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When I left my corporate job to travel the world backpacker style I had no idea of how hard it would have been and how soon I would have failed. In this post, I will tell you how I realized I am not a backpacker and what signs made me realize that. By reading this post you can find out if you are a backpacker or a flashpacker or just a traveler who loves being comfortable and wearing clean clothes. There is no judgment and no right or wrong here, just different ways we travel. It’s all good as long as we are happy and we don’t upset others.
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 reading it with the hope I would relate and feel part of the backpacker travelers tribe only to realize that I could relate to only a few of those signs.
Well, although I cannot deny my initial disappointment, at a second thought, I found a kind of relief that I wasn’t considered a backpacker traveler if those mentioned in the article were the signs. Here I am quoting a few of them.
“Wearing the same shirt for a week or more”?
Hell no! I like to smell good. (Except, maybe, if I am on a 7-day hike at 18000 ft.)
“You haven’t slept in a room by yourself since you left home.”
I hate sharing my space with strangers and try to avoid hostels although sometimes I would give up for good reasons.
“Everything you own fits into one pack.”
ehmmm.. that I wish! Instead, impossible.
and so forth…
In this post, I will tell you all the whys I am a total failure as a backpacker and why I am absolutely ok with that.
I have also realized 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, financial security, free travel, you name it.
I wanted to get rid of names, dogma, and cliches, why should I want to get from others?
I love my freedom, my being just me, and not some title that was 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 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 resonates 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 what my home address is. 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 since I didn’t have an income at that time, saving money would allow me to stay on the road for longer.
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 Workaway 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 thought 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 essentials, 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.
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, after 9 months of traveling I was still in Mexico.
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, but about understanding what do you really want, what makes your heart sing, and put a smile on your face even when things don’t go as you planned.
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 10 reasons why I totally failed as a backpacker
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 tourists around places.
However, now I am traveling with a huge backpack, a big bag, a camera bag, and a small backpack. How I manage? I do, so far. But most people I meet laugh at me. And I do too.
I cannot just travel for the sake of traveling and find every occasion to party.
Living in the hostel, the party life is not for me. I have never been a party animal even in my youngest years. 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 have a balanced life and ultimately enjoy the journey.
Besides, I think that even if I had all the money in the world, I would still write and pursue my goals, regardless. Just because I love what I do and there is no better gratification.
I cannot do hostels
This one is 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.
And I hate to share the bathroom with other people. I just believe it is gross. But I need to do it too sometimes.
I am a luxury 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 cheaply 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.
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.
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.
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.
I do love workaway 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.
I am a complete 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.
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.
Fast forward 5 years…
5 years have gone by since I wrote this post and I was reading it with a smile on my face. I still agree with everything I wrote. A lot of things happened over the years. I found a job that I could do remotely that help me to get back on my feet financially, I was let go when the pandemic started, and now I am running my own business and thriving and living the life that I have always wanted.
The universe works in mysterious ways to help you achieve the life that you want if you do your part and take the first steps. The adventure continues, I travel even more slowly now, due to the pandemic but that helps me to focus on my business while waiting for better times to travel and still living the life that I want. I am presently in Antigua, Guatemala housesitting in a beautiful home facing the volcanos.
Am I lucky? I don’t know about luck but I am grateful each and every day for the decisions I made also the ones I was not sure about and the ones that resulted to be wrong. It’s all part of that amazing journey that we call life.
If you want to read more about life on the road, you can check out our posts on the pros and cons of digital nomad life and how to become a digital nomad. On my Nomadic Life Page, you can find all the tools you need to pursue a career while traveling.