The very first thing that you'll probably notice when you're backpacking in Central and South America are the signs in all the bathrooms asking you to not throw any toilet paper into the toilets. At first I read one of these signs and thought, if I don't throw the paper into the toilet where the heck do I put it...so I asked my fellow bunk mates in the first hostel, "Are you supposed to throw the toilet paper into the trash after you wipe?" haha. The others looked at me and chuckled a little, "yeah" they said, "the pipes here are really small". I was relieved to hear that I wasn't the only one throwing "used" toilet paper into the trash. Almost immediately after this realization you'll probably be hit with another...the showers are ALWAYS cold water showers. It doesn't matter if you're in the biggest city or an island, it's cold water. At first it's kinda nice because you are always really hot here, but then after a long days hike in mud, you really crave a warm shower.
The next few things that I learned were mostly about the people. First of all, everyone speaks English, and a majority of them speak it extremely well. In Europe many countries require a national language and English, and then many students take an additional foreign language like Spanish, French, or something like that. In some countries, like Switzerland, there is no national language and I've been told that depending on which part of Switzerland you are from your primary language could be French, German, or English. This makes traveling for people from North America extremely easy, I haven't been to one hostel where people didn't speak English. In fact, people of the same nationality will still speak in English even though it's not their most comfortable language just so that you can understand and be a part of the conversation. The other things that I have realized about backpackers is that 95% of them are white, and it seems like 65-70% of all the travelers are from Germany, Australia, or Israel here. I assume that it is mostly because of the strength in Germany and Australia's economies, and because Israelis have a sort of right of passage, where after they are done with their mandatory military service (2 years for girls, 3 years for guys) they go and travel and party (in big groups).
Partying is a huge thing in backpacking, which I didn't expect. A lot of people hear say that they are on holiday and many just come for 2 months or less. They bounce around every 2 or 3 days to a new spot to go to a different party. Even in the hostels people chill out at the end of the night and when there isn't much to do everyone parties. Hostels usually sell beer and are really conducive to the atmosphere, and people are all here with extremely open minds and outgoing personalities. It makes it extremely easy to make friends and have interesting conversations about shared interests. You really feel like you are in your own little culture when backpacking. The only trouble with this is that when you meet someone that you really like, the next day you are both heading in opposite directions. I've met all sorts of people who started a relationship on the road, traveled with the girl/guy for a few weeks and then they decide that they want to go different ways and the people get really hung-up on each-other. So it's great for meeting friends, and maybe if you're lucky meeting a girl you're really interested in, but then at the same time you may never see that person again the next day which really leaves you yearning deeper connections with people.
Other than that, you will always get great advice from everyone, you simply need to find the people who are like minded to you. Because if you ask Fred how one place was and then ask Sally the same thing they will both tell you completely opposite experiences. Once you find a few people that you have something in common with, ask them where they've been and what they would recommend and go and try it!
To anyone else thinking about backpacking, I couldn't say better things about it. It's been an experience of a lifetime already and I've met so many people and seen so many things in 3 weeks that I'll be able to look back on forever. My first thought when I got to Costa Rica was, "That only cost me $300?, Why the hell didn't I come down here sooner!"