Your journey to better backpacking starts now. (Photo: Paul Edmondson/Stocksy)
By Will Hatton
I bought my first plane ticket for a solo trip to Africa when I was 18. I had decided to climb Kilimanjaro pretty much on a whim — and with the vague hope of impressing girls — and I was very much looking forward to my first adventure.
Before I left, my mum insisted on taking me to an outdoor store and loading me up with provisions. We got everything from carbon fiber tent pegs, for a tent I did not have, to emergency flares, for an emergency I hoped would never happen. It seemed that everybody in the shop, coupled with all of my mates, had an opinion on backpacking. I was bombarded with information from all sides, and I studied the Internet to try to find out exactly what a backpacker was supposed to, well, do.
That was seven years ago. Since then, I have spent most of my 20s backpacking around far-flung lands. And when I think back to that original Kilimanjaro trip, I realize how much I didn’t know then — but I do know now. Here are seven things no one tells you about backpacking…
1. You will rarely sleep.
Instead, you will get up superearly to catch a sunrise, take advantage of the free hostel breakfast, steal bread for lunch, and head out to go exploring. Around midday, you will start to get a little tired, so you will find somewhere to chill, play cards, and perhaps have a beer or two. You’ll bump into someone you vaguely recognize, or meet someone new entirely, and, seven beers later, you’ll be out on the town. Following a glitzy, loud night, you will climb over the bolted hostel gate and stumble into your dorm. You’ll sneak along the hall, make awkward eye contact with the couple making out under your bed, climb your little wooden ladder, and drift off. Five hours later, you’ll wake up and do it all again. When you do sleep, it will hit you like a tidal wave, and you’ll simply lie down in the grass or in a park and have a little nap. I’ve been known to fall asleep while hanging onto the outside of tuk-tuks.
It’s chill time. (Photo: Leander Nardin/Stocksy)
2. At some point, the bathroom will become a problem.
Now, this all depends on where you’re going. If you’re heading somewhere relatively clean, you might get just a bit of an upset stomach. If you’re going somewhere a bit dirtier? Brace yourself. I’ve seen a friend fall into a long-drop toilet, which is one of those toilets that’s underground and there’s a place for you to sit on top. Another friend of mine came back from a toilet on an Indian train and hadn’t yet realized that his shoes were covered in — well, you know. I trekked with a girl who had giardiasis, an intestinal infection stemming from areas with poor sanitation, for two weeks. Point is, you get the idea. Though these are extreme cases, of course, the truth is that something similar could potentially happen to you. Fortunately, I’ve only had about two days’ worth of stomach problems. My magic weapon? Coconut water. Nothing hydrates you quite so well (side note — it’s also a great hangover cure). If you can’t get coconut water, put some salt in a coke. It’s a so-called poor man’s medicine, but it definitely works.
Don’t fall in! (Photo: Gabriel (Gabi) Bucataru/Stocksy)
3. Your definition of “clean” changes very quickly.
Suddenly, your tank top smelling of beer will become your “Sunday best.” This is largely because all of your other tank tops smell of curry, which is far worse. A word of advice: When you’re in a humid, awesome, yet very sweaty country, it makes sense to go for dark colors. Having said that, despite the fact that everybody is wearing sweaty, dirty clothes, backpackers still all somehow tend to look amazing. After a very short period of time, you will no longer notice sweat marks, messy hair, or runny mascara. Everyone will look superhot, which leads me to my next point…
4. You will fall in love all the time.
You will meet people whom you click with immediately, and you will spend every second of the next week with them. They will become your best friends, your partners in crime. You will look after them when their long-distance relationship inevitably breaks down, and, in return, they will look after you when you crash your motorbike while showing off. You will head off exploring together, get drunk together, and get lost together. Ultimately, you will have stronger connections with some of these people than you have with your best friends back home. Sometimes, when you’re traveling, you meet someone who you can fall in love with in just a few hours. If you dig someone and the vibe is right, it’s going to happen. The hardest part? Saying goodbye. You know you will keep in touch with some people, but not everyone — and this is a fact you will just have to accept.
Meeting on a train can definitely make you lose track of time. (Photo: Maximilian Guy McNair MacEwan/Stocksy)
5. You’ll come up with elaborate plans to see everybody again.
Personally, my plan is to get hold of a van and drive it all over the world, visiting all of the people I’ve met on my travels along the way. Then, I intend on recruiting a few choice individuals to build a village with me, most likely in the forests, so we can all be “one with nature, man.” Seriously, though, take my word for it: After a few beers with your travel buds, you will come up with a similar plan, too. You’ll decide you simply must see so and so and will end up booking a random flight to the middle of nowhere, after which you will chase down a bus or head out to the jungle in search of “the blond girl with the Ali Baba trousers.” (Side note: I never did find her.)
6. You can find something for a dollar almost everywhere.
Whether it’s a handmade scarf in India, a wooden carving in Guatemala, or a clay sake cup in Japan, you can buy something worthwhile for under a dollar in absolutely every single country in the world. Give me a dollar, point me in the direction of some random country, and I will find something awesome worth having. So ask yourself: Since this is the case, why spend a fortune on souvenirs? The best things you can buy are often handmade carvings or paintings, and you can often get these very cheaply if you know how to haggle.
The markets are full of cheap goodies! (Photo: Bisual Studio/Stocksy)
7. People all around the world are generally nice and will want to help you.
It sounds too good to be true, but the world is not as hostile a place as you may think. Really. Every country has good people, and every country has bad. Luckily, the good people far outweigh the bad, at least in my experience. I’ve been helped, rescued, and befriended by locals on countless occasions.
Meeting and connecting with different people around the world is what traveling is all about. It’s really not so much about exploring new places but exploring new vibes, new people, and new cultures. And backpacking helps you do just that.