Firstly, let me be clear that I wouldn't change anything about my first trip. At the time that type of travelling was what I wanted and was a huge learning experience. I had a great time, met some excellent people and had some superb experiences. However, if I was to do the same trip now there would be a vast difference (other than the fact that I'd have to take my wife with me!..).
Personally, I find that my priorities and what I want from travelling changes as I travel. My first trip was not really about the countries I was going to, it was about getting out of the UK. As such, I knew little about where I was going and what that area had to offer, therefore the first thing I would do differently would be to plan ahead
- I'd read up about what the country I was visiting (and possibly it's bordering countries) had to offer and make a list of things to see and do. I wouldn't make it a rigid plan - it's always good to be as flexible as you can - but to be aware that these places, things and activities exist. That way if somebody asks if you want to go with them to the Valley of the Kings, you won't say no because you think its the Indian Restaurant down the road from the hostel (that's an exaggeration by the way, it didn't really happen (honest), I'm just illustrating my point).
Secondly I'd be more conscious of my spending
- if you haven't got to worry about a job back home; if you aren't feeling homesick; if time is of little consequence then you are fairly much limited only by the funds you have available to you. I like to think that the money I spent on "living it up" back then would today find it's way to more culturally rewarding experiences. Having said that, I do also enjoy the social aspect of travelling - I like meeting other travellers, having the occasional beer and sharing stories. Often someone else's recommendation is something I'd not considered in my list of things to do or see but becomes a really important part of my travel.
Thirdly I'd follow Baden Powells advice and "Be Prepared"
. I now like to know a bit about the history and politics of the country I'm going to. Knowing a few words of the language, having an idea about some of the customs and etiquette will always help. On my first trip I was clueless about more or less everything. I didn't know about visa requirements, knew nothing of exchange rates or currencies and was under prepared for the extremes of climate I encountered (I didn't realise exactly how cold it got in Turkey during the winter which resulted in some emergency ditching of the beach wear in exchange for thick jackets and gloves).
As for seeing your own country - if I could change anything about my current travels it would be that I'd visited some of my local tourist attractions before I left. Despite living in Edinburgh for years, I haven't visited the castle, seen the tattoo, done the ghost tours or walked across the Forth Bridge and now having met so many people who have been tourists in Edinburgh, I'm really looking forward to doing the tourist thing when I get back. You don't have to make a full tour of your own country (although that would be good too!) just spend a weekend in your hometown doing the things you've never got round to doing because they're always there.
I'm saving the full tour of my own country for my return - I think it will be a fitting ending to my current travels and will let me see how being a tourist in my own backyard compares to the rest of the world.