lady, you buy something from me?” Certain places are worse than others, but as a foreigner, you should just prepare yourself to be bombarded with salespeople constantly. Try to be polite but firm in saying no to all of these demands.

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Bargaining:

If you do actually need something, you’d better get used to haggling prices. They always set the price much higher than it really is (especially for tourists), so you are meant to bargain. If you take the first price, you are getting ripped off. Bargaining is not being rude or cheap, it is all part of the game.

Haggling in Southeast Asia
Swamped by Saleswomen in Sapa, Northern Vietnam

Some Final Thoughts…

Sometimes, things go very smoothly and you get from place to place with no problems, with hot showers, wonderful food, comfortable rooms, and amazing people around. But sometimes you have to rig your bathroom with your pocket flashlight to be able to see, find a way through knee-deep mud just to get to your room, and battle with a rat for the peanuts that you accidentally took into your bungalow. Just kidding, please do not fight rats in any situation.

But what I’m saying here is that you must be able to adapt to any and all situations. Don’t get mad at a bus driver because they stop every 10 minutes for unknown reasons, don’t get angry when you get a slightly uncomfortable bed, don’t get pissed off about squat toilets, and seriously, don’t get mad at people for not speaking English better! You are in their country.

Remember that you went to a different place to experience new things, new languages, new tastes, and different people. If you are going to be all bitchy about it, either be prepared to spend a whole lot of money, or stay in your own country and be comfortable there.

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10 thoughts on “10 Ways to Prepare For Life as a Backpacker

  1. aldona says:

    Having a cold shower in 35°C weather is not too bad. I don’t think i would venture on tgat path here in London.
    I backpacked in Latin America and South east Asia and each time i had an amazing time and mrt wonderful people. Roughing it a bit teaches you that material possessions are not as useful as webelieve they are.

  2. Britney McSweeney says:

    Put everything you own in a backpack and carry it around for a few days before you decide it is inappropriate for the weather, and abandon it in a hostel.

  3. b-RaD says:

    I think backpackers have to understand how life is in the third world by researching before they come. If you cannot accept the way things are, need luxuries, or get angry easy, this is not the place for you. If you can come with an open mind that every day will be a new experience, yes, then by all means this is one of the best experiences in life.

    • Laura Davies says:

      Some great thoughts here! As Bill Bryson said “What an odd thing tourism is. You fly off to a strange land, eagerly abandoning all the comforts of home, and then expend vast quantities of time and money in a largely futile attempt to recapture the comforts that you wouldn’t have lost if you hadn’t left home in the first place.”
      Flashpackers beware!!

  4. tom says:

    Hi there, I am thinking of backpacking south east asia with my girlfriend as we are both young and want to do it before we settle down. Looking at travelling around for a year or maybe less, we will not being staying in hotels but hostels and cheap rooms. How much do you need to live on, travelling around for that amount of time in south east asia?

  5. Lois says:

    A bit too late for me to start reading this post. We’re already halfway through our 6 month SEa Backpacking trip. But I found this post funny and helpful at the same time. You’re absolutely right about adaptability. And if you can deal with eating crickets or haggling with pesky tuktuk drivers, then you can take on anything…

  6. ben says:

    in most countries western countries a cab driver would tell you to get out if you tried to bargain. the best ways to prepare yourself are to close your mouth in the shower and stop getting annoyed when there is a traffic jam/housemate ate your food/waiter mixes up your order etc dirty toilets and hawkers are things you can’t prepare for, you just have to deal with them.

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