Top Signs You are a Backpacker

By Nomadic Matt | Published October 15th, 2008

Backpackers gearAre you a backpacker? Are you not sure if you are? Backpacking is more than slinging a backpack over your shoulder and setting off. It’s a way of traveling. If you’ve ever wondered whether or not you’re a backpacker, now is the time to find out. If you do any of these things, chances are you’re a backpacker!

You don’t know what to write down when asked for your permanent address.

You don’t know what to write down for occupation on the customs forms.

Pasta has been your main meal for months. Sometimes you mix it up by putting chicken in it.

You wear the same shirt for a week.

You wear the same jeans for two weeks.

You do your laundry in sinks.

Everything you own fits into one pack.

You make new friends everywhere – bus stops, ferries, train stations, airports.

You think nothing of sharing a room with the stranger you just met at one of those places.

Hot water is a luxury.

So is air conditioning.

You will sleep anywhere, as long as it is cheap.

You have a warped sense of cost. Three dollars for a room? Great deal! Three dollars for a meal? Outrageous!

When you go back home, you find it weird that you can’t haggle over prices.

You can’t sleep without earplugs anymore, even if no one is snoring.

You haven’t slept in a room by yourself since you left home.

When asked what day it is, you can’t remember.

You ask people where they’re from before you ask them what their name is, and you remember them according to where they came from.

No matter where you go, the beer is never cheap enough.

You can say “cheers” in more languages than you’d like to admit.

You have learned to say beer in 10 languages.

Your budget revolves around how much alcohol you can buy in one night.

You have permanent flip-flop tan lines on your feet.

You find it odd to be surrounded by people who have the same accent as you.

You fill your pockets with as many bread rolls and jam packets from the free breakfast as you can so you can eat lunch today.

You are pleasantly surprised when you find toilet paper in the bathroom.

You believe that a good shower constitutes running water.

You haven’t showered without flip-flops in months.

You plan your travel around getting free accommodation on a train, plane, or bus.

You spend your nights in airports to save money.

You know the nationality of everyone just by looking at their bags.

You see a television as a luxury and a waste of time.

You still think the three shirts you have been wearing for the past 6 months are fashionable.

You have fisherman’s pants.

You know what the words “visa run” entail, and how painful one can be.

You plan all your future trips around free accommodation from all the promises people made to you at hostels.

comments 37 Comments

Spot on with most of those, but I will never, NEVER lose my fashion sense enough to think that fisherman’s trousers are a good idea.

I am a backpacker! One thing I’ve been meaning to ask though Matt: what is a shower?

Ben

Great post! Consider it dugg :-)

God I miss backpacking, even though I’ve only done it for a couple weeks at a time. I’m hoping to be down in Thailand for Christmas actually, but only for 10 days :(

What in the world are fisherman’s pants/trousers? Like cargo pants?

Accurate list! – don’t forget the diet of crackers for when Delhi belly kicks in

C K

Hey, two more to add!

- you carry around a small compact medical box, which is stuffed with self adhesive plaster

- you have a map, neatly folded stuffed in one of your pockets

Ivana

great article…love the pic so much…

NomadicMatt

@craig: there is always time to shower!

@alicia: I miss it too!

@jamie: Fisherman’s pants are popular in asia. They are long and made out of a light and loose material to help keep you cool. Essential backpacker wear in the area.

@sarah: I don’t know what I will ever do with you!!!

Ah ! well, I do fit a few of them..but still need a clean room and a loo..thats probably luxury !

It’s been a very long time since I’ve backpacked (hey, I have a 12-year-old), but it’s funny how familiar everything on this list still is.
Especially the ‘cheers in more languages…’ :)

Not only do you know others by their nationality, but you also put descriptive words before said nationality according to their personality to help distinguish them from others of the same nationality: the crazy german, the hot norwegian, the weird australian, etc.

“You ask people where they’re from, before you ask them what their name is and you remember them according to where they came from, not their name.”

I thought I was the only one!

Having picked myself off the floor from laughing at the truth of it all, let me add… you know you’re a backpacker:
- when you throw out parts of your book as you read – it makes them lighter
- when you use baby shampoo to wash your clothes, wash your hair, wash your body – and in emergencies brush your teeth
- when you carry a jar of peanut butter or marmite in your pack, ‘just in case’
- when you find yourself squatting on your haunches for half an hour or more to chat, and feel no pain
- when you actually know what the BBC World Service is

and about not knowing what to put down as a profession… in fact, it’s when you put down ‘English teacher’ as a profession, no matter WHAT you do! :-)

I laughed out loud at this. There are more here that are true than I’m willing to admit to.

Thanks for sharing and being so thorough. LOVED IT!

Beth

Dawn

ALL TRUE!!!! Love it!!

Cuckoo

Aah, I am a half backpacker then. :) Prefer a dry & clean loo though. Its another thing that I don’t get it most of the time unless checking into a (nice) hotel.

Scribetrotter’s points made me laugh.

“You get pleasantly surprised to find toilet paper in the bathroom.”
LMAO :)))) …this was so funny and true.

Good and funny list. Haven’t done any extended backpacking for a couple of years but still take bread, butter, jam etc home from restaurants. Old habits and all.

Cristina

don’t forget learning how to haggle in farmer’s market and planning an entire vacation around picnics and eating in the room LOL :)

Clarkson

In summary: backpackers are cheap and smelly. Yup, you got it.

awesome list!
Some people obviously have mistaken “backpackers” for simply “travelers with backpacks”

Chris A

Im a backpacker. but i dont think its true about beer. i travel to see the world. not to drink, i can do that at home.

how about.. when you get home, you are amazed that you can understand everything… and everyone can understand you……

All so true!!! And how you are amazed if you don’t have to PAY someone for small squares of toilet paper when you find toilets (and are happy if you find flush toilets rather than some of the options)! And how you can sit upon or curl up on your backpack as a bed if need be. You know you are a backpacker when after months you have every pocket/pouch of your backpack arranged for certain items so that when you unpack you miss finding things so easily.

Jerry

“When asked what day it is, you can’t remember.”

HAHA! That is perfect.

Nicole

Loved the list!!

I am not a backpacker YET but I am actually very much looking forward to being able to tick off those items on your list! One would think seeing that list it would scare someone off backpacking, but I CANT WAIT to have those experiences! :)

NomadicMatt

Something to look forward to!

kanuk

thats right – shower, what shower? you mean that hose out back?

Ruby

Haha, Matt, you are awesome!
I came to this age (46!) still craving to experience the true meaning of backpacking;)

Thanks for sharing…It made me decide “I will go for it!” ;-)

Muca

The things you mention are for the stereotypical backpacker. Some things of most backpackers which really annoy me are:
- Why the hell are they so smelly? I had to explain locals that really not all westerners are so dirty like backpackers. Even when you are backpacking you have plenty of opportunities to take that shower, whether you are in Europe, somewhere in Laos or God knows where. During my travels, I always kept a good hygiene, but apparently many backpackers think, when we are far away from home, we don’t have to care about it.

- Why do so many backpackers wear silly clothes? Clothes they would NEVER wear in their own countries, because that makes them look ridiculous, are being worn while backpacking. I never understood it. Some say that wear it because they are comfortable, but I disagree, a normal pants, are just as much comfortable. People who are backpacking know exactly what kind of clothes I mean. Or those backpackers who find it necessary to walk around shirt-less or just a bikini-top, not respecting the local culture at all. I always feel embarrassed meeting people like that.

- Then we come to the next point – a total, and I mean a total, lack of awareness of the local culture. Backpackers think, because we are far away from home, we can literally do anything we want. One of the worst examples was when backpackers started playing strip-poker in a hostel in Hue, Vietnam. Once they were naked, they thought it was a good idea to walk on street of that hostel (pham ngu lao). This completely shitty attitude towards local people is so degrading, and embarrassing for me and other sensible travelers. Why is it so difficult to be a bit sensible? To know, its not ok to be a complete idiot abroad. Why is it so difficult to behave in other countries the same as how you behave at home? Its truly sad. I honestly think that this is the biggest problem for backpacking world. Even in Laos they have to hand out leaflets to backpackers, reminding them to take a shower once in a while, because no one likes their smell!!! What an uncivilized bunch of idiots. Places like Vang Vieng, Laos or Khao San Road, Bangkok, make me feel sick.

- Why do backpackers automatically assume that everyone in their host-country should speak English, French or German? They are even so rude to shout at someone when that person is not understanding them. As if shouting, suddenly makes them understand English or French. It’s embarrassing. It truly is. Learn some phrases of the host-country’s language yourself. Anyone who has tried it knows that always new doors open. Even in industrialized countries, such as Japan or in Europe, every local is delighted when a tourist/foreigner is doing his/her best to learn the language.

- Alcohol & drugs…… backpacking is NOT about consuming alcohol and drugs as much as possible. Drinking can be done at home. You don’t have to go to the other side of the world, to become drunk everyday. The best backpackers I have encountered were traveling in Iran. This type of backpacker is culturally sensitive, and they don’t go to Iran for drinking, simply because it’s not allowed in this country. I usually stay away from backpackers, but in Iran, one of the few countries, it was a pleasant experience to meet other travelers.

- The backpacker’s scene – is such an inward looking community, which you wouldn’t expect from people traveling all over the world. But generally backpackers are not as cosmopolitan as they would wish to be. In many hostels, I would see backpackers, sitting inside all day, watching movies all day and would even consume their meals inside this hostel. I mean it’s fine to have some days to chill-out, but if this is your main activity of your journey??? Poor you…. I have always considered hostels, hotels, or guesthouses as places where I would sleep and nothing more than that. id rather chill out in a local coffee-shop or street-stall, than sitting inside that freaking hostel all the time. Why do you travel all over the world, just to stay with your own ” kind”? But a combination of a total lack of cultural awareness (and therefore being scared of meeting the unknown) and alcohol (the hangovers), makes the average backpacker into a lazy hostel-bum.

- Showing off…. i don’t care how many passport stamps you have, how good you are at bargaining or how much you hate local people. Interesting stories are always welcome, but the stories I often hear, annoy me and bore me to death.

- Thinking to know the locals, while the only people most backpackers meet are the people involved in the tourism industry. I am from Amsterdam, and when I go to the touristic areas in Amsterdam, i encounter a totally different world from the real Amsterdam. So don’t think that staying in the tourist parts of a city/country that you are able to meet many ‘ real’ locals’. So if you don’t try to meet locals, don’t pretend that you know them.

I know that not every backpacker is the same, but I have traveled enough to realize that I do not want to be associated as a backpacker. Id rather wish to be called a traveler with a backpack. Because it’s the travels I want to identify myself with, and not the backpack, which i only use because it’s comfortable. I don’t want to pretend that I am the perfect traveler. Sometimes I also find it difficult to adapt to a local culture, or to meet true locals – e.g. I found it difficult when traveling in Phnom Penh to become really ‘local’. But I do try to be culturally more sensible. Maybe it’s the age of the average backpacker or maybe I am not idealistic, but I usually tend to keep a far distance from its scene, and Im still travelling every happily.

NomadicMatt

I would have to agree with all your sentiments.

Adrienne Morton

I am SOO laughing, and SO back in time reading this. I agree that “You always, always have a jar of peanut butter in your backpack” has got to go on the list. That is me.
Please add this: “You hook up with guys/girls that sleep in hotels just so you can sleep in a bed”. (Also me)
See you at the next hostel….

I can’t tick these off yet but if I really tried I would probably become one of those backpackers trying to one-up everyone else as to how many of these I can tick off… I think this list is somewhat location-specific and different backpackers would need to do things differently depending on where they are. Such as it being perfectly acceptable for a backpacker in a snowy area not having a flip-flop tan.

But one I’d argue is done all over the world is that you know you are a backpacker if you are constantly reorganising your pack because you can never get it quite right!

Kevin Bates

from Muca: “- Showing off…. i don’t care how many passport stamps you have, how good you are at bargaining or how much you hate local people. Interesting stories are always welcome, but the stories I often hear, annoy me and bore me to death.”

yes ! “travel bores” are still bores..some can talk about NOTHING but their travels & are so into one-upmanship trying to list obscure places others in the group haven’t been to..

“What? you’ve never woken up on the side of Mt. Kilimanjaro with a goat in your sleeping bag? you haven’t LIVED” lol

I currently live in South Korea and itching to travel and do my art again. I would love to combine my passions and would love to hear some brainstorming ideas how to make it happen. Also, where’s a good place where other painters/artists reside? Thanks.

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