5 Things To Expect Your First Week Backpacking

You’ve decided to spread your wings and venture out into the wild world of backpacking.  You’ve read tons of travel blogs, read countless reviews on hostels and destinations, bought far more than needed in terms of travel supplies, and have a huge itinerary of places you want to go and things you want to experience throughout your journey.  Even with all the due diligence complete, nothing can quite prepare you for when you finally touch down and embark on your priceless journey.  With that being said I present to you the 5 Things To Expect Your First Week Backpacking.

Your fears will quickly begin to dissipate  – Traveling across the world, where you know virtually nothing about the area nor the people or culture is surely exciting; albeit undeniably scary to some degree. Arriving in your first country, even the most subtle differences such as the flow of traffic or humidity in the air will make you feel just how far from home you are. Add on the VAST differences such as possible communist propaganda posters, strange offers from Tuk Tuk drivers that are simply wrong on so many moral levels, and just completely different culture and way of life and you have yourself in a very strange position.  You may think to yourself “what the hell did I get myself into”, and that’s fine, I think the initial fear leads to an even more enhanced excitement once you realize all will be.

Some people’s fear or reservations may dissipate naturally by just walking around the city for a while and getting accustomed to a new culture, but for many (including myself) your first hostel is where the change occurs.  Entering your first hostel may feel like the first day at a new school at first, but within a very short time you will acclimate to the “backpackers” way of life.  You realize you are merely one of MANY going on the same (yet different) journey you are on.  You will be able to share your relatable first experiences with others, and they will gladly share theirs with you.  You will realize that you are not alone in feeling the way you do, and others will take you under their wing.  I’m not sure if it’s the feeling of nostalgia that coincides with taking someone brand new to backpacking under their wing, but on my first day people I had so many people offering to take me out and show me the city.

You will toss away your itinerary if you made one – Prior to backpacking S.E. Asia I spent literal days researching and planning where I would be every day of my travels, what I would be doing, and how I would be getting there.  Part of it was because I knew there were certain things I wanted to see, but the major part was a fear of not having everything planned out.  When I arrived at my first hostel the people I met laughed when they saw my itinerary, saying “you wont be using that much longer”, and they were absolutely right.

The people you meet, the stories you hear, and the vibe you get in each place will guide throughout your journey.  You may absolutely hate or love a certain city you are in, and with no itinerary there is nothing stopping you from leaving that very night or extending a few days.  Remember, traveling is a business, so anywhere you may go, there will be plenty of services to help you get to a cool destination in the area, or services to help you travel to another city or country.

You will also hear about places you never even knew existed, and are going to want to visit them all!.  In my first few days backpacking I heard about 3 places around Hanoi that were not even on my radar, and 2 of them ended up being some of the highlights of my trip.  Talk to people, hear their stories, and let the journey flow as natural and unplanned as possible.

You will be shocked by how fast you form close relationships- Back home most people you meet are consumed by societal norms, expectations from family and friends, and begin to wear the mask of what they feel is expected of them.  Forming close relationships with people whether it be work associates or friends of friends sometimes takes months, even years.  I like to think that building a relationship with someone is the process of 2 people taking off their masks ever so cautiously to reveal their true selves.

While backpacking you will come to realize that mask has already been taken off.  People will express themselves to you in their truest and purest form, partly because you will already have so much in common being a fellow backpacker, and partly because they’re all the way across the world so who gives a shit what anyone thinks.  As long as you are willing to say “hi”, you will begin to form bonds at a rapid rate.  The conversations you have will be rich with thoughts and experiences.  Throughout my travels I can say with absolute conviction that I have made dozens of true friends that I will keep in touch with long after my travels have concluded, and will never forget.

You will learn real fast how often you have to say goodbye –  I remember my first 2 days in Hanoi, I had linked up with a group of friends and we did everything together.  Out of 8 of us I was by far the newest to backpacking, so when one of the kids got his bags together for the 30 hour sleeper bus to Laos I was shocked at the dynamic.  There were hugs and the occasional “make sure to add me on Facebook”, but then he was gone, just like that.  He hopped on a bike that would take him to the sleeper bus, and everyone else went back to what they were doing.

It’s a tough pill to swallow, especially when you’re saying goodbye to people you’ve grown extremely close to; however learning to say goodbye will make you that much stronger and wiser throughout your travels.  You begin to learn the beautiful yet tragic truth about just how large this world really is, and how small we as individuals actually are .  The French Novelist Gustave Flaubert once said “Travel makes one modest. You see what a tiny place you occupy in the world”.  Just as water constantly flows down a river, so to will the people you meet.

You’ll realize you have made a life changing decision – I believe this moment of awareness is so personal to each and every person I would be doing an injustice saying when this moment will be.  There are so many reasons people decide to go backpacking, whether it be to come to terms with something serious that has happened in life, to gain a better understanding of the world, or to just experience something completely new.  There will however be a defining moment very early in your travels, and when that moment comes you will be enveloped with an indescribable feeling that the journey you are on will forever change you.

With all that being said, none of this is possible if you don’t step outside your comfort zone.  Sadly I witnessed people stay in their dorm bed all day and watch movies on Netflix, something that surely can be done within the confines of their own home.  Speak to travelers, but also make sure to speak to locals.  Eat what they eat, dance how they dance, try to speak with them in their language even if it is just a word (believe me they will love you for it).  Enjoy all the scary, exciting, awkward, sad, indescribable experiences that backpacking has to offer.  Go out and experience the world, and don’t be scared to make an absolute fool of yourself.  And remember, you are far from being alone.

“Nobody can discover the world for somebody else. Only when we discover it for ourselves does it become common ground and a common bond and we cease to be alone.” – Wendell Berry






Hanoi – My first few days backpacking

It is my first day in Bangkok and have been in bed all day as I believe I havefood poisoning, so I figured I’d post a few blogs about my experiences so far on what has been nothing short of an epic journey.  

I will be posting a blog “5 Things to Expect Your First Week Backpacking”, however I wanted to also break apart my experiences as it has been rich and full of excitement. This blog I will talk about my experiences in Hanoi, as well as the overall experience of beginning my travels. I will also be posting a blog on my awesome trips to Sa pa, Halong Bay, and Yen Dux Village. 

Day One


Backpackers hanging out at Vietnam Backpackers Hostel – Downtown


 I literally had no idea what to expect when the cab driver dropped me off in front of Vietnam Backpackers Hostel – Downtown. The first thing that went through my mind was “holy shit, I’m actually backpacking Asia, I’m actually arriving at a hostel, this is for real!”  

Walking into the hostel I felt like a kid on his first day at a new school. The place was packed with backpackers, all conversating and having a good time. I’d like to think I did my best to look like I was a seasoned veteran, however I am certain my “new to backpacking” look was written on my face. 

After checking in, the receptionist brought me to my dorm, a room with 6 bunk beds (that’s 12 beds total for those not mathematically inclined). There were 3 people in the room getting ready to go downstairs for happy hour, and they all looked over and greeted me with a smile and hello. To our surprise we were all from America (not very common I have come to realize), and we quickly began talking. Backpackers are some of the friendliest people you can ever meet, it is like a brotherhood of likeminded people who accept everyone. 


A girl strumming her guitar in the dorm

After talking for bit and hearing the incredible places they had been to, we all went downstairs to the bar to enjoy happy hour. The special was buy one get one free beers, and after doing a quick conversion in my head I realized each beer was going to run me $.50! (HELL YES).  I explained my itinerary to them, and they began to laugh saying I will change my plans so many times before my trip is over, and to just go with the flow. 

I was absolutely amazed by all of the places these people had been, and the incredible experiences they have had. . After spending a whopping $2 on some beers, we headed out to dinner.  Unfortunately they had been craving Dominos for weeks, so my first authentic Vietnamese meal would have to wait. 

The streets of Hanoi can only be explained with one phrase “fucking insane!”  My cousin Sherif and his wife Jen tried prepping me for how to cross the road, saying “just walk slowly, and don’t stop”. Imagine 50 bikes and a few cars coming straight at you, no stop lights, and no right of ways. Every time you cross the road is literally a leap of faith. They couldn’t have been more accurate.  I just walked slowly, and everyone veered around me. The best way to explain crossing the road in Hanoi is like mini shots of adrenaline at every street crossing, there is the fear of getting hit, followed by the reward of making it across in one piece. 

 After our not-so-authentic Vietnamese cuisine we headed back to the hostel, where the place was bumping. Music was playing, people were dancing, and there were several free shots being passed around.  It was beyond easy to start meeting people, and by nights end I had met a ton of new people. 
Laying down in bed that night I was overwhelmed with a feeling of peace and comfort “wow, it’s really happening, and it’s awesome”.

Day 2

As I had literally no plans that day, I just laid in bed a while and soaked it all in.  The streets were buzzing with noise, and a few people I had met the night prior were heading ou to their next destination.  As with life, there is a beginning and an end to things. While backpacking, that is raised to the 10th power. It’s amazing to meet so many people in such a short amount of time, however it seems as if every few hours I am saying goodbye to a new friend. 

After a lazy day in bed it was time for my first authentic Vietnamese meal, or so I thought….    I walked a bit through the Old Quarter until I found a place serving up some street food BBQ. I was sat next to a group of backpackers and we began to chat for a bit. As we were all waiting for our food to come out one of the most insane experiences of my entire life unfolded in front of my very eyes…


Rumble in Hanoi – notice several locals weilding weapons

While trying to learn more about my new friends, we were distracted by screaming coming from the middle of the road.  Seconds later the owner of the place we were eating at ran full speed into the middle of the street and cracked another guy in the face. From our observation it looked like it was the owner of another restaurant right across the street. To my surprise a man came out of nowhere and entered the fight.  Hailing from Vietnam, coming in at 5 feet 2 inches and 120 pounds soaking wet, carrying a…. bamboo bong?!  This tiny little dude cracked the man who threw the first punch right across the back of his head, and pieces of bamboo and bong water went flying. 

Me and my new buddies thought it was pretty funny given the size of the guy and his weapon of choice, however things got much more interesting, and dangerous. The man who had just got hit ran into the kitchen, and ran back into the ring full speed with a gigantic meat cleaver in his hand!  I have seen fights in my life where weapons were involved, however it is usually just used as a scare tactic. But this man had only one thing on his mind, “decapitate”. He chased the other man full speed, with the meat cleaver cocked back ready to deliver the death shot. 
Things started to happen fast, but the next thing I know there were 5 other guys standing in the street with sticks that had blades attached to the end of them. 


These were the same types of weapons used at the fight

Thankfully dozens of people jumped in, and from what I saw everybody walked away in one piece.  My new friends and I decided that maybe we should dine elsewhere, as there was enough tension lingering on the street that it could be cut with a meat cleaver. 

Day 3 

The rooftop terrace at the hostel I was staying at was probably the best part of the hostel for me. At any time of the day there are several people soaking up some sun rays, listening to music, and occasionally puffing on the devils lettuce. I spent a good amount of my day just lounging on the rooftop, listening to music, and really just staying to myself. I am very good at listening to others, however I am trying to make an effort on this trip to spend time listening to myself. 

A few girls on the rooftop relaxing in the sun

After a few solid hours on the rooftop I decided to go do some touristy things. I hit up a few museums, and ended my tour with “The Hanoi Hilton”. The Hanoi Hilton, or the Hỏa Lò Prison, was a prison used by the French colonists in Vietnam for political prisoners, and later by North Vietnam for U.S. Prisoners of War during the Vietnam War.  

Vietnamese political prisoners displayed at the Hanoi Hilton

The tour is really split into 2 parts. The first is a depiction of the horrible torture inflicted by the French colonist on the Vietnamese political prisoners.  The second part, was about the U.S. POWs during the Vietnam war. Being from the U.S. I found this fascinating.  There are several old propaganda videos showing the prisoners eating the finest foods, playing volleyball, smoking cigarettes, and playing cards. The old videos continuously reassure the viewer that the prisoners were treated on par with Geneva standards. Obviously us from the states grew up hearing a different story, so it was great to see how the other side views things. 

When I got back to the hostel that night I met a few dudes who had just returned from a place called Sa Pa. They couldn’t say enough about it, and encouraged me to hop on a night bus, take the 6 hour drive to Sa Pa, and find one of the local villagers to allow me to spend the night (homestay), so that’s exactly what I did. The beauty about traveling solo is you can do however much, or however little you would like to. Within a half hour of our conversation I checked out of the hostel, grabbed my backpack, and headed to the nearest bus station.