15 Things Only Backpackers Understand

If you have backpacked through Europe, or Asia, or South/Central America there are certain truths you understand that those who don’t travel or just take vacations won’t. I’ve been backpacking since I was 19 and studying abroad in the Netherlands. I loved filling up my pack and taking off for five days each week to a different location. I had it easy that time though, because I had a home base. It was a great starting place for my bigger backpacking trips. I returned to Europe after graduating and backpacked for 3 and half months. I backpacked through Ecuador for three months. I backpacked with my sister through Australia, Bali, Singapore, Cambodia, and Thailand for 7 months. There are a few things that all backpackers can relate to.

  1. The question, “what was your favorite place?” is the most annoying and challenging question to ever be asked. How are we possibly supposed to answer that after being to so many amazing places.
  2. Over-packing is always an issue even for veteran backpackers. There is a fine line between being prepared and having too much. I almost always regret the extra gear I bought or extra clothing I stuffed into my bag in an effort to prepare myself for anything. It is better to just leave some stuff behind and if you really need it you can buy it on the road. Your back will thank you later.
  3. Other countries have a different definition of what full means on a bus or train. As long as they can fit part of your body on the vehicle, there is still room for more people. I once road a bus in Ecuador for ten hours standing in the middle aisle squeezed between multiple people and a guy hanging out the front door.
  4. Toilet paper will always be a hot commodity especially in Asia and Latin America, where you either have to pay for it by the square out front of the bathroom or you need to bring your own.
  5. Western toilets in general are something you miss after months of squatting over a hole in the ground and having to use a thing called the “bum gun” to clean yourself off or scooping water from a trough to flush the toilet.
  6. That being said, you get really good at adjusting to any situation. You are way more flexible than people who don’t travel outside their comfort zone. You can handle sleeping on hard beds, couches, or floors.  You can sleep on crowded buses, trains, and airport seats. You can also eat strange foods, haggle in different languages, and adjust to less than sanitary conditions in bathrooms and elsewhere. It is all part of the adventure and it makes you a more adaptable person.
  7. You become great at budgeting and living on very little money per day. You learn to cook meals in hostels, live off of free bread and jam, and find the places with the greatest deals. You consider a baguette and sliced cheese a meal. You aren’t too proud to take anything that is free.
  8. Your concept of clean and dirty comes down to the sniff test. If you can sniff your clothing without fainting, you can wear it for one more day. Most countries outside the Western world don’t have washing machines and dryers. You have to pay a nice little lady to wash your dirty laundry for you. So, you tend to go a lot longer without washing your clothes. You wear your underwear four directions before you call it dirty and you have your favorite zip up hoodie that never quite fails the sniff test, even though it’s pretty gross. You also often forget the last time you took a shower. Once you start to try and count the days, you know it is time to find a shower.
  9. You get very used to answering the same four questions every time you meet a new traveler. “What is your name?” “Where are you from?” “Where have you been/Where are you going?” These are pretty much a given each time you encounter someone new and you just learn to not get annoyed by it.
  10. If you are traveling alone, you rarely find yourself alone, because the solitude pushes you to be way more outgoing than you normally are and you end up making tons more friends than if you travel with a friend or partner.
  11. Whenever you are searching for something in your bag it is nowhere to be found, then when you are searching for something else that other thing just appears right in front of you.
  12. You get really strong lifting your backpack on to and off of  your back. You have a dent across your hips from the straps and on your shoulders. You feel so light without it.
  13. There really aren’t a lot Americans out there backpacking. It is odd, but most people are surprised to find out you are American and not Canadian. This shows that we just aren’t traveling enough as a country. You meet tons of Canadians, Australians, French, Israelis, and of course Germans.
  14. As sad as you felt when you were leaving for your trip and saying your goodbyes, you feel ten times as sad when you are flying back home and your trip has ended. No matter how long you travel for it just doesn’t seem long enough. It is hard to accept that it is over.
  15. Although, it is exciting to reunite with your friends and family again, it is hard to adjust back into life. The worst culture shock is not when you arrive in a new country, but when you return to your country and realize things aren’t new and exciting like they are abroad. You struggle with accepting that no one understands what you experienced out there and your old routine is just not going to cut it anymore. This may lead to a temporary depression of sorts as you accept you are no longer traveling. Your friends and family just don’t get it. You tend to just hide and look at pictures and talk to your backpacker friends online. You are happy to have a bed and clean bathroom, but after a month you are ready to return to the road.

2 Comments Add yours

  1. tekkster says:

    My favorite read today. Great writeup.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s