For most people freedom begins at 5pm on a Friday and ends roughly 9am Monday morning.
Backpackers are not most people.
What is time? It’s a pretty fluid concept at the best of times. At worst, it’s what governs your day, your week, your month, your year and your life.
Wikipedia defines it as “a dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future and also the measure of durations of events and intervals between them”.
When I was backpacking through Southeast Asia, then, time was the measure between meals, beers, places and good times.
I didn’t even wear a watch. What use was time but for catching my next flight or sleeper bus?
Only on those days I would need to know the time – and even then it would be a pretty safe bet in places like Laos in particular that we would not be departing or arriving anywhere near on schedule.
I wouldn’t even have known what day it was except for the fact that I was trying to regularly post new content on this here travel blog on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
On Twitter I’d see my mates over in London were excited about the weekend. But every day is a weekend when you’re a backpacker.
Even events in SE Asia weren’t so much governed by time as they were by our instincts and the instincts of others. Do you think Songkran in Chiang Mai, Thailand, started and finished on time? Not on your life.
Sure, time has a little bit more importance backpacking in other parts of the world. In Europe, for instance, buses and trains run to regular-enough schedules that would make transport operators in the likes of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand blush.
But even then backpackers are best left to their own schedules to make the most out of this form of travel.
My best travel advice would be to not book your travels too far in advance. Simply move on to the next destination when you feel like it.
We’ve just had lunch, right? It must be time for a Chang, Bintang or Beerlao.
I could get away with that in Southeast Asia and Europe – but not so much as a regular civilian, running the rat race from 9-5 in pursuit of an honest living. Trust me, I’ve tried.
But time can also be a backpacker’s worst enemy. Unless you’re fortunate enough to be a full-time traveller, there may eventually come a time when you will have to return home.
Whether that time is dictated by budget or by design, when it comes it’s like an albatross around your neck.
Jet lag, too, is caused by the ravages of time – and it can do funny things to your ability to write a coherent blog post (see my attempt at Spanish travel acrostic poetry to see exactly what I mean).
Still, wouldn’t you happily trade a life dictated by your boss or job for one of occasional jet lag and the only deadlines being the ones you impose on yourself?
Even just for a few months at a time like I did in Europe in 2008 and South East Asia in 2012?