Is Backpacking for me?

Let’s be completely upfront. If you’re looking for an utterly relaxing vacation, please don’t go backpacking. It is a hell lot of work (sometimes). I am repeating myself, but that’s what I enjoy about traveling. The constant challenges you encounter, discovering new things about yourself and realizing what you are capable of and how you find insatiable bliss in living out of a suitcase or in this case, a backpack. But backpacking is not for everyone. If you are thinking about embarking on your first backpacking trip, here are some things I feel you must know:

Living with less than you usually do

Carrying more than 15kg on your back is pushing it. Stick to as few things as possible if you want to be able to walk around comfortably. But how do you survive for weeks and weeks with only two pairs of shorts and a few t-shirts? Trust me, you can. It is a refreshingly liberating feeling to just own a few things at a time. And trust me, when you come home, you are going to rip your closet apart because you can’t fathom how much stuff you actually own. The bottom line is, changing your outfits daily and always having fresh clothes during your trip is impossible for backpackers.

Sweaty or dirty, the constant feeling

I read this on Wayfarer Kate’s list of ugly things around backpacking and she is absolutely right. You step out of your hostel or hotel and you start sweating (at least when you are in Southeast Asia) or are immediately covered in dust because a motorbike just passed by and caused a stir. You also feel dirty because you don’t own many clothes and wear them multiple times even though they’re dirty. Yep, I am aware of the concept of laundry rooms. But that doesn’t help you. At least not in Southeast Asia. When your clothes are covered in dirt from a hike in Bali or a motorbike trip through Vietnam, the Southeast Asian laundry service is almost useless. Your clothes end up smelling worse than they did before and you’ll find even more stains on them. Rather rely on washing your clothes in the sink or shower (in case you have hot water!).

Planning, planning and oh, planning!

Isn’t it just exciting to embark on a trip, only having booked your flight across the big pond? Nothing else, no hotel, no nothing. What an intrepid and brave explorer you must be! While that is definitely true, I sometimes wished we had planned a bit more. It is super refreshing not knowing where you’ll find yourself in a few weeks but this also comes with the downside of spending hours and hours of your actual vacation planning. Raiding travel guides, websites, other people’s Instagram feeds or talking to people. Everyone and every website recommends something different. Everyone’s bucket list is different and their top ten lists of highlights also. Take your time to figure out what you really want to see and not what others tell you to see or do.

Constantly packing and moving 

You’re a backpacker, right? Backpackers constantly move, switch location, live on a budget and see as much as possible. Let me tell you, this is so tiring. Every few days you stuff everything in your backpack (the space in there gets smaller and smaller after time because somehow you’ve managed to buy a looot of stuff) and you have to leave the place you just started to love.

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The oh-so-famous cultural differences

So you’ve packed your backpack, you know where you’re going and you think you have it all figured out. Well, that’s not going to happen. Don’t rely on public transport, train times are never accurate and you need much more time than you estimated to get somewhere. That’s okay, I can handle that. The only thing is, that when you encounter a problem, it’s sometimes a bit adventurous to get help. The obstacle here is the language barrier. Over time I have memorized quite a few non-verbal conversation methods. And like a cheesy quote says, a smile is the shortest distance between two people. As long as you are polite, smile and ask for help, you will somehow get there. You also have to be trusting. If someone tells you they know where they are taking you or that this is the exact spot in the middle of nowhere where you have to get off the bus to be picked up by a taxi someone organized for you, it is up to you to evaluate whether they are trustworthy or not. Southeast Asian people are the sweetest and most giving people and always offer their help. But sometimes they see a human ATM in you. You are mostly not treated like a local, which can be super frustrating. You sometimes find yourself longing for your own country, where you can just pick up something from the grocery store that’s clearly marked with a non-negotiable prize.

Always picking up the unique vibes of a new place

You did it. You arrived where you wanted to be. Now it’s time to explore – yet again. As incredible as it is to see as many places as possible in just a few weeks, it is challenging to always find your way around a new place, figure out where you can find the best breakie and coffee and what you simply cannot miss while being there.

The same conversations and the goodbyes

Fellow backpackers love to meet each other. Unfortunately, you always have to go through the same notions with everyone: Where are you from? Where are you heading? Where have you been so far? Also, forget the questions about life back home when you meet a surfer. All they like to think about is reading the ocean and how to find the next sick wave. Once you’ve overcome the tiring first round of questions, you mostly figure out quite soon if you’re going to see this person again. Most of the times, it stays a one-time acquaintance or you spend a few days together because it’s convenient. But there are also these rare occasions where you meet people who you can see yourself staying in contact with. And with those, the hard part is the goodbyes. You’ve shared unique experiences with one another although you’ve only met a few days ago and you somehow feel a special bond between you. But then you and them go your own ways. Goodbyes suck, really.

The constant urge

And finally, the constant urge. Imagine this: you’re in Bali, you’ve found a place you truly like, the coffee is great, you’ve had the best food so far, the people around you are incredible and you don’t want to leave. At the same time, you know you only have this limited amount of time. And didn’t you want to see so much more? This is the perpetual feeling a backpacker has. Sometimes you stay a bit longer, sometimes you leave. Sometimes you regret leaving, sometimes you can’t grasp how much better the place you moved to is. I haven’t figured out the perfect backpacking strategy just yet – go with your gut feeling and it will be just fine.

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Yes, there are just as many ups and as there are downs during a backpacking trip. You get lost, you hurt yourself, you hate a place or you just feel restless. If this doesn’t bother you, then backpacking is for you! It truly is a liberating way of traveling and I will do it over and over again. Immerse yourself in the local culture, get to know the people that live there and absorb as many experiences as possible – good or bad.

Wild and Reckless.

We are the reckless,
We are the wild youth
Chasing visions of our futures.
One day we’ll reveal the truth
That one will die before he gets there.

Does this sound familiar to you? I guess sometimes we just don’t want to admit that we are on a constant journey to seek ultimate happiness. But what does this ultimate bliss entail? We come across thoughts in our minds that are dedicated to dreaming of this better future. My generation is born with this feeling. We were born into an era of open doors – this made us become high achievers, always urging for more.

This is how I feel every day. I can’t seem to settle in just yet, I am always in the search of this place of ultimate happiness. But does it really exist? I am not going to stop moving, I know that. But what I am trying to tell you is this: let’s not always look for this future, these “other” places where life seems to be so much better. I want to live in the here and now and relish every second of it. I feel blessed of being able to live this lifestyle of endless travels and journeys, of meeting new people and admiring the world’s beauty.

Just as I put out a solemn pledge to travel the world, I am promising to make every second count. Don’t get disturbed by obstacles or downfalls that surround you – without these we wouldn’t be able to learn to appreciate the peaks of life!

How to enjoy a trip despite being robbed.

I knew it. At some point in my life I was going to experience that travelling is not always pure bliss. There will be moments where you get lost, have a fight with your travel buddy or in my case, get robbed. I must say, I have been very lucky with all my travels so far. Whenever I am on a trip, I feel at peace and nothing can disturb me. I’d say I am a complete optimist when it comes to exploring the world. I don’t mind getting lost or experiencing that a trip didn’t turn out the way I planned it. Those moments are usually the ones that I remember afterwards and which distinguish travelers from tourists. I guess I can be lucky that I have this attitude – even though I got robbed in Athens last week, I still feel like this journey was so worth it. Not only because I still managed to enjoy Athens, I also learned some things about myself.

But let me tell you the story. Being the globetrotter that we are, Corrie and I decided to leave Athens for an overnight stay on one of the Greek islands. We were on our way to Hydra. All packed up with our backpacks and a purse each. Everything was planned perfectly. We got ourselves tickets and were waiting for our metro when a women came up to me and started talking to me in Greek. As soon as I signalised her that I didn’t speak Greek, she left. However, she left us with a weird feeling. So it was no surprise, that a few minutes later I realized that my phone was gone. Being a clumsy person that has lost several things over time (I am that kind of person that leaves her leather jacket behind in a plane) I thought I’d lost it. But when I found out that not only my phone but also my wallet were gone, the situation was obvious: I had been robbed.

I don’t want to bore you with the details of freezing my credit cards and making sure that no one was able to access any personal data. I’d rather like to tell you that reporting the incident to the police was absolutely useless. For me it was an invasion of my privacy, for them it was pure paperwork. I can only be grateful that I had an amazing friend taking care of me and making sure that I was able to organize everything that had to be done. Also, I again realized that I have the most caring mother I could ever ask for. She was literally my knight in shining armour – she immediately took care of the situation and ensured that I was able to take my mind off the incident and enjoy the trip to its fullest.

For a moment I felt that I just wanted to go home. How was I supposed to enjoy the rest of this trip? But this thought literally only crossed my mind for about a second. These people had already intruded my personal space and disrupted my vacation. Was I going to give them the power to make me regret this trip? Certainly not. Again, I can only be happy that I was blessed with incredible people that were taking care of me. I am still trying to wrap my mind around the idea of what it must feel like to be robbed when you’re travelling on your own and how I would have coped with that situation. What are you going to do without a phone AND a wallet when you’re on your own?!

I’ve lived without a phone and working credit cards for one week now. And let me tell you, it is not too bad. I am not even missing all my apps or the idea of being available 24/7. It’s more these little things that you don’t immediately think about. I do not own a watch let alone an alarm clock. How am I supposed to get up in time for work in the morning? I discovered that there are alarm clocks that you can set online! Pretty cool, ha? And again, Corrie helped me out and lent me her watch. So I am back to looking at my wrist for checking the time and not reaching for my phone every few minutes. It feels a little weird but hey, people have lived like this for so many years! I know, I am beefing on a high level here. But I guess that’s the way we act when we loose a part of our luxurious life that we have become so used to. It is more an attitude of constantly laughing about myself and the fact that I am sort of counting down the minutes until I have a new phone and working credit cards.

But what I’d really like to say is this: Even though I am used to using my phone abroad to find my way around and to keep in touch with friends and family, you really don’t need this. Going on a trip is about exploring and opening your eyes to what’s in front of you. Don’t get lost in your habits or your anger when someone intrudes your habits. You know that you are truly in love with a place and the sheer idea of travelling when you can deal with these little perks that travelling entails. I am pretty sure that this is not the last time that a trip is not as perfect as I envisioned it. If you make sure to take control of the situation and the mood you are in, you are going to have blast – with or without money and a phone. After being robbed, I was even more determined to relish every second of the vacation. And I was blessed with moments that I will never forget. My favourite memories of Athens happened after the incident. Travelling to a cape in the south of Greece to experience an indescribable awe while facing an ancient temple on a cliff that is thousands and thousand of years old. Or, driving into the Greek mountains to explore a monastery and getting the chills while watching farmers pick an olive tree and making your own hands dirty by helping them. Travelling can be pure bliss, you only have to put your soul into it.

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