I took my first backpacking trip in 2003. Since then I’ve hauled my backpack around the world to see many unique places and meet many interesting local people in those countries. My backpacking travels have led me to some of the most memorable experiences of my life making it a hobby I’m extremely grateful for picking up.
Initially, my motivation to backpack was so I could see the world as cheaply as possibly. The world is such a big place and I want to see it all. Of course, seeing the world and meeting the local people there is still the biggest motivator for me to travel. But what I didn’t expect was how much I’d like the whole backpacking experience itself.
One of the things I first learned about backpacking was how different the accommodations would be. I was used to fancy hotels with big swimming pools and big TVs in giant rooms. After all, this is how my family traveled when I was young so that was my image of what traveling was suppose to be like. So when I was told that many of the places would be hostels that focused on being cheap and simple, I was a little concerned.
It took some getting used to, but I found traveling cheaply doesn’t have to be bad. Most hostels don’t have many extras, but that doesn’t bother me. Personally I like the rough accommodations of many of the hostels I’ve stayed in.
I’ve been asked many times why I like to stay hostels even if nicer ones are available. My usual response is to allude it to camping or hiking. Roughing it in tents surrounded by bugs appeals to many people because it is fun to get away from modern conveniences. I see the fun of staying in hostels for similar reasons.
However I do have to admit that I stay in a nicer hotel once in awhile. For instance, one hostel in Costa Rica aggravated my mold allergies so much that I needed a nicer place to stay for a few nights to get over it. But once I recovered, I went right back to the hostels.
Community of Travelers
Staying in hostels really can be a great way to meet other travelers. What’s interesting though is how large and widespread the community of backpackers really is. And even though it wasn’t a part of why I first started backpacking, I really started to see the value in having a community of other people doing the exact same thing you are.
While I was in Shanghai, I stayed in a dorm hostel with about a dozen other backpackers. It wasn’t luxurious at all, but it was the perfect place to share information. I got to know several other backpackers who told me about what they’ve seen, how much money they had spent and what to avoid. All that information was invaluable.
I’ve found myself sharing what I’ve learned too with others as I made my way through the country. The traveler community is giant network of people all sharing great travel tips on attractions, food, lodging and safety. Sometimes, I feel as if you can see the buzz of information as it spreads out among everyone.
All that travel talk and tip sharing really gives the feel of one big backpacking community. I feel as if I’m not just one person who has to figure things out in a country without any kind of support. There are many people who share the same passion for traveling as me and want to share what they’ve figured out so your trip can be just a little bit better. That’s a great feeling to have.
It all reminds me of a backpacker I met in the Changi Airport in Singapore. She came up to me out of nowhere and asked me to make sure no one stole her stuff as she went to the bathroom. She later explained that she recognized me as a fellow backpacker so she felt safe in leaving my stuff with me. I think that says a lot about how great the backpacking community really can be.
Independence Within a Group
Being a part of a larger travel community has its benefits, but so does the independence backpacking allows you. Being able to pick your travel plans, destinations and sites to see makes backpacking an extremely flexible and independent way to live. If you like somewhere, you can always stay a few extra days or leave early if you don’t like it.
To me, backpacking gives a feeling of independence and freedom that I’ve struggled to really find in any other place. Having independence like that can be a relaxing, addictive feeling. It’s just great to know that you’re in control of what you want to do.
I like to think of that independent feeling makes a contribution to what makes me continue to travel. Of course, seeing the world and interacting with cultures from around the world will always be the biggest part. But there is a small part of me that sees a lot of value in roughing it in hostels and being included in a larger community. I’m looking forward to the memorable experiences this hobby has awaiting me.
Anything else you like about the backpacking lifestyle? Do you see yourself as being in a larger community when you travel?
photo credit: linkogecko