I’ve always loved traveling, but I never quite understood the lure of backpacking – until now. My brother started his backpacking adventure more than two years ago, and for a greater part of my New York winter, I’ve been on the road with him. I’ve backpacked one other time in southern England, and even though my backpack is outdated and rather small, I took it out once again and decided to be spontaneous. We don’t have travel guides, maps, or an itinerary. We go where the wind takes us (and sometimes, where the chicken buses will take us) and adjust our route along the way. It’s one of the most liberating experiences.
Backpacking is a lot of fun, but it’s not for everyone. Journeys can be long, uncomfortable and exhausting. (My longest trip thus far has been a 16-hour bus ride in Guatemala.) Accommodations are often sparse and basic. Hot showers are not guaranteed, and en-suite bathrooms are considered a luxury. (Good thing we are in the tropics now.) You might find yourself sharing a dormitory with perfect strangers and sometimes, there are travelers with questionable personal hygiene. If you can overlook these small discomforts, then backpacking is definitely do-able and such a humbling experience.
For many young people, I think backpacking is almost a rite of passage. They’ve just finished university, quit a miserable job, have downtime before starting a job, or just want to see as much of the world as possible before they resign themselves to a more settled lifestyle. Everyone’s story and timeline is different and equally interesting. Everyone is on a personal journey. And for many people that I’ve met (including my brother), there is no return ticket home because being able to travel indefinitely is both their purpose and their journey.
I think when I look back on this time, I’ll feel grateful to have had the opportunity to travel and see so much on a shoestring. I’ll cherish the experiences, adventures and friends I’ve encountered along the way. I’ll miss the company that I kept, and the special friends that began to feel like my traveling family. I’ll remember my daredevil climb up a waterfall on a rope and my miraculous fall. I’ll think about my brother and the trip we shared. And I’ll always be in awe of how small the world can be and how big the journey becomes when we greet the road before us with an open mind and a positive outlook.