Top 10 Reasons Most Backpackers Fail

“I beg young people to travel. If you don’t have a passport, get one. Take a summer, get a backpack and go to Delhi, go to Saigon, go to Bangkok, go to Kenya. Have your mind blown. Eat interesting food. Dig some interesting people. Have an adventure. Be careful. Come back and you’re going to see your country differently, you’re going to see your president differently, no matter who it is. Music, culture, food, water. Your showers will become shorter. You’re going to get a sense of what globalization looks like. It’s not what Tom Friedman writes about; I’m sorry. You’re going to see that global climate change is very real. And that for some people, their day consists of walking 12 miles for four buckets of water. And so there are lessons that you can’t get out of a book that are waiting for you at the other end of that flight. A lot of people—Americans and Europeans—come back and go, ohhhhh. And the light bulb goes on.”

— Henry Rollins

Having lived away from home since January 2009, I've learned a lot of lessons on the road, especially about why most backpackers who plan to travel long term fail. Follow these 10 tips and experience the freedom of travel as long as you want, instead of as long money permits!


Recently I needed to fly from Athens to Copenhagen but the direct flight and indirect flight prices were insane.

Even though I was using the obvious discount airline sites, (and with a decent website like  Skyscanner these days you can often get a cheap flight easily ) the cheapest I could get was 300 Euros one way. But if I was able to fly a day later (which I unfortunately could not because I needed to be there by a certain day) I would only have paid 75 euros one way! Being a die hard budget traveller I was not about to be ripped off like that.

So I split the journey up. I used Skyscanner to find the cheapest budget airline, and I flew to the cheapest destination closest to Copenhagen (Berlin) and then took a bus to Copenhagen with eurolines.

The flight to Berlin cost me 75 Euros with Aegean Air (and they provided delicious gourmet Greek food). I then took a bus with Eurolines to Copenhagen (30 Euros). Bargain.

Splitting the journey up meant I ended up saving about 200 Euros. Sure it took me a while longer, but it was worth it!!

Regardless of what your destination is, using this model can save you a bunch of bucks!

Are you enjoying this article? Occasionally I send out a unique newsletter with my secret and unique money saving tips, great deals on flights, and special locations unknown to the average tourist (at bargain prices). You really can travel on a super small budget to exotic locations if you have all the information the travel companies don't want you to know about!

Mykonos Island, Greece. 1 night in this paradise starting from just US$12.65  
                                                                                            Flickr marcelgermain


Cheap, easy, backpacking meals that you don't even have to cook yourself most of the time!

In terms of cheap backpacking, you won't find cheaper food than this: FREE

It’s called “Skip dipping” and it is spreading like wildfire.

The concept was shared with me by an Italian friend of mine who also happens to be a chef.

Basically it works like this:
 Every week, the mega supermarkets in Europe/Australia and elsewhere need to throw out a heap of food which has a best before date due that day.

All packaged, all fresh, all good to eat. Only catch is – you need to get it out of the bin!! Hence the term “skip” which means rubbish bin in Australian. But hey if it's good enough for an Italian chef…..

Don't believe me? Here is an excerpt from an article in The Age newspaper 18/2/2006 (The Australian equivalent of The New York Times).

Part of a growing number of "skip dippers", Mr Martin, 29, is a consultant from inner-suburban Melbourne who has been getting his food — and more — from commercial skips for the past five years.

"The reason I do it is nothing to do with cost; I'm a well-paid consultant," he said. "But by doing this, I help to reduce waste and landfill."

Mr Martin, a chef by training, says he eats well from the skip, stocking up on everything from bread, fruit and vegetables, tinned produce, rice crackers, wine, beer and juices. He has even acquired cooking utensils on his fortnightly shop.

"It makes no sense that this perfectly good food is thrown out, it's so wasteful," he said.

Another regular skip dipper said the "dipper" community was so strong in Melbourne that sometimes swap-meet picnics were organised for people to exchange goods.

"A lot of the time you get things in large quantities, so by swapping things, you get a bit of everything," she said.

According to The Australia Institute, a Canberra-based public policy think tank, a growing number of people are skip dipping.

A research paper released today found skip-dippers were well-educated professionals with an anti-consumer or environmental bent.

Author of a new research paper, Skip Dipping in Australia, Emma Rush said the practice was less about getting something for nothing and more about taking a stance against the consumer culture.

More than 17 million tonnes of solid waste is heaped into Australian landfill sites each year.

Dr Rush interviewed more than 20 dippers aged from their late teens to early 60s. All had professional occupations.

   Mykonos, Greece                    
                                                                                     Flickr xavipat


Cheap accommodation so that you don't end up spending your entire trip living in a tent!

The worst thing you could do when aiming for a cheap backpacking experience is booking the first hostel you find on Google. 

The first result is based on how many other websites link to that particular page for the keywords you just typed into Google which means that while those people behind the other webpages may like the hostel, they may have never actually been there.

The most reliable method is finding an honest booking site that allows only people who have stayed at particular hostels to write reviews about them (Tripadvisor for this reason can be seen as somewhat unreliable as your competitors can write fake bad reviews about you).

Other sites like Hostelworld are far more reliable and safe as they only show reviews of people who have booked and paid through their website.

This means that you get the whole picture - good, bad and ugly.

That's very important and will help you pick the right one for you - you can see ratings on cleanliness, atmosphere, location, customer service etc.

How well and comfortable you feel about where you are sleeping during your trip is central to having a great time.

Everyone wants to feel safe, happy and relaxed during their trips and this is an important part that shouldn't be overlooked.

You can check out reviews of decent, reliable places to book here.

Mykonos Island, Greece           
                                                                                Flickr hassanrafeek


Most of us who are looking for a cheap backpacking experience know not to call home from hostel/hotel phones etc and usually buy calling cards.

Whilst this can be cheap, some countries don't have the cheap international calling cards, or if they do are not so cheap.

The other obvious option is using Skype. But not all of the people we want to talk to are on Skype, or are willing to come on Skype at a particular time. There is another program similar to Skype, called oovoo.

Oovoo has the same features as Skype, except with the additional feature of being able to make very cheap international phone calls to actual landlines and cell phones / mobile phones for prices that are even cheap than Skype's. Prices start from 1.8 cents per minute.

For example, I get some internet access in the country I'm traveling in (or catch free wifi) and call home for just 1.8 cents a minute to Australia (same price for the USA).

If I were to try this from a VOIP calling booth it usually costs about 10 times that (which still isn't much, but if you are traveling on a budget, every cent counts).

The additional awesome feature oovoo offers for FREE (which Skype makes you pay for) is the ability to video chat with up to 12 people for free at the same time.

The outside of a hotel on Mykonos Island, Greece 
     Flickr ltangelini     

Check out some cheap accommodation options for Mykonos here


When it comes to cheap backpacking, this tip will save you a lot.

I picked up an old Nokia phone with Wifi (EU40) from a gypsy market in Bulgaria two months ago, and I’ve been sponging off free wifi in nearby cafes and assorted open wifi connections ever since!

The beauty of this is that each time I use my new free internet connection instead of paying Euro 2-5 (sometimes 10! ie in Denmark),  that money saved means that I will eventually make the cost of the phone back and then start actively saving/making money.

I’ve also downloaded a nifty program called imo+, which lets me call others on Skype/google talk etc for free.

Many restaurant chains provide free wifi internet access all over the world. So keep an eye out for McDonalds etc when you are traveling.

Are you enjoying this article? Occasionally I send out a unique newsletter with my secret and unique money saving tips, great deals on flights, and special locations unknown to the average tourist (at bargain prices). You really can travel on a super small budget to exotic locations if you have all the information the travel companies don't want you to know about!

Mykonos Island, Greece - the land of the Gods.            
                                        Flickr trentstrohm


Rule number one for having a cheap backpacking experience:

NEVER buy travel insurance from your travel agent! Until you follow the steps below first!

Buying travel insurance from travel agents is like buying Armani from a supermarket.

Because it is a point of convenience, most people don't think about shopping around and just go for the first price they get. Which is always a rip off.

My first quote for travel insurance for a 6 month trip to Europe, Middle East and Africa was over AU$600 from my travel agent. No thanks.

I then did a search on the web for the absolute cheapest I could find with (and this is very important) comprehensive, unlimited health insurance, which is all I was interested in. I ended up getting a quote for AU$200 from a company backed by a major international bank. I then took that to my travel agent and asked them to beat it. Which they did.

So I ended up paying AU$180 instead of AU$600 for the same product!

The Stunning Santorini Island, Greece. Beds starting from just US$13 per person for a private room        
                                                         Flickr Wolfgang Staudt


Never exchange cash at the airport you have just arrived at. 

No matter what deal they are offering you, no matter how good it seems, just don't do it. I guarantee you will be ripped off.

Your best bet is to change some money in your home country (so that you have enough to get the center of the city you are visiting) and once there you can compare rates.

Be warned tho, if it sounds too good to be true sometimes it is. Sometimes they can show a cheap rate on the sign and in small print tell you it is something else. To make sure you don't fall for this, always ask them at the counter how much money they will give you for X amount in your home currency.

Or better yet, find a credit card from your home country which lets you travel completely fee free. In Australia the 28 Degrees Mastercard lets you withdraw money from anywhere in the world without a fee or commission. It's really great. Forget the greedy banks for credit cards. 

Flickr Wolfgang Staudt

I really loved my time in Santorini (Greece). It's like waking up to a visual orgasm every morning. Prices in this paradise for a private room and bathroom start from 40 euros/US$49 per night and 10 euros/US$12 per night for a hostel 


Most backpackers know to travel light (to make life easier and to save on paying for check in luggage at the airport)  but don't think about the cost of washing their clothes when it comes to traveling (some avoid washing altogether). 

This means we are often at the mercy of whatever the hostel wants to charge us (especially if we can't find a Laundromat). 

My solution is to travel with hand washing powder from home. This saves me a bundle and is better for our earth!

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Santorini Island, Greece               
                                                             Flickr jurvetson


Many countries these days (except for Greece and Australia it seems) charge you for going to the toilet. 

Coming from Australia and having grown up with free public toilets, this seems crazy!!

I've seen backpackers pee on the beach at night (English people in Bulgaria) and many hardcore backpackers waiting to get back to their hostel to pee freely.

Well worry no more my cheapskate backpacking comrades! McDonalds,  and Burger King are here to save the day! 

That's right! They don't just exist to make you obese and feed you with disgusting, cheap and nasty "food". 

They are also here to provide you with some relief. That's right, use their free, public toilets, and instead of them giving you the ugly stuff, you can give it to them! and save money in for more beer in the process!                                       


Despite the best efforts (lies) of bottled water companies to convince us that tap water is not better than bottled water - the fact is that in most countries this is a lie.  


Because in most countries the government regulates and inspects public water with much tougher standards than the bottled water industry (which is largely unregulated, uncontrolled by anyone).

So when you get to your hostel, ask them if the water from the tap is safe to drink - in most cases (depending on which continent you are on) they will tell you yes.

If that's the case, you can simply buy a Thermos from the local supermarket and refill it in the morning every day. 

Also look for public drinking fountains. Are you enjoying the photos of Santorini? Prices in this paradise for a private room and bathroom start from 40 euros/$US49 per night and 10 euros/US$12 per night for a hostel dorm. 


Sometimes, especially when traveling on a budget, things can wrong on the road, whether it's waiting hours for a ride that never comes, getting lost somewhere, or simply not being able to sleep because the guy in the hostel bed next to you won't stop farting all night, and no amount of ear plugs will protect you from that smell.


Desperate times call for desperate measures, in which case I find a little bit of Tibetan Meditation Music is fantastic to drown out all the misery and smells being emitted around you. This is my secret weapon that stops me from feeling overwhelmed: Rest In Natural Great Peace by Sogyal Rinpoche. Put in your headphones, close your eyes, and let them fart away to their hearts content, whilst this music takes you to a land far far away.

Some photos licensed under Creative Commons. Credit for each photo can be found by following the creative commons link on the main page if not already listed on page.