Whether you’re on your gap year, a working holiday, or spring break, backpacking abroad can be a big milestone in your life. Thousands of people live out of a backpack for short vacations or long-term adventures. With so many travelers exploring hostels, bus tours, and “digital nomad” communities, backpacking can also breed a party culture that can drain your funds and send you home faster than you intended. Think hangovers suck? Try waiting in line with a mob of people to see the Sistine Chapel or hiking up Machu Picchu with one, dehydrated and feeling like death. Not fun.
After spending time in Europe, Southeast Asia, and Australia, I’ve learned how simple choices about alcohol and partying can improve your entire backpacking experience. Follow these tips and enjoy your trip!
Avoid the Party Hostels
You know the ones. They have multiple onsite bars, nightly pub crawls, and an opportunity for guests to buy everyone in the hostel a shot. Yeah, you read that right: you ring a bell, everyone feels obligated to gather around the bar, and you all wince together, secretly wishing you could spit it out.
If you want to avoid a nasty hangover and get a decent night’s sleep, be aware of these places. Besides the immense pressure to go hard or feel left out, your room might be an arena for beer pong and bed-shaking. (Pack your earplugs and eye masks.) Before you book, read reviews on Hostelworld or Booking.com and get a feel for the vibe and the rules of the hostel. Find one that matches your preference and what you really want to get out of (and remember about) your trip. In Thailand, a friend and I stayed in a nice quiet hostel and visited a party hostel in the early evening to latch onto their events. We were able to decide when to head back to our hostel, got a solid, uninterrupted night’s sleep, and weren’t surrounded by guests out of commission nursing a hangover, unable or unwilling to tackle the next day’s activities.
We all have friends who like to buy a round of shots and wind us up. Right place, right time perhaps. If you have early morning tours that you don’t want to miss, have an open and honest talk with these friends before going on your trip. Let them know what you want out of the trip to avoid unnecessary tension if your priorities clash later. Trust me. It’s a bummer to waste an amazing vacation being wasted, so going solo might be the alternative.
Traveling solo can be scary, but can also be a great opportunity to learn about yourself. You get to call the shots—how you want to spend your days, nights, and money. Want to party? Go for it. Want to chill out in the common room with a tea and have a chat with the cool people you met on your tour? Go for it! Pub crawls can be a great way to meet new people, but once the conversation and drinks get flowing, it could be more difficult trying to find your friend who’s already moved on to the next bar.
Budget Your Booze
Alcohol is expensive. In my experience, Europe has been the cheapest place to drink, but 8 złoty beers in Poland (that’s about $2 USD) can put a dent in your wallet when you’re buying rounds and not budgeting properly.
When I reach a new destination, I let loose at first, and then reflect on costs of food, booze, and other expenses at the end of the week to make a budget moving forward. When I look back on my first few days in Malaysia, I tallied up everything I had spent. I was feeling okay about buying street food meals for four ringgit (about $1 USD), but the cheapest price you could find for a single beer was twice as much. Alcohol isn’t popular in Malaysia, so even big-name beers are relatively expensive. Needless to say, I had to rearrange my budget and make some serious decisions about how often I was going to go out and give away my hard-earned cash.
I like to go on a cash diet when I head out to the bar. I leave my credit card at home if I have to. When you see your cash flying away, you’re more likely to think about getting that next drink. My favorite tricks are to order something local to the area I’m traveling in, maybe a local spirit neat or on the rocks, which helps me nurse what’s in my glass for as long as possible, or alternate between alcohol and glasses of tap water or club soda at the bar. Another tip: bottled or carbonated water are very common, and can be just as costly across Europe as a cheap beer, so save a few extra bucks and order your glass of water from the tap.
Use Alcohol As a Way To Learn Something New
Looking for a free activity while you’re visiting a new city? Visit a brewery or a winery or distillery! Tours can be fun, informative, and a unique way to get to know the area you are visiting. Plus, a lot of tours are free, and include complimentary tastings. A structured visit with samples gives you fun facts to bring home that you’ll actually remember the next morning.
After a friend and I took a tour of wineries in New Zealand, we couldn’t look at our cheap box of wine back home in the fridge the same way. We knew where the wine comes from, and how much passion and craft goes into a single bottle. Sucking down a glass of goon wine just isn’t the same.
Has traveling changed your perspective on drinking? How do you navigate your thirst for a drink while exploring uncharted territory? We’d love to share your experiences and tips with the BDC tribe!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Megan Okonsky is a writer and yoga teacher from Philadelphia, PA. She’s currently backpacking and working in Australia after eight months traveling through Southeast Asia and New Zealand. You can read more about her journey on her blog, Beat, Broke, Backpacking.