Just You and a Bag
Recycling dirty laundry into a back pack whilst guarding a dwindling budget in the front pocket of already worn in jeans may typically show signs of homelessness but in the almost reckless minds of backpackers it more or less tells the tales of a well spent youth. Backing packing is incomparable, so much so that the angst of having minimal luggage and the idea of rough living is an easy exchange for an unpredictable adventure.
With barely anything to loose (literally in most back packing cases), inhibitions and apprehension for new experiences is almost abandoned and the spectacle of tourism takes on a new meaning. Even the shyest person could find themselves talking to strangers whilst overseas- when all your belongings are straddled to your shoulders for the next couple months, the world suddenly becomes a curious landscape that you find yourself needing to be apart of- strangers become acquaintances that you wholeheartedly trust with directions and photographs, you eat all kinds of delicacies completely unaware of its cleanliness or what it actually is and best of all time is now on your side. The worry of alarm clocks and due dates are for the moment gone- because when your back packing time is your friend, instead of creating a reasonable reality you create everlasting memories that will never tire in storytelling.
Luxury resorts and buying novelty key chains in souvenir stores is the way I would want to be travelling if I was married and had children to entertain. Yet in the meantime of my twenties overseas- restaurants are replaced with street vendors, postcards are switched out for tattoos and shopping trips are a second thought to drinking with the locals or climbing a mountain at sunrise. Back packing is not for the faint hearted though, it is more or less for the somewhat foolish- for those willing to temporarily shelve their responsibilities and venture out on their intuition.
It may appear to be irresponsible and I have no doubt it probably is but travelling whilst young with only a back pack across foreign lands and cultures is something I could not imagine myself regretting. Money can be made and jobs will undoubtedly always be found but knowing that for a little while I explored the world is an assurance that will seemingly justify this delayed adulthood. Last summer uninspired by the routine of everyday I spontaneously booked a one way ticket to Asia and suddenly found myself in a panic of ‘what the hell just happened? What did I do? And with only eight weeks to prepare I scavenged for loose coins and prayed that I would not come in contact with any diseases because I honestly could not afford the vaccinations. To put into perspective how under prepared and worryingly naïve I was- my first destination was Beijing, China and less than a fortnight before I was due for departure I had learnt that in order to enter China there is a visa that needed to be obtained and approved by the Chinese Embassy. I fast tracked the application process at the cost of a sum too painful to recall and naively began to plan for a trip that I should not logically be going on.
The ticket was bought, visa was expensively granted and the plane was boarded- there was no going back now. Over the next couple months I slept in dingy hostels, encountered various rebellious characters and at a many times struggled to finance the next day but in spite all the hiccups and bumps experienced along the way- I would not trade it in for any amount of money (just kidding I would probably do anything for a million). Solo back packing through Asia has been by far the most foolish yet greatest experience I have ever had- before I settle down with a white picket fence and a mortgage to pay I will know that I walked the Great Wall, drunkenly ate yum cha with a table full on strangers in Hong Kong, sailed the Ha Long waters of Vietnam, climbed the scenic mountains of Taipei, hustled through the markets of Singapore and aided injured elephants in Kuala Lumpur. I travelled when everyone else was working the nine to fives- yet despite returning home a little set back in comparison to everybody else I still find myself always looking back to better days.
Yet despite the forever engrained memories collected on the way- the idiocy of reckless planning and the naïve belief of figuring things out on the go could have laughably avoided many unintelligent moments. When you are unaware of things overseas you are not simply uncultured to your surroundings but rather instantly become the cliché of ‘dumb tourist’- people will stare at your wonderment, you may even break some social rules or potentially even laws and worst of all your bargaining power diminishes almost instantly. So in hope this will inspire you to head overseas and see things for yourself here are a couple things I wish I had learnt before backpacking
1. When you are overseas- your phone is just as important as your kidneys.
In this day and age we have the liberty of having access to information at all times at the click of a button- use that privilege. Apps will not only be your best friend but will also act as your translator, bank account, photographer, currency exchange, maps and will be the factor that will help deliberate the restaurants, hostels and activities you choose. Also Uber is an international thing- avoid taxis where possible and if you do need a taxi, always go by the meter.
2. Pack strategically
Back packing is cheap travelling not a New York runway. Carry and buy only the essentials. I made the early mistake of buying trinkets and knick knacks in my first destination that I thought would be nice memorabilia to remember with, but one country later those pointless souvenirs quickly turned into unnecessary baggage- along with half my wardrobe. By the end I was rotating one pair of loose jeans, basketball shorts, two t-shirts and one puffer jacket. No one knows you overseas- not doing laundry is easily acceptable.
3. There is a difference between a hostel and a hole
Hostel living is obviously not a luxurious experience but the collective group of nomads sharing stories and experiences within is worth the couple dollars spent but do your research and read reviews. In Taiwan I thought it would be wise to stay at a ridiculously cheap hostel that translated to about five Australian dollars as oppose to other ones that equated to roughly twenty dollars a night. I walked into the lobby, which was barely even a desk and was escorted to a room that could only fit a bunk bed. I could literally touch each of the four walls with my arms stretched out, the door could not be opened fully as the bed was the way and the room had the smell of a third world public bathroom. Spend the extra fifteen dollars.
4. Clean enough is clean
It may sound unhygienic in hindsight but after a couple days of lugging around a 10kg+ bag you immediately throw out the unnecessary things such as shampoo bottles, electric razors and hair wax. Most hostels will provide shampoo and disposable razors serve the same purpose as electric ones. Eventually care for your looks eventually dissipates and hair maintenance is covered with beanies and bandannas. However something worth carrying not matter how heavy is wet wipes. When you are living in cheap rooms and your standard for hygiene drops, wet wipes are a godsend. For some reason a couple of Asian countries do not stock their public bathrooms with toilet paper (I learnt the hard way) and it never hurts to give the cutlery of street vendors a quick wipe for use.
5. Netflix is your best friend
When back packing alone, you meet people along the way and undoubtedly have memorable encounters but unfortunately no one is all that permanent- everyone including yourself are all doing their own thing and leaving to different countries every other day. Inevitably you will find yourself missing home and feeling lonely- you are posing in photos by yourself, you have no one to share meals with and probably heaviest of all you are unable to share an experience with anyone. The thing that I missed most however was actually laughing, somewhere in Hong Kong I realized I had not laughed in awhile- I was amused by things but never actually laughed, and so I turned to Netflix. Obviously you should not be spending your time overseas watching Netflix because there are much better things to do but if you have some down time right before bed or wanting to take a day off watch a movie that will make you laugh- it will somehow bring you a sense of home. I watched the terrible movie ‘Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates’ something I would not normally choose but it was so ridiculous it was nice- and even though I still think it was a terrible movie- it now brings me nostalgic laughs.
6. Cliché to say
Do everything and anything you want. Have fun and worry later. Simple but actually do it.