4 rookie mistakes on my first solo trip


The mistakes I made on my first solo trip

There is a lot of trial and error in the art of backpacking. I doubt that there is anyone out there that woke up one day and thought “OK, I’m the financial master and I will travel around the world for $5 a day!”. No, that doesn’t happen. Unless you are one of those exceptional characters that grew up with a couple of hippies that traveled the country on a van and knew how to take advantage of a goat, from head to toe. Is not my case. And is not the case for the majority of people.

That’s how in my first solo travel —and second trip backpacking outside of Chile— I just made rookie mistakes.  Some were involuntary, of course. Others were the result of laziness or lack of information. The important thing is that I learned from my own mistakes on how to not waste money. If I had taken these tips in consideration before the trip, I wouldn’t have thrown away all the money I saved working on cruise ships and I could avoid working in a hotel in Franz Josef, in the Southern Island.

So these are 4 rookie mistakes I made when I “learned” to travel by myself.


From left to right: Rhythm & Vines Festival, detox trip to Bay of Islands, buying beer for Rhythm & Vines, Halloween at the hostel in Auckland.

Just like Hemingway wrote about his experience in Paris in his novel “A Moveable Feast”, I could name this article “Auckland was a non-stop party”. The truth is that my journey through New Zealand was a feast, from start to end. In the last weeks of my travel I went into a detox road trip to Bay of Islands. I mean, not really, but with my friends from the hostel, we decided to take a trip without alcohol, men or party. Our livers needed to have a rest.

It was my first time backpacking absolutely and completely alone. And alcohol was my best introduction to people. Thanks to a bottle of pisco sour I met Eva, a German girl who had lived in Chile. (By the way, I’m not going to discuss whether pisco is Chilean or Peruvian, because frankly I do not know, nor do I care. I just drink it). Eva got me a job at the Fat Camel, which made me stay for the next few months. In this hostel, there was a party almost every night. And if we got bored, we went to the other hostel just by the corner. And if there was nothing going on there, we went to another nearby hostel. And if we were tired of hostels and backpackers, we would go dancing to Cassette 9 or Danny Doolan’s. I was dating an Irish guy: beer had become the blood in my veins. I still managed to travel to other cities and do more activities than just going out and drink. But I worked for exchange, so I can assure you that a large percentage of my budget went on parties. What a shame! Ha! Not really. I had the time of my life

Lesson learned: It is not mandatory to have alcohol to have fun (but marihuana helps a lot). I spent so many afternoons sleeping because I was hungover. I think my trip to New Zealand was the moment I left the party animal in me and I turned into a more reflexive person.


Photo: Flickr.

Another of my rookie mistakes is that at the beginning I just ate noodles. Those salty instant noodles. I used to buy them in the Asian supermarkets and I lived thirsty as hell all the time, but very proud because I was saving a lot in food. So between the noodles and all the beer I was having, I became highly dehydrated and I start losing weight in a very unhealthy way. So what did I do? I started buying what I really like at the supermarket: large green avocados that reminded me of Chile, wholemeal bread, hummus, oatmeal, milk, Diet Coke —I know, I’m the worst—, ham, peaches and strawberries. Of course, this list was not cheap for my backpacker pocket. When I had no food, I just went to the corner and had some sushi, the best sushi of my life. I think I bought meat once in six months. And when I went to Christchurch I was a little more budget conscious and had rice for four days, while the Japanese guys in the hostel prepared the most delicious food. My stomach begged for a little garlic and flavor.

Lesson learned: man shall not live on noodles alone. And definitely not just with expensive avocados. I need to learn to cook. I still haven’t, but at least I’ve got some simple recipes and I can survive eating rice with vegetables, tuna, water, and a lot of oatmeal.


Waiting for the bus to Franz Josef with a German and two Korean girls.

I chose to stay in the Fat Camel randomly. When I was traveling from Chile to New Zealand, my plane made an eternal stop in Buenos Aires, where I decide to book a hostel in Auckland. You have to understand that my lifestyle was very frantic and only 72 hours before I was on board a cruise ship in the United States, breaking up with someone and going crazy with the passengers. Still, that is not an excuse. I declare myself guilty. Planning is an essential part of every budget trip. When I compared my level of organization with the German travelers, I felt like a mess. Well, you don’t really have to organize everything, you also need to make room for spontaneity.

Another mistake I made was that I only considered traveling in buses. Only in the last months of my New Zealand trip, I did some carpooling. I searched over the Internet and I ended up sharing a 4-hour drive with a nice Australian guy. I also rented a van with two girls I met in the Fat Camel hostel and went for the “detox” trip to Bay of Islands, north of Auckland.

I also had my first experience in Couchsurfing. Yeah, when the Russian guy threw the knives at me. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you can take a look at Couchsurfing: Sleeping with Strangers.

Lesson learned: search options ahead of time, plan, and count with the opportunities that other travelers might want to share with you.


Me playing a fool somewhere in Auckland.

Now when I look back in time, I truly don’t understand. I came back from New Zealand with a suitcase full of new clothes. A consumer spirit kidnapped my body and forced myself to walk around Queen Street stores looking for new dresses to use at night. Also, I spent money creating costumes for the themed parties that the Fat Camel organized almost every week. I don’t have regrets about that, because I had an amazing time looking for my costumes in the cheap Chinese shops. I also dyed my hair at least three times. I didn’t go crazy with my debit card, but I know these were unnecessary stuff to buy. Many years have passed from this New Zealand trip and the fashionista in me —I studied fashion design before journalism— is part of the past, though beneficial in the present: I create most of my clothes and I save a lot of money because of it.

Lesson learned: I think it is clear. There is no need to spend in dresses or high heels when we travel. The good thing is that I bought a winter jacket and a 55 lt backpack for half the price I would find in Chile.

Nevertheless, I learned things and experienced a lot more. By the way, I worked as a volunteer for the Rhythm & Vines New Year Festival, I saved about NZ$ 300 for the ticket and I spent 4 amazing days with some great people.

With Laura from Minnesota working for Rhythm & Vines with the worst hangover ever.

So, the key message is simple: to avoid rookie mistakes you have to read a lot of travel blogs, learn from other experiences and take care of your budget. When you travel alone for the first time is relatively easy to let yourself go and take bad decisions. I do not regret anything, but now I take certain precautions and I hardly leave a day without sightseeing because of a rough party or alcohol. I think they call it growing up.

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Fran Opazo

Periodista. Escribir y viajar son mis dos grandes pasiones. En este blog comparto mis experiencias, entrego datos y cuento historias.


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