Posted: 08/15/2011 | August 15th, 2011
I’ve been backpacking for over ten years now. That’s a long time to travel period, let alone stay in dorm rooms, live out of the same backpack, and travel on the cheap. I really love this form of travel through, which is why I’ve continued to do it for so many years. I enjoy hostels, meeting people, light travel, the wild adventures, the youthful vibe, and not having guides and tours hold my hand the whole way. Plus, I honestly don’t see any need to spend lots of money on resorts and fancy rooms. But, even though I enjoy my travel style, it doesn’t mean that I always love it. In fact, sometimes I really, really, really hate backpacking.
Hostel dorm rooms are cheap and a great way to meet people, because you are shoved into the same room with them. You don’t have a choice but to get to know each other. (Well, you don’t have to talk, but then it gets a bit awkward.) But sometimes you don’t want to meet new people, get the top bunk, or have to deal with three snorers in a six-bed room. That’s when you really begin to hate hostels. I still use dorm rooms because they keep costs down, but I really dislike how often they get in the way of a good night’s sleep.
The Same Conversation
Whenever you arrive somewhere new, travelers ask the same five questions: Where are you from? Where are you going? Where have you been? How long are you traveling for? How long are you here? After five years — heck, after five days — it’s pretty boring having the same conversation over and over again. They are the default, basic questions everyone (including me sometimes) asks. It becomes second nature. However, I mix it up now. When I get asked one of the five questions, I reply by asking their name and then something like what’s their favorite color or favorite book or least favorite place they have ever seen. It is far more interesting than “what do you do back home?”
The 5-Minute Friend
You meet great people — and then tomorrow they are gone. Maybe you will see each other again, maybe not. It’s great meeting so many amazing people on the road, but I hate how everyone is always leaving, especially just as you get to know someone. It’s a snowball of sadness. I’ve met countless amazing people on the road, and sure, in that moment and in that time, we had a blast. Maybe that was all that was meant to be. But it’s nice to have some consistency and have a friend for more than five minutes.
The Excessive Partying
In the backpacking world, it’s always someone’s first or last night and therefore a reason to go out — which means there’s a lot of drinking going on. (A LOT!) I’ve done my fair share of partying, and I’ll admit that it’s great when you are just starting out. You are excited about the road, everything is new, and it’s a good way to meet people. But after a few months, it gets boring and repetitive. You get weary of just drinking all the time, as though that is the only activity in the world. Can’t we just go do something else? Does alcohol always have to be involved? Let’s go play minigolf, see a movie, go bowling, or catch a concert. There are more to countries than their bars.
I understand that long-term travelers have a fixed budget. When I first went overseas, I only had a limited amount of money and it had to last a long, long time. That being said, though, did you really come all the way to Spain to not have the paella? You flew to Japan and never once had sushi or anything more than cheap ramen noodles? Skipped skiing in the Alps because of the price of a lift ticket? Come on! You only live once. Do something more than a free guided tour, cook your own meals, complain about your lack of sleep (though you slept in a hammock), and drink beer from 7-11. It’s great to be frugal, but it’s lame to be cheap.
There is always someone who has traveled more than you. Even after five years of backpacking the world, I know people who have spent six, seven, eight years with nothing but a backpack. However, what I hate is when people interject into other people’s conversations or plans and start to give their opinion about where they should or shouldn’t go. Or they will begin to tell you the history of a place (and most likely get it wrong) to try to “educate” you on how things really are. Don’t be a know-it-all. No one likes a show-off. I often refrain from correcting people simply because I don’t want to be “that guy.”
The “Who’s a Better Traveler?” Game
Too many travelers like to talk themselves up by discussing how long they have traveled for or how many counties they have been to, as though traveling is a competition. “You’ve been to 20 countries?” “Ohh, well I’ve been to 37!” Or you might hear “You didn’t really experience country X because you skipped activity Y.” Comments like that make the younger traveler feel bad about their own experience, which makes me come in and tell the one-upper about my life or other travels to deflate some of their smugness. Because it doesn’t matter what activities you have done or if you have been to 4, 19, or 150 countries — everyone’s journey is their own and all are equal.
The Herd Mentality
I wanted to be a backpacker because they embodied a spirit of adventure and discovery. They were out to see the world, discover its hidden secrets, and meet new locals. Turns out, that’s often not the case. More often than not, backpackers today follow the same well-laid travel route that thousands have tread before them. They simply follow the pack. Yes, popular places are popular for a reason, and I would never, for example, suggest skipping Thailand, Paris, or Costa Rica just because there are other tourists there. But good lord, be a bit more curious and wander off somewhere random. Just once.
Always Being “On”
Sometimes I just don’t want to talk to everyone. Sometimes, I just want to read my book and stay in, catching up on True Blood. But then I am the antisocial guy in the hostel and people look at me differently. I hate how you ALWAYS have to seem to be friendly and upbeat. People are social creatures, but it is also good to have some alone time to decompress and relax. Always being “on” is simply too mentally exhausting for me, especially when you are asked the same questions every day (see above!).
I have said more goodbyes in the last five years than any human should ever have to. And despite the changes in technology and social media, you know the emails will slowly fade away despite the best of intentions. Life moves on and people go their separate ways. Sure, you will have that great moment in time together, but the more you travel, the more you realize the hard truth that you might never see that person again. And the more you hate having to say good-bye.
The Quick Romantic Relationships
You meet people, you leave people. It’s a sad cycle that means that just when you really start to like someone, you split up. It makes having a long-term committed relationship on the road really hard. You are together while you are on the road, but then people go left while you go right. And then, as quickly as it began, it is over. It’s hard to always have to start and stop feelings. And often, since you never really “break up,” you never get any real closure. The road becomes a series of short relationships — and that can get very tiring.
You can say it is a way to remember where you have gone, but what it really does is let people know how awesome you are for having been to so many places. It’s all part of the “who’s the more experienced traveler” one-upsmanship that happens in hostels. And it annoys me. A lot. You have photos, memories, and passport stamps to remember where you have been. I doubt your bag really cares. Let’s call a spade a spade: sewing flags from every country you have been to is just a way to show the world that you are well traveled.
Despite all the signs that tell people to clean up their mess, they never do. Why? It’s not their kitchen and they are leaving soon. Someone else will do it. I really hate hostel kitchens for this reason, and it’s why I never cook in them. I didn’t travel around the world to clean up your mess. Do it yourself! What are you, nine years old? Your mother is not here to clean up after you, and it’s inconsiderate leaving a dirty kitchen for the next person.
Missing the Gym
I like to work out. Traveling makes me unhealthy and fat and I don’t like it. It’s hard to keep a healthy lifestyle on the road, and I wish I had the chance to go to the gym and work out more often.
Sex in Dorm Rooms
I do not want to hear you having sex. Ever. Go get a private room. We don’t believe her moans of pleasure, and we don’t want to see your white ass. For the price of two dorm beds, you can get a private room in almost any place in the world. And if it does cost more, it isn’t that much. Get some privacy, have better sex, and let everyone else sleep.
Don’t take this to mean that I really do hate backpacking. Most days, I love this style of travel and I love backpacking. It’s fun and social, and you get to meet amazing people. But sometimes, the little things just grind your gears, which is most often when people are rude and inconsiderate. Backpacking is a great lifestyle, and like any lifestyle it has its ups and downs. I’m just lucky it has more ups than downs.