When I left my normal life to travel the world backpacker style I had no idea of how hard it would have been and how soon I would have failed.
I recently bumped into this article by Nomadic Matt, a very popular travel blogger, and backpacker, entitled 47 signs you are a backpacker.
I was intrigued and started to read it with the hope I would relate and feel part of the backpacker tribe.
After a couple of lines, I realized I could relate to only a few of those signs.
Well, although I cannot deny my initial disappointment, I found a kind of relief at a second thought.
“Wearing the same shirt for a week or more”?
hell no! I like to smell good. (Exception is if I am on a 7 days hike on a 6000 mt mountain.)
“You haven’t slept in a room by yourself since you left home.”
I hate it and try to avoid hostels although sometimes I would give up and sacrifice…
“Everything you own fits into one pack.”
ehmmm.. that I wish! Instead, impossible.
and so forth…
In this post, I will tell you why I am a total failure as a backpacker and why I am absolutely ok with that.
I don’t necessarily need to belong to a tribe (especially if the tribe takes pride in not changing clothes for a week).
And this is exactly why I left my cubicle life, a status, a solid income, a financial security, free travel, you name it.
I wanted to get rid of names, dogma, and cliches, why should I want to get others’?
I love my freedom, my being just me and not some title given to me by my position in a company or by what I do for a living.
Even when they tell me “you are a traveler or you are a blogger” No, I am not. I am me, and I love to travel and to blog and to do many other things.
However if I really need to aspire to become something, I would rather be a flashpacker! 😉
There are some elements that define the backpacker style, though, that resonate with my own way of living such as:
- I love adventure, when it means going for a hike, exploring new places, mingling with locals, hitchhiking (I love that one).
- I don’t know what to say when they ask what my job is.
- I feel weird when they ask me my home address. I have one but it’s not actually my home.
- I often forget what day it is or month. But that one is probably because of aging.
That’s about it. All the other characteristic signs tell me that the backpacker style is not for me.
When I set off for my journey through Latin America, I was about to live the life I have ever wanted.
Time and location free, no more people telling me what to do and no more obligations.
My only work was to write, read, photograph and check out places.
I was scared but that was part of the excitement.
I decided to travel low budget because not having an income, saving money would have allowed me to stay longer on the road.
Besides the idea of a frills-free frugal life, far from consumerism and from social obligations and etiquette made me feel even more in charge of my life
Living in hostels, or tents, or Couchsurfing or work away would have helped me to sustain my plan, besides offering the opportunity to meet so many people and make new friends from all over the world.
Like a real backpacker, I wouldn’t bother to be uncomfortable, but I would have enjoyed every kind of situation.
I would have a light backpack, with only the essential, eat out from canned food in order to save.
A life lived in the here and now, day by day, worry-free and light. Light in baggage and light in thoughts.
Accepting what the universe would deliver and trusting that everything would have been alright.
I would have given myself one year to travel through Mexico, Central and South America, seeing as much as I can, sleeping wherever it was possible and living my adventure.
Well, let me tell you one secret…
More than one year has gone by, in a blink of an eye and I realized that I am everything but a backpacker, and most of all, I have just left Mexico.
In this post, I will tell you how I planned and save money for my journey.
My plan totally failed… or not
I realized I was not realistic in my planning, because I wanted to be who I was not.
I hope to help you be more realistic in case one day you wake up and decide that you want to be a backpacker.
And no, it’s not a matter of age. You will always need to ask yourself a few questions and be true to yourself before setting off for such a life-changing journey.
And this is not only about backpacking in everything you think you want.
How much I am willing to sacrifice to get there? What am I willing to lose in order to get what I want?
The answers you find will make you see clearly if you are chasing what you really want or what you think you want, or what your parents or friends or family want.
But let’s get back to backpacking.
Here are the reason why I brutally failed as a backpacker
#1 My backpack is the biggest backpack I could have ever found but it’s not enough, so I did this…
I started off with that and a big backpack and a small one, plus my camera bag. It was just enough. A huge amount of sporty clothing which I use, every now and then.
A couple of months ago I just freaked out. Literally.
I would walk in the city of Guanajuato, realizing I was fed up with wearing lousy hiking trousers and tech T-shirts.
I wanted a nice dress. I wanted to look cool.
So I entered a shop and bought 2 dresses, mini dresses. SIDE NOTE I never wear mini dresses, not even before.
A couple of days after. I was in Morelia, the Capital city of Michoacan. I was looking to find a “mirador” the highest viewpoint from which I could see the city and the sunset from above.
I was told to go to a commercial center and from there I would have what I wanted.
I surely did. But that was not the view of the city.
When I arrived at the mall, I was like a kid in a candy shop.
Adrenaline went up to the sky and I started browsing around the shops like a mad lady.
The fun part was that I found everything amazing, cheap and that perfect fit.
It normally never happens.
Every time I used to go shopping when I actually needed clothing to dress decently for my work, I barely found a decent item or two.
There I felt like they have created those clothes just for me.
I bought blouses, dresses, shoes and a pair of jeans which I normally strive to find.
To say that I was excited is an understatement.
Of course, I also bought a bag, like a trolley but bigger otherwise how would I carry all that stuff?
Useless to say I didn’t manage to see the sunset. I was sorry about that, but not that much. I had my shopping trophy.
It’s not that kind of excitement that you get when you climb Kilimanjaro, which is like an overwhelming feeling of completeness and achievement, nothing like that.
But it’s one of the things that makes me happy, being well dressed and looking cool.
And I could finally do that.
Did I regret it after a while? Probably I could have left the shoes behind.
Or a couple of other items, but no, I definitely don’t regret it at all.
And I am happy when I can wear something nice to tourist around places.
However, now I am traveling with a huge backpack, a big bag, the camera back and a small backpack. How I manage? I do, so far. But most people I meet laugh at me. And I do too.
#2 I cannot just travel for the sake of traveling and find every occasion to party.
Living the hostel, party life is not for me. I have never been a party animal even in my youngest time. And even less now. And although I left my job to travel, I hate to just go with the flow and do nothing else by travel.
I need to have a purpose, a goal and a project to work on.
Maybe this doesn’t allow me to enjoy fully the experience because I have always something in mind to focus. A job, a commitment, anything like that but if I don’t I get depressed. During my year of traveling, I have been working on my blog full time, besides any other writing opportunities that came my way, I jumped in. This is what I want to do in my life and it’s important that while traveling I go after my long-term goals.
It helps me to keep the focus and a balanced life and to ultimately enjoy the journey.
Besides, I think that even if I had all the money of the world, I would still write and pursue my goals, regardless. Just because I love what I do and there is no better gratification.
# 3 I cannot do hostels
This one is to me the most striking evidence of my failure. I just can’t sleep with other 20 people!
I will be 46 next September (2018) and I believe I already paid my dues with bathroom sharing, and sleepless nights, now I deserve to treat myself well, stay comfortable and most of all enjoy my privacy.
I am not sure if it’s an age thing or if I have always been posh like that. The thing is I started to travel a little late, in my 30s and I have always been traveling for work ever since.
Not all the time in luxury places but, decent and private and, most of all, clean. I used to stay in hostels sometimes and it was most of the time a nightmare. I can’t stay too close to a person when we talk, let alone sleeping together. I do it, sometimes, when it is a sheer necessity.
I know I will be fine if sometimes I have to do it but I’d rather not to.
And I hate to share the bathroom with other people. I just believe it is gross. But I need to do it too sometimes.
#4 I am a luxury hotels freak.
You might say: “of course, everybody is”.
Well, let me tell you something. This is not true. I have been talking to so many people and many of them almost feel embarrassed to say that they have been staying in a luxury hotel for once, so much so that they talk about luxury hotels as if it was a sin.
A guy just told me that he doesn’t feel comfortable in luxury hotels.
Oh not me, and I miss that part of my previous life.
When I can I take any chance to stay in a five star or a boutique hotel, I am happy.
Luckily with my new occupation, I still have this opportunity and I enjoy every bit of it.
I normally travel cheap because I have decided to take a sabbatical period and work on my blog and my education, therefore, I don’t have any solid income at the moment and I have to stay cautious on my expenses.
The more I save the longer I travel. I stay in modest places but need to be private and clean to the least.
#5 I cannot do Couchsurfing
I have tried a couple of times and I had one guest in my house in Cancun, which was a total disaster.
I know this is the ultimate backpacker’s way to travel.
However, I just cannot ask a random guy to let me sleep on his sofa. I would feel awkward and I always in a position that I owe them something.
#6 I cannot for the life of me eat tuna and veggies from the can on a park bench.
Ok, sometimes it happens. But I love to check out local restaurants, eat local specialties, of course, I won’t do the finest dining, but I love to sit on a café’ or at a table by the beach, try the vegan options, as I did during my one week in Queretaro where I have spent every meal in a different restaurant.
The outcome was a great guide for vegan restaurants in Queretaro.
It was all worth it and my health was rewarded too.
I love to cook if I am in a house with kitchen facilities and space is clean. I have been in places where I couldn’t even think about cooking.
#7 I love the comfort
Especially traveling with so many bags if I have to choose between going straight from one destination to the other on a big bus and changing multiple times on “combines” (small van) and saving half of the money, I would probably choose the first option.
#8 I do love workaway BUT…
There is always a BUT. For those who haven’t heard of it, workaway.info is a website for a work exchange program where you offer 25 hours per week in exchange for housing and food.
However, I am cautious about the choice I make. Some of them offer work in hostels and you get a bed in a dorm, which is a no-no for me, (see nr 3). I need to have a room on my own and a private bathroom. But the job I am going to do needs to be enriching or fun. I need to learn something new and have fun with that or being able to share my skills and knowledge. Like in a hotel or also on an organic farm or some eco project or teaching kids. I found it interesting to learn different ways of living.
#9 I am a total introvert
I love being alone and, although I love to meet new people and mingle with local culture and other travelers, I still need to have my solo time, lots of those or I start to feel uncomfortable. I get restless and start panting for some air.
#10 I cannot take night buses in order to save money on accommodation
Ok sometimes I do it, but maybe because it is the best option or the ticket is literally half the price. But it’s definitely not my thing, also because I enjoy looking at the views and see the landscape.
I believe this is enough proof that I totally suck as a backpacker and to be really honest I am totally ok with that.
I have spent my 20s doing random jobs and adapting to anything while studying. I believe I have done my part and it’s now time to ripe what I have sown.
Even if I had decided to travel full time, I’d rather have my travels last less time but be enjoyable, the way I enjoy it.
There is nothing wrong to want to live in comfort, sleep in a clean environment and be surrounded by beauty.
I have been working my ass off (forgive me the French) in order to reach this kind of privileges and I don’t need to pretend I’m a shabby backpacker just to look evergreen.
How do you travel? What are the aspects of traveling that you cannot do without, or prefer? I would love to hear from you in the comments below.
Or if you don’t want to comment, I invite you to think about your priorities before deciding to go backpacking for the long term.
Happy and meaningful travels!
Book Your Trip: Practical Tips and Tricks
Book your accommodation
I use most of all Booking.com. I find it very convenient because it shows all kinds of accommodations, from hostels to villas to hotels. I love the layout of the site and the comments of the previous guests. And they always have great deals.
However, I always recommend to check out different sites and compare them. I come from the travel industry and I know for a fact that hotels agree from time to time with different tour operators to make special exclusive deals. So maybe one day you will find a great deal with Booking.com and the other day with Expedia or Hotels.com for the same hotel. So it is always worth checking them all. Of course, there are many other booking sites, but these are the ones I feel more comfortable with.
Now you have to know that Expedia and Hotels.com belong to the same company Expedia Group, together with many other sites, but they still display different rates as they have different targets. I know it sounds odd, but it is what it is.
Last but not least, always check the hotel web page because sometimes they have a better deal. Even better if you can call the hotel directly and ask if they have a special rate for those dates that you want to book. They might give you an offer in order not to lose a potential client.
I also check the reviews on TripAdvisor, both for hotels and tours. It doesn’t cost a thing and it helps a lot in choosing. You can also check their prices and compare them as well.
Book your flight
For flights, I use both Skyscanner and Expedia as well. The same rule applies: always compare. They are both good because they are aggregators which means that they compare prices from different sites and airlines. However, it’s always good to double check with the airline site directly.
Don’t forget your travel insurance
I couldn’t have one while I was traveling in Mexico because I am a resident there, but as soon as I left I did my insurance with World Nomads. After a research on the web and through friends I found World Nomads to be the most used and the most reliable when it comes not only to sickness but also missed flights, credit cards issues and so on. Whatever insurance you decide to get, that’s fine though, as long as you have one. I just can’t imagine being stuck in a place sick and miserable and not being able to get the necessary treatments because I can’t afford it, or having to ask my parents or friends to support me. That’s inconceivable to me. For me, it is super important and I can never recommend it enough.