Why I Love the Backpacking Experience

by STEVE BLOOM

Compañeros de Viaje

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.

Roughing It

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

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Comments

  1. I’d never realized that backpackers can feel like a community. That makes sense. I personally am traveling with a suitcase because my journey is so long, I stay places for months at a time and I’m going to be away from home for so long and I also almost always stay in a room alone or rent an apartment, so I’m not part of the backpacker crowd, I’m afraid. I do make friends where I stay for long periods of time, though, which makes me a part of their local community, and that is a great feeling.

    • Traveling with a suitcase makes sense if you’re staying somewhere for a long period of time. While I use my backpack for most of my trips, I’ve used a suitcase if I feel it will work better. In fact, I used a suitcase in my trip through Ireland which seemed to work out more than a backpack would.

      Staying somewhere for a long period of time would be a great way to make friends in the local community. I can see the benefits of traveling that way. I see myself traveling more like this in the future after I graduate. It would be a great way to really get to know a place and the people there in-depth.

  2. The experience provided by staying in hostels is more of a “there’s a bed here.” It makes travelling more about the daytime experience than anything else. Which is a good thing.

    If you wanted to watch a big TV you could have stayed home.

    People willing to “rough it” tend to be more interesting, so you can meet some great folks, too.

    But you’re right, there’s definitely some hostels that are frankly just unlivable. Mold is one reason, but there’s actually worse reasons too.

    • Hey Rob, you’re right about how bad some hostels can get. I know that I’ve passed up a few that were just too awful to stay in. In general though, as long as there’s a place to stow my stuff and a bed to sleep on, I’m fine with it. There’s usually too much to do where I’m at to need somewhere fancy. Plus, people willing to rough it often have a lot of character. You get to meet a wide variety of personalities which can be really fun.

  3. Hey Steve,

    Awesome blog! I spent 4 months backpacking around Western Europe about 8 years ago. It was awesome and I’m so glad I did it that way. Now, I choose my M.O. based on what I want to experience. I’ll take a suitcase and go the luxury route if I’m going to one destination and I consider it a vacation. But if I’m traveling, if I’m there to experience the culture and if I’m hitting several spots, then I backpack. The two experiences are quite different. When I backpack, I meet tons of people, I have a much more authentic experience and often make life long friends. When I travel, I get to be comfortable, sit in nice cafes in pretty summer dresses and soak up the atmosphere. Both have their value. In fact, I think some cities (like Rome, for example) should be experienced both ways. :)

    Huge hugs to you,

    Melody

    • Hey Melody, you make some great points. The luxury route and backpacking route can offer two different experiences within the same place. I imagine that you get to see different aspects of certain cities (like Rome) through both ways. That makes me wonder if for some places, you should do both ways to get a better idea of what the place is like.

      Usually when I’m seeing other countries I backpack my way. I just think it gets you to meet more people. However, when I travel within the US, I tend to stay in nicer, more comfortable hotels. I can see the advantage of using both ways.

  4. I’ve never done any backpacking, but I’ve lived in cars and in a forest for a couple of months.
    There is some sort of enlightenment in being comfortable with not knowing what tomorrow holds for you.

    Thank you

    • Hi Akos, I like the way you put that, “enlightenment in being comfortable with not knowing what tomorrow holds for you.” That’s about how I feel when I’m backpacking. You get to determine how your day goes and what you’re going to be doing. Having that freedom can be very comforting.

      I’ve never lived in a car in the forest before, but I can imagine how rough that would be. Sounds like it would be an interesting story.

  5. I have been backpacking for about 22 years but all of it has been in the wilderness. I think my first trip was with three friends when I was twelve years old… I still marvel that my parents allowed us to get started that young. Community is definitely something I’ve learned alot about backpacking with groups in the mountains, etc., but I had never thought about other forms of backpacking (i.e. traveling) being a way to develop community with people. That’s really cool. For me, although community is high on my list of reasons why I love backpacking, I also really enjoy the solitude and beauty of God’s creation… having a rhythm of regularly getting away into the pristine wilderness is a really powerful way to connect with God. It’s amazing how with such meager material possessions on your back, time in the wilderness can be a favorite memory… it shows us just how little really need to be content… Having a destination, companions, basic necessities like food, shelter, clothing, and then having the opportunity to worship God in the cathedral of his creation… I can think of little else I’d rather do regularly with my friends, and family. Thanks for the post! About the author of this post: Dr. Ashley Denton is a professor of outdoor leadership at Denver Seminary, and the author of Christian Outdoor Leadership: Theology, Theory, and Practice.

    • Hey Ashley, Thanks for sharing your story. It sounds like you have had some great times backpacking in the wild. I’ve only gone backpacking through the wilderness a couple of times, but I really enjoyed it each time I went. When you’re in the middle of the woods and all you have is the campfire and your thoughts, you can really get a better idea of who you are.

      I’m glad you like the community aspect of backpacking. I think that’s an under appreciated part of backpacking that doesn’t get much attention as it deserves.

  6. We’ve only tried backpacking this year. And before that, we didn’t even own backpacks! At first it was hard to reconcile to the fact that your home is literally on your back. You have to keep lugging it around. And the packing and unpacking every few days takes some getting used to. But I totally agree with you on the benefits. Now, backpacking is the only way to travel for me!

    • Hey Lois, I know what you mean about getting used to carrying everything around. When I took my first trip to Asia, I thought it was weird to carry everything around with me. At first it felt odd that I could survive with so little things, but I got used to it. I think it just contrasted so much with how many possessions I had back home. It just seems weird to have so many things, but in reality need so little to get by.

  7. I’ll be starting my own backpacking journey some time next year and I’m excited but at the same time, scared of the uncertainty. But I know I have to do this rather than wonder what if.

  8. I’ve never gone backpacking yet. Heck, I’ve never really understood what that word means. ;p But I might try doing that early this year. Wish me luck.

  9. I came here to see if I could read more about my own special feelings about backpacking. I guess I was being lazy. :) To me, backpacking has been a spiritual experience, a journey and story about separation and appreciation of the wilderness. Knowing that I am at home in the wilderness (when I have a chance to return to it) I get a high out of survive the elements and enjoy the seasons through exposure to the elements and first hand experience. It’s been a long while since I’ve been backpacking. I felt hungry for it again.

    • There’s something special about being out with everything you need on your back. I’ve had many good times like that. You’re right that it can be a spiritual experience. It’s good to do it when you can.

  10. Hi, how would I go about learning more about backpacking? I am curious what it is about and what all is needed. Thanks for your help!

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