Why I backpack (and you should too)

A beautifful sunset in Koh Tao, ThailandIt’s raining so I’m sitting in my room, where it’s dark because the light doesn’t work. The bed is as hard as concrete and I can practically hear my neighbours breathe because the walls are really, really thin.

At this moment in time I’m wondering – out loud – why I chose this life of constant travel for myself? And why on earth did I leave a good job in London to backpack through Southeast Asia?

I start to make a list of all the things I hate about backpacking. At the top of the list: cheap and nasty accommodation. After that, traveller’s diarrhea, food poisoning and all manner of other nasty bugs that ravage the travel community.

But it’s too depressing. I’m now feeling even more sorry for myself than when I began – if that were even possible.

My preternaturally cheerful girlfriend suggests I “turn my frown upside down” by writing a blog post detailing the reasons why I (normally) love backpacking.

So here we go – the reasons why I love being a backpacker.

Collecting countries (and experiences)

Me in a very cold Bratislava, Slovakia
Summer in Bratislava, Slovakia.

Some people collect stamps, others collect coins; backpackers, on the other hand, collect something far, far more interesting: countries.

I’m a backpacker because I want to see the world now, not later when I’m old and (hopefully) richer. Backpacking is about seeing and doing as much as possible on as little as possible – and it’s a source of great pride to backpackers everywhere. Why else would so many travellers sew flags on to their backpacks?

Collecting countries – and, by extension, experiences – is what it’s all about. There are 196 countries in the world and at this point in time, at the age of 27, I have been to 32. That means I have only stepped foot (airports don’t count) in roughly 16% of the countries on the planet.

Like Wandering Earl, I don’t plan on visiting every country in the world but I will not rest until I’ve seen more.

Backpacker freedom

Nic sleeps like the dead in Marrakech, Morocco“Routine” is not a word in the backpacker vocabulary – in fact, I just had to look up what it meant.

Freedom in the workplace might extend to being able to leave your desk once in a while to go out and get a coffee. Backpacker freedom, however, means I do what I want, when I want.

I’m the boss and I have no-one and nothing to answer to but myself and the laws of the land (okay, and my girlfriend). If I want to roll out of bed around 10am because I’ve had a late one the night before – that’s fine; it’s only my time I’m wasting.

Come to think of it, the closest thing I have to a “boss” is the bus or train schedule and sometimes not even that can stop me from sleeping in.

Meeting other travellers

Interesting group photo with Ibiza tour groupI don’t have friends in “high places” but I do have friends in many places.

The backpacking and travel community is a diverse one, extending beyond arbitrary borders and jurisdictions to pretty much anywhere in the world. Wherever you go, there they are – an ethnically diverse society of travellers, more often than not, looking to connect with other travellers.

At the end of the day, what’s the point in collecting countries and experiences if you have no-one to share them with?

And it’s not only meeting fellow travellers and backpackers that makes all of this worthwhile. Locals, too, are often looking to connect with visitors, to promote the best of their town or country and learn about the places and cultures from which we come.

To be fair, you don’t even have to travel nowadays – you can connect with the travel and backpacking community through the wonders of social media.

Stein and pretzel in a German beer house, MunichBackpacker beer (and food)

There’s nothing better than rolling in to somewhere new, throwing down the backpack and then sampling the local brew. No, I’m not an alcoholic; I just really like beer.

I’ve had steins in Germany, boutique beers in Belgium, Guinness in Dublin and all manner of other tasty beers around the world. Sure, I could just drink imported beer back home in New Zealand – but what’s the fun in that?

Likewise, I could eat pizza back home, too, as I did before departing overseas for a life of adventure. But it really does taste better in a dingy restaurant in Naples, Italy. Just as Thai food tastes better in Thailand, Vietnamese food is better in Vietnam and English pub grub tastes better in a proper British pub.

And on that note, I think I’ll pick myself up off the bed, grab a Pad Thai and a beer and toast to this wonderful life I lead. Cheers everyone!

 

About Simon Petersen 309 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

16 Comments

  1. Love it when you say “I don’t have friends in high places, but I have friends in many places”. It’s true for me too although because I studied in a college where people from all over the world attended. Still, great article and I agree that backpacking is a different experience altogether. While I now prefer a more relaxed and luxurious holiday especially after having a kid, I can also not wait for her to get older and take her on a backpacking trip. Cheers!

    • Thanks, mate – I am especially proud of that line! Whenever I stop backpacking for a while I immediately can’t imagine giving up my luxuries to go back to it. But then I do it anyway and I love it again!

  2. Love it Simon! Took me back to my youth and the freedom of backpacking as a youngish couple. Now I’m older, and not much richer, I’m about to start on another RTW, this time with the kids. So fear not, there is life after kids, you can hang on to that freedom and keep on travelling. I saw it all when I was younger and now I want to see it all again, with the kids. I’ve still got a few countries I’ve never seen but even revisiting old hang outs is a totally different experience with kids in tow, it’s quite possibly more fun, sometimes, not when they a being a pain in the butt..obviously! Alyson

  3. Simon – We loved reading your sentiments. Makes me want to grab the Macpac and head for the coast. Really nicely written

  4. I used to backpack, but these days I travel using just suitcases with weals. LOL But I see and agree with your point of view, specially the part where you say that you want to see it all now, not when you are older and maybe richer.

    • I travelled like that during the four years I lived in London. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss it sometimes!

  5. Thanks for the mention Simon! And after reading this post, I’m not sure which of the rewards of the backpacker lifestyle I enjoy most. But I guess that’s a good thing. I’m not sure if my friends back home living the 9-5 routine would be able to list as many positive aspects of their lifestyle.

    • Thanks Earl. It’s because of people like you leading the way that I ever thought this lifestyle was possible to begin with!

    • It’s a great way to see the world, alright. But I should also say it’s never easy leaving all your friends and family back home!

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