by Ronnie Charrier
*please note that all entries will be verified*
I recently had a conversation with a friend of mine who is planning his first solo-backpacking trip around Central and South America later this year.
“Are you taking these?”
“You’ve got to take that!”
“Alright, whatever you do, don’t forget this!”
The conversation may have been a little more one sided than he had hoped as he found himself in the middle of a barrage of questions and advice stemming from my own experiences traveling by myself around Central America a few years ago. Coincidentally, it was on that trip that I had met him for the first time. How and why I met him is another story entirely, but this particular meeting changed the course of my life forever.
“How did this happen?” I wondered. What would my life be like if I had not met him (and his very pretty sister) that day? And how exactly did we go from strangers from different parts of the world one minute to people who now live in the same city and hang out on a regular basis the next?
The advice I was forcing on him was coming from experience; traveling by yourself as a single guy can be difficult. You’re alone, in unfamiliar settings, and experiencing a hundred new things at once. And when you do make new friends, oftentimes you’re saying goodbye to them within days.
I know a lot of people will say, “I’m not going traveling to make friends, I’m going to climb mountains and see the mysteries of the world and all those other grandiose things we travelers say.” That’s all well and good, but at the end of the day most travelers are going to end up at hostels/campsites and spending as much time trying to navigate social awkwardness as they do trying to accomplish all those life-changing adventures they hoped for. Every traveler has their own ideas of what a trip to a foreign land by themselves will be, but I promise you this: it’s going to be a lot more enjoyable if you’re able to make a couple of friends along the way.
These new friends provide inspiration to go to new places, introduce you to different experiences, and just make all the down time you inevitably have while traveling that much better. So to help my friend, and whoever reads this, I’ve compiled the 4 absolutely necessary items that every guy should make sure he has with him to ensure he makes friends while traveling.
Item #1: A Deck of Cards
This probably seems like a no-brainer. And if that was your first reaction then you’re off to a good start. Now pack a second deck because the first one is bound to get lost. The one thing no one ever thinks about when planning a trip like this is all the extra time you end up with. You’ve just given up a life of alarm clocks, meetings, deadlines, work, streaming Game of Thrones, etc. for an unlimited, and often overwhelming amount of time. The possibilities are endless, which often leads to spending time figuring out how to fill all of this newly gained freedom of yours.
A deck of cards is the easiest solution. “Hi (person I don’t know), do you want to play (insert game here)?” People with free time always enjoy having someone suggest something to do. And if it’s later in the evening, “hey (group of people I haven’t met before), you want to play (insert name of your favorite drinking card game)?” Everyone loves learning new drinking games from different countries. Actually, now that I mention it…
Item #1A: A List of Drinking Games
You can’t suggest playing drinking games and then not know any. Hopefully you already know some. If not, ask your friends or check out some suggestions here (http://www.drinkinggamezone.com/card-drinking-games/).
Having a couple of spare ping-pong balls in your bag to play beer pong with wouldn’t hurt either. You can never find them in stores while traveling and everyone loves that game.
Item #2: Portable Speakers
This was the first item I purchased for my second backpacking trip. Good conversation around a bonfire on the beach is incredible. And listening to the sounds of the jungle while you nap in a hammock is everything you imagined it would be. But when you’re sitting around that picnic table with your new friends playing a drinking game, waves crashing probably aren’t going to cut it. The first night I landed in Costa Rica I found this out as we all tried desperately to make speakers by putting iPhones into cups and whatever else we’d heard amplifies sound. It didn’t work. Save yourself the trouble and be the guy who has portable speakers. Everyone will thank you for it and they’ll always want to sit next to you so they can play their favorite music from back home. Just as people want to share their own personal drinking games, everyone wants to introduce people to “this great band from back home” that no one else has heard of.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when purchasing speakers. You are backpacking, so things will get dirty: if a little sand or humidity is going to break the speakers, they’re probably not the right ones. You’re going to have a hard time finding outlets everywhere you go so make sure they run on batteries (and you keep some extras handy). Lastly, size matters when traveling, but in a reverse way. You only have so much room in your bag, so in this world, smaller is better.
Here are a couple of recommendations:
Item #3: A Really Good Camera
This item didn’t apply as much when I first went traveling as it does today. Spoiler alert, people love good photos of them while they’re traveling. Facebook was invented to make people jealous of what other people are doing and nothing does that quite like excellent quality picture of someone on a beach with a large group of friends having the greatest night of their lives. If you’re the guy that can make that happen, congratulations, you’ve just been invited to every adventure, night out, and general gathering of friends sitting around listening to music and playing drinking games. They’ll want to be your friend on Facebook (so they can tag themselves in your photos) and they’ll always gravitate towards wherever you are.
I don’t pretend to be a photography expert, but I use a Canon Rebel XS
Do some research of your own and start practicing before you go.
Item #4: A Flexible Schedule
Back to that fateful meeting I had with my friend some years ago. Meeting him that night was one thing, but I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t been willing to drop the plans I had to get on a bus with him and his sister the following morning and travel to a place I’d never heard of before. When a pretty girl asks you at 3 AM if you’d like to go with her to some remote jungle village, the answer is yes. It’s always yes. You went on this trip to get away from schedules, so don’t lock yourself into plans before you even get there.
My first rule of traveling is: prepare, don’t plan. Prepare as much as you can so that you’re comfortable with any chaos that traveling will put in your path. You want to be ready for anything to happen. Try not to book a bunch of plane tickets in advance. Wait to book your hostels until you’ve talked to people who have been there.
Be prepared for anything to happen. Trust me; meeting one person can change your life forever.
Ronnie Charrier is a traveler, a student, a poor writer, and the luckiest SOB alive. He's been traveling the world (17 countries in the last 3 years) while finishing his BA in History, beginning his MEd in School Counseling, and chasing a pretty girl wherever she goes. He created this website, Many Many Adventures, as a place to write occasionally while inspiring himself and others to keep attempting the impossible. You can follow him on twitter @ManyManyTravels to keep updated on more amusing and helpful travel tips.