It’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)
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.
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
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.
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!