All the mistakes I made when I first went travelling

Guys! I’m back from India for near to two weeks now, and every time someone asks me how was it, I give them the (very polite) eye and say that it’s a long story, but actually, it is. I have so many stories left to tell and a few ideas what to post about, and hold on, they are coming – but first I wanted to write this one. Number one reason probably is that I still miss Australia. I have come to terms with the fact that as it was the first big trip I ever made – and completely solo, too! – it will always be there to haunt me with sentences like “that time I was in the Oz..” slipping out of my mouth in situations where people are probably sick of my stories from the road already. But to me Australia is like a first love, and a girl never forgets her first love.

near Julia Creek
Cow that has probably made some mistakes in Melbourne

Second reason why I wanted to write about this topic is because I think that a lot of travel blogs (am I labeling myself as a travel blog now? Whelp!) don’t go deeply enough into the troubles of travelling. I suppose if you were browsing through my blog casually, you would shy away from the seeming negativity of it all – after all, I’ve only had the blog up for a few months and I’ve already written about scams, dislikes and hostel hells quite openly. It might seem like I am trying to scare people away from travelling so that I could have the whole world all to myself! (If only that would work. Sigh.) However, I write about all those things because those are the realities of travel, and for me they haven’t always been easy to face, so I feel like if I can send a fellow globetrotter out there with a bit more awareness up their sleeves, my job here isn’t completely wasted. I love travelling for the good moments, obviously. But the bad moments make good stories, too.

I also feel like it is important to look back and see how much you’ve grown. I look back now and I feel like roundkicking my 18-year-old self in the face with a table, and in three more years, I will probably feel the same way about my almost-22-year-old self. I made all the beginner’s mistakes you could possibly imagine. I mean, if you’ve ever found yourself complaining to a fellow traveller about an annoying thing your hostel compadre does, you have probably complained about me. I left for Australia fresh out of upper secondary school and straight out of eighteen years in a town of twenty thousand people, and yet, barely of age, I thought I knew everything. And boy was I wrong.

Innes National Park

Mistake #1: skimping it up

As the departure date was closing in on me, I was counting my pennies and was pretty proud of the barely five thousand euros stacked on electronic piles on my bank account. I had heard the saying take half the baggage and twice the money but somehow I ended up doing the complete opposite and virtually lived on cold noodles and white toast for most of the trip. The culinary highlight of the nine months away were Saturday nights in that Irish hostel I stayed at, because that was when the downstairs bar carried up all the pastries that could not be sold at the bar anymore. I still dream of those apricot muffins. In truth they might not have been all that delish, but to me they marked a rare occasion of a feast.

And if I’m completely honest, there isn’t much I could have done differently before the trip. Postponing it was never the option – I felt like I had to go, just then, or I never would. The summer before my departure I worked in three different odd jobs because they were the only ones I could find for short periods of time as a fresh graduate, and naturally, they all paid me peanuts. I was still living with my parents, I wasn’t a prodigal partygirl, and I didn’t have a fancy for flashy clothes, so probably there wasn’t anything I could have saved from. I remember being vaguely worried about my budget before I left, but I reassured myself by what everyone had been saying – that getting a job in Australia would be like snapping your fingers.

And maybe it was like that a few years back, but now backpackers are flooding the departure gates and competition is harder than ever. At one point I hear a rumour that there were five million Germans on a working holiday visa, which as a number was so ridiculous the hearsay could not be true on any account, but I can tell you, there were endless streams of backpackers looking for work. Like a children’s version of Grapes of Wrath. I know a girl who literally landed a job offer just walking by the place on the street, not on one but two different occasions, so I guess you need luck, too. I was down on mine. I tried some time in Sydney, then gave up and thought to give it a new go when I reached Melbourne, where I ended up soldiering on by an odd fifty or seventy dollars I could scrap off a trial or working at the hostel bar some evenings. I only managed to get my first proper job in December, two months into the trip.

Wine tasting – deffo not a mistake near Adelaide

Mistake #2: taking all the baggage
Back then I enjoyed delusions of living a somewhat steady life in one place, then moving my life to another location. Please try not to bury your head in shame as I tell this, but I was seriously concerned whether I should ship stuff from home in order to survive – and I’m talking about lamps, curtains, rugs, that kind of stuff. You get the drill. I guess when you’ve only got a vague idea of what a backpacker is, it feels somewhat scary to think that you will have to get by for a year with only what you have in one little bag.

Well, one humongous bag. Or a few.

I bought a 55-litre backpack for my trip and made sure it was one of those that opened at the sides, so virtually I had about 70 litres on me. Plus my daypack. And the big Aldi canvas bag full of food I carried around because as a poor little backpacker all alone in the world I couldn’t even afford to leave crumbs behind. Oh, and did I already mention I had a 17” laptop with me? I had a 17” laptop with me. In a separate bag.

Melbourne

Of course one of my mistakes was to take a backpack that wasn’t suited for my petite-ish frame – another one was to stuff it like that chicken Tracey and I ate for Christmas that year. So of course it was hard to carry. Good thing is I never needed to go too long with it on my back, but it still didn’t stop concerned strangers from stopping me on the street to ask if I needed help carrying anything. (True story.) Nowadays I travel with carry-on only, which brings on its whole new stadium-sized problems (what do you mean I can’t fit in five pairs of shoes? They’re essential!) but which I’m head over heels for since it sits in my back perfectly and is a natural “whoaaaah, do you really need that?” reminder. It’s never a good sign if you’re surprised at what you find in your backpack. As in, you’ve packed so much that you didn’t remember what you had with you.

questioning some life choices in front of the cowcalypse in Charters Towers

Mistake #3: plans set on stone

I applied for a job at a farm up in Queensland two weeks into my trip. I was tanning (more like shivering, what the hell Australian  September) on Bondi when I got a call from them asking when I could fly in and start. I thought about it for a second, and then, as a little rational voice in my head was sobbing and screaming, declined. My reasoning was that I had made some friends in the city and was reluctant to leave before my birthday which would be in a few weeks, and secondly, I had already bought tickets for a Coldplay show in Melbourne and I thought that if I went north, I couldn’t get back to the south coast on time. Besides, I had got a call from another potential employer just half an hour before, and because the line had been atrocious, I had asked him to call me again and he said he would, so I figured I already had a job in Sydney – so why leave? Obviously the guy never got back to me and by turning down a dream job (they had horses! the voice shouts and starts wailing again) probably cursed myself with bad job-finding karma for the rest of the trip.

Luckily my plans weren’t scribbled in a schedule so tight it didn’t leave any space for capricious changes of mind. In a lot of cities I overstayed my welcome because I enjoyed it there. However, what I was firmly set on was my travel route, and I would not budge. I did see most of the places I wanted, and I am pretty proud of all the ground I covered in relatively short time, but then again I was not flexible enough to follow a new travel friend to another destination, or work at an interesting job for longer, or go see other fantastic places my fellow travellers had suggested I should see. After New Year’s I realised I had to hurry if I wanted to see everything I had planned, so I scurried through Darwin and Perth in two days, skipped the national parks in the north and only knew the popular East Coast by the wave I gave to them as we sped past them on the highway. At the time I was so afraid of missing out on something that I actually did.

Pictured the scarf I lost somewhere in Tasmania. Definitely a mistake. (Fun fact: I have bought two scarves exactly like that after the trip, only in different colours, and lost all of them.)
Sydney

Mistake #4: turning up the telly

I really, really liked the hostel I stayed at for my first month in Melbourne. Every night the party raged on, and since there were only twenty-four beds and most were occupied by long-termers, everyone knew everyone and could help a mate out if they hadn’t prepared with a box of goon for the night. Unfortunately, fun parties result to ghastly hangovers. Too many mornings were wasted in the TV room, buried between rough cushions with a few other ill-looking scallywags that had managed to crawl out of bed before noon. And there I stayed, happily watching one film after another until there was no one left and I started surfing on the channels.

I think relaxing – real, true, proper relaxing – while travelling is highly underappreciated, because sometimes you just need an hour or an afternoon or a day of sprawling out in a place that isn’t sticky with the party, but I have to say I am not completely proud of how little I managed to see of Melbourne in the two months I stayed there. I think I can only blame my natural habits. At home I enjoy not doing anything and I think it’s a valuable thing to bring with you when you travel so that hectic sightseeing and caleidoscopic rush from one destination to another don’t burn you out, but just remember that too much is always too much.

It could also be that I didn’t have any money to do anything fun. Or that I was lazy. I’d like to think it’s the first one.

Magnetic Island
Next time get a photographer that captures the kiss, not the tension before in Magnetic Island

Of course there are plenty of other mistakes I made, starting from major cock-ups like losing my passport (that will be a fun story for the future) to medium ones like getting too drunk on a night out to minor ones like forgetting to ask the contacts of those two German girls you roadtripped for five days joking about crocodiles, and I will keep making mistakes as I go, which I’m not particularly looking forward to. Some people tell you to embrace the regret and learn from it, some tell you to let it go and start clean, and I’m somewhere in the middle. Right now I can think back on how immature and naive I was back then, and I sometimes cringe when I think what my travel companions back then would think of me, but mostly I just laugh about it. One of the hardest and most important things any of us can do as humans – even when we’re not travelling – is to acknowledge when we’ve made a mistake and be able to say, ‘Well, I was bloody stupid, can I do something in the future to change it?’ Some mistakes you will want to keep repeating, although you know that travel flings never work out (plot twist: sometimes they do) or that you can’t find your way to your hostel just by asking locals (but it’s fun to get lost in a sleepy city when it’s brand new and exciting). I refuse to regret some of my mistakes – instead, I look at them as find memories. Maybe you should, too.

Mistake: this Halloween costume. And the hair. In Melbourne

Oh, I forgot my worst mistake. I parted my hair in the middle. For months. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me I’m not Avril Lavigne?

Have you made any “rookie mistakes” when you started travelling or do you still do them? How do you cope with past mistakes?


2 thoughts on “All the mistakes I made when I first went travelling

  1. Luka Reply

    I love this article 😀 some great tips. We all must look like that starting travelling, but it’s so much fun to look back and see how you changed and grew.
    I have the exact same first-love with New Zealand, going there as a teenager after school and staying my maximum of time 😀 every little trip after that – i still enjoy so much – just can’t reach the magic of that first big solo trip. But maybe thats ok 🙂 like that it stays so special to us

    1. Elina Reply

      I agree, and it makes it a little easier not to cringe at this stuff when you think about all the other people who were first-time backpackers, too, and had no clue either 😀
      You’re so lucky to have visited New Zealand, I think it’s gonna be on top of my go-to list as soon as I graduate – well, right after Australia!

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