Ten things hardcore backpackers don't know
This article initially appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald.
Words: Ben Groundwater.
There's a sense of pride that hardcore backpackers seem to have, like after a few years on the road they've got this whole travel thing worked out. And maybe some of them have.
But it's been my feeling for a while that the crusty types doing their permanent dorm hopping might be missing out on a few things. Things like these ...
Food is travel
For those on a strict budget food is often one of the first luxuries to get the punt – the old cliché of instant noodles and pasta with sauce every night rings true. But for me that's such a waste. Food really is travel – the local cuisine is a massive part of the experience. Eating noodles in Paris instead of steak frites is like staring at a tree instead of seeing the Mona Lisa. It's cheaper, but ...
Two weeks is enough
It happens so often. "So, how long are travelling for?" "Oh, only two weeks." "Two weeks! What can you see in two weeks?" You can see a lot in two weeks, and for people who have real jobs, that's often all the time they can afford. The hardcores might scoff at your pathetic attempt at seeing the world, but you really can have some amazing experiences in 14 days.
Nice accommodation is ... nice.
The scungy, cheap dorm rooms might be a great way of extending your trip on a tight budget, but if people can afford to stay somewhere nice, why not do it? Sure, you miss the social aspect of hostel living, but you gain privacy and a shower that doesn't require thongs. Travel doesn't have to be a competition for the cheapest room.
Checklists are boring
It's fine to have a plan, but the bucket-listers charging around the world marking off their must-do's seem to be missing the big picture. The greatest things about travelling are not always the giant monuments and the famous buildings, but the people you meet along the way. It's worth taking your eyes off the prize for a few seconds and just enjoying yourself.
Tours are not that bad
I admit it – I went on a Contiki tour in South-East Asia last year to see it for myself, and you know what? It wasn't that bad. For people who've only got two weeks off work and who don't want to plan out an itinerary themselves, it's ideal. And then there are companies like Intrepid, which offers a more engaged style of touring with local guides. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but don't knock those who like it.
Nothing you do is original
There's a guy called Ibby Okinyi who recently set his Australian passport on fire and is now walking from Norway to Spain without a red cent to his name, living off dumpster food, wild fruit and the kindness of strangers. Now that's original. But it also sounds hard. Everyone else on their gap yahs and their mini-breaks and their South American backpacker adventures is doing something fairly similar to what every other traveller has done before them. That doesn't lessen the joy of the experience in the slightest – but don't act like you're the first.
The obvious options aren't always the cheapest
Hostels are usually the least expensive way to travel, but not always. There are some bargains on websites like AirBnb if you've got a few people to stay with. And while trains and buses might seem the obvious way to get around, in places like the US and Western Europe, flying can sometimes be far cheaper.
Locals are interesting. But so are other backpackers.
I don't get the sneering attitude from some people about travellers who "just sit around talking to other backpackers". Have you actually spent time with other backpackers? They can be fascinating. Yeah, you're there to experience another country's culture, but there's nothing wrong with going to Laos and making friends with some Swedes. Or travelling Africa and becoming buddies with a Yank. It's all part of the experience.
Easy countries are fun
I know: it's nowhere near as awesome to tell everyone on Facebook that you're going to the USA instead of, say, Kyrgyzstan. But the USA is amazing. Same with the UK, or Germany, or Italy. Just because they're popular with the Trafalgar crowd and are easy to get around, doesn't mean these places aren't worth visiting.
It's not a competition
Travel is not a competition, so don't treat it that way. There are no winners and losers. No one is doing it better than anyone else. There is no right way and no wrong way. The only way to travel is the way you feel most comfortable. So don't look down on anyone because they want to spend a day in a pub watching the Super Bowl instead of visiting museums. Do whatever you want to do - and that means taking all of my opinions with a grain of salt.Lead image: Alamy via the SMH.