Backpacking Travel

Tracks to Machu Pichu, Peru

Walking tracks through the Andes, Peru

Thoughts by Greg Rodgers

How Does Vagabonding Travel Feel?

Imagine waking up and every day is Saturday. What will you do today?

You are alone in a strange place far from home. Your senses are busy trying to sort out all the new smells, sights, and sounds. Even basic tasks such as getting something to eat require much more effort. The new challenges present stress. But the more of the culture that you unlock, the more confident you become. It feels amazing to speak new words and be understood in the local language.

You are “rich” by local standards and no one knows who you are. You answer only to yourself and your own moral compass. This is a true test of who you are as a human being. You can reinvent your personality. You have the power to be anyone.

You can manifest anything you like. If you were shy at home, you can now be the life of the party. You are free to experiment without judgment.

Backpacking travel in Dahab, Egypt

Dahab, Egypt

You bought a one-way ticket. There are no time restrictions. For the first time in your life, you feel as if you are “going with the flow.”

You don’t care about time. You no longer feel rushed all the time. You listen to your body: when it is hungry, you eat; when it is tired, you sleep.

For probably the first time since you were a child, you are tuned to your body’s natural rhythms. You never expected backpacking travel to make you feel healthier.

After months, you realize you are doing just fine with the things in your bag. You don’t need much else to be happy. All the other material things you had at home were never really necessary. The size of your backpack keeps you from buying many things to take home. For the first time in a long time, you are actively trying not to accumulate things.

Being light feels free.

Unlike at home, strangers are easy to talk to. You meet many new people from all over the world. Despite leaving home alone, you have to try to be alone sometimes.

At meals, you simply approach complete strangers’ tables and sit, assuming that it is fine to do so. No one is hostile. Other solo travelers enjoy your company. You swap stories, practice languages, and have a lot in common. Travel is an excellent filter. You might even find yourself falling in love with some of these people.

Waterfall in Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

Travel romance moves quickly. There is no time for the usual social protocols. People are forced to be real. You have never felt so passionate, so honest, so alive. Goodbyes become harder, not easier.

When a friendship has run its course, you simply part company. Everyone knows that the Road always wins. But that’s okay. It shocks you at how fast your new friendships developed. In days, relationships reached the same levels that would take months or years at home. You exchange a sad goodbye and swap emails. But realistically, you will probably never see this person again.

The pain of the goodbye quickly fades for both of you. It won’t be your last.

The weight of your rucksack digging into your shoulders is familiar. Surely there must be new adventures waiting down the road. Your sad goodbye turns into a smile because you know that your new friend is thinking the same.

Backpacking travel forces you to live in the present, rather than worry about the future or past. New experiences, new dangers, and new friendships are waiting to be experienced.

Sweat tickles down your forehead. The road stretches out in front of you. You can literally choose any direction on a map to go and no one will say anything different. One direction could change your whole life.

The freedom of backpacking travel is intoxicating.

Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia

Perhentian Kecil, Malaysia

When you reach the next island, you start all over.

You learn the town layout, the names, the other travelers’ faces all over again. Every day is spent walking in the jungle, exploring temples, caves, scuba diving, and whatever adventure comes along. Stuff that is considered dangerous. But at the time, it feels fine. Your body vibrates with survival. You feel alive.

You have already tried things you never would have done at home. You are getting so much sunshine and exercise that you have never felt healthier or more energetic in your life.

backpackers party

An island party

At night you party continuously. Unless you are sick, you go out and party the night away with other backpackers. It is pretty well expected. Everyone dances like it’s their last night on earth. If you mess up on that deep dive tomorrow morning, it could be.

Your home, thousands of miles away, seems like something that happened in a dream a long time ago.

Your sense of time is warped. It feels as though you’ve been gone for years. You are not sure what you are going to do when your year of backpacking travel is over.

Inevitably one day you find yourself standing in the airport back in your home country. It feels foreign to see so many other people of your same race in one place. You furiously want to share mad tales of your adventures over the last year.

No one seems interested. People are all in a hurry to either earn or spend money.

At home, everything seems to be moving in slow motion. You can’t believe how expensive things are. You still convert the prices to the currency that you just left. Life is too easy here. There are few challenges.

There are no giant spiders or massive scorpions in your room to surprise you. Everything feels too safe.

For a while, you meet people quickly. You feel like you’re different somehow. For some reason, you feel like you are still traveling. It feels strange to have to choose from so many clothes in a closet. You end up wearing the same things you wore traveling.

You survived just fine for a year with only five shirts. You retain your new habits. It feels good to be different. You earned it.

Backpacking in Vang Vieng, Laos

Backpacking in Vang Vieng, Laos

For a while, being home is enjoyable. You missed your friends and family. You eat all the food you missed.

You try to share vagabonding stories but few can relate. Everyone asks, “So how was it?” and “Are you ready to settle down?”

How can you summarize a year of life-changing experience? The words don’t come. A few weeks ago you were swimming with sharks and exploring a thousand-year-old temple. Most people around you just worked and went on short vacations. Telling stories feels like bragging, so you wait on people to ask. They rarely do.

As the excitement of being home fades into frustration, you find yourself parked in front of the computer.

It is the magical link to your lost travel friends. You take in their reports from the field. After a short time at home, you find yourself wishing you were back out there.

You spend more and more time online. You think about ways to earn money while traveling. Is it possible? You check email and Facebook many times a day. You know flight prices by heart. You crave news from that magical world that was left behind a couple of months ago.

You spend time looking through journal entries and pictures. The rift between you, family, and dear friends has widened. You are very different now. All that you want to talk about is travel.

Your old daily life will never be the same; discontentment grows. All you can think about is getting back to that magic place, stepping over the snakes, and dancing the night away with those strangers.

You would do anything to smell the ocean again. It never even occurred to you that backpacking travel would change your life so much.

One day, even though you can’t afford it, you sit down and book another ticket. Relief and exhilaration rush through your body.

Once again, you find yourself alone in a strange place far from home …

Sound frightening or inviting?

You decide, then check out my backpacking advice with

tips for how to get on the road.

48 Responses to “Backpacking Travel”

  1. Sounds exactly like the way I feel. Very well said.

  2. that doesnt make people want to travel?

  3. Hey dude, just have to say, this is one of the best descriptions of backpacking and all the feelings associated with it that I have ever come across. Cheers!

  4. really well said. Makes me wanna hop on a plane to go backpacking anytime now 🙂

  5. It sounds frighteningly inviting!

  6. Greetings from Korea … I know exactly what you say … have been on the road, over 100 countries, since 1988. Am still addicted. And alone. Now, age 42. Am from New Zealand. Heading to Central America / Cuba, soon … on the road.

    Regards – MRP AKA thecandytrail

  7. Hola de Mexico….I am a retired expat loving the backpacking adventures…Planning a trek thru Central America soon w/a new friend from Florida.
    You have a wonderful way w/words. They are mesmorizing and duplicate how I feel when “on the road again” as Willie Nelson sings about…
    Keep on trekkin’
    A fellow female traveler with “The wanderlust.”

  8. so im sitting at my desk at my 9-5 job read this… drooling. then it got to the end where it said something about running to the computer checking out emails and pictures yada yada… and i started to smile. because thats exactly what im doing.

    thank you for making my day 🙂

    i went to the south pacific for two months half a year ago… and im leaving everythign behind me in three months to go round the world.


  9. Wow! I just read this and it’s exactly how I feel all the time. I wasn’t even gone for that long, but I’m longing to go again and I feel like nobody can relate. Very well written.

    *Off to look at flights.

  10. Wow Greg. My exact thoughts in writing!

  11. every day is saturday….that says a lot! Great post

  12. Beautiful:)

  13. I totally agree with your feelings of being back in the US and life being so boring. I was in Asia for 6 months and it was the best time of my life. I would have called it home and never looked forward to coming back home. Just making a few more bucks and will be heading out

  14. Yep you got it right. I’m an almost 77yrs. old, lady round-th-world traveller. At the computer checking out flights and sights. Just don’t want to run into that nasty flu. Anybody gots thoughts about Dahab Egypt????

  15. Poetry at its best, love it. I want to get this tattoed on me, but its a bit long lol!

  16. INVITING! Thank you for putting it in words! Happy Travels

  17. So awesome. It brings back memories of how I felt the very first time I went traveling.

  18. Stephen O'Regan May 17, 2010 at 18:15 pm

    Love every bit of ur blog. I’ve been travelling myself for about five years now and every time I return home feel the exact same way. Been home 6 mths now which is the longest and about to head off on an overland trip from San Diego to south of Argentina. Reading this description its as if I wrote it myself. I share all the exact same views. Good luck with the job in South East Asia. I would love to make a job out of travelling. If you dont mind me asking how did u get it?

  19. All I have to say is WOW! 🙂 Great post and gorgeous photos!

  20. going to book a flight that i cannot afford. ;-p

  21. Your description is exactly how I feel. Two years ago I travelled to New-Zealand for three months. I hitched, ran and trekked around the country :-). I could never imagine that this decision would change my person dramaticaly. Originally I looked at it as a once in a lifetime opportunety. A thing you do before you start making money and setlle down. However, soon after my return to Belgium I found myself dreaming of a new travel. One year later I actually embarked on a new trip: 6 months South America. This time I went with my girlfriend. Now I find myself in a very awkward situation. Despite I deeply love my girlfriend (she wants to settle now) and I actually enjoy my current job I feel a constant yearning to leave again. I developped the eyes of a dreamer and in my mind I’m constantly making new plans. I spend more and more time behind my computer, reading stories about various destinations. I’m working now, enjoying what I do, making plans to live together with my girlfriend but at the same time my mind is set to go and leave everything behind. Sometimes I think the actual leaving will become inevitable. The decision will be hard.

  22. 7 years and counting and my wanderlust hasn’t left me for a moment. It has been 7 years since I felt ocean sand beneath my feet, 7 years since I visited a night market, and each of those years I have been aware of ticket prices and yearning to strap on my pack and not look back. And in 9 weeks, I am!

  23. Wow! I don’t have words for what i have just read! I’m from S Africa and am planning my first backpackingtrip to Indi in Feb. I can’t Wait!

  24. WOW. such inspiring words 🙂

  25. Ahhhh this post drives me crazy! I can’t wait to get the frick out of the uSa and travel. This is actually how I feel. I travel and then have to come back and work! I cant wait to get a flippin location independent job. Well im workin on that. nice stumblin upon your blog… gonna take a deeper look around.

  26. !!Wow, this was bang on what I experienced!!

  27. this is an awesome read! thank you for the inspiration

  28. Very nicely said. I feel the same way about long-distance hiking. I am planning a 5 month thru-hike of the Pacific Crest Trail starting in April, 2012. I’m blogging about it here: I have included some thoughts on the office life you mention and I have finally decided it’s not for me. After the PCT, perhaps a tour through Asia for the winter?

  29. Well said. Was in Africa for 6 years, back for 1. I just can’t get comfortable here anymore. And it seems others I know can’t get comfortable with me. As you have stated, ‘We all change’. Can’t wait to get out again and be free from too many choices, too much news, and too much pettiness.

  30. This article is just delicious.

  31. Sounds amazing. But how do you make money on the road? I’m interested in travelling for a few years but money is of course the issue…

    Brilliantly written piece by the way.

  32. Loved reading this, it’s so strange coming home because NO ONE can relate to what happened to us while abroad and most people are terrified of even thinking about your stories let alone go out and make their own.

  33. I really enjoyed reading this. Ive always wanted to travel especially backpack anywhere around the world and this inspired me. Im gonna look up info and try to get out there as soon as possible. Thank you for this.

  34. This could not be worded better. It’s a perfect read for people who don’t understand why we do what we do, a great pick me up for someone who has been home for a few months or just a reminder to us travelers who every now and again forget just how amazing our lives are. Thanks so much for this!

  35. This is hands down, my favorite travel article I have ever read! It describes the roller coaster and addiction of backpacking perfectly and even though, I’m in China TEFLing right now, it makes me want to go out and start moving again! Outstanding article… I’m sharing it, linking it, subscribing, etc.

  36. I could not have said it better myself! Sadly, I’m in the back-home phase, counting second until I graduate university and can take off again!

  37. Glad to see that I’m not alone with this weird lost feeling after traveling on the road for 7 months and finally being home. Have booked my next tickets out but it still seems strange at home

  38. you can find your self.. you can find out real human life..

  39. After just two weeks I felt exactly like that… I cant wait till I finish school and can leave with just my dog and my pack.

  40. This sounds inviting! I’d like to try and travel like this. The epic wanderlust!

  41. I told someone today that when I retire I want everything I own to fit in my backpack…18 years to go and counting

  42. same for cyclotouring..same mindset…

  43. I started this journey back in the mid 60s and after many years without the constant movement have been back on the road for the last 2 years.
    Start small – little steps and move forward.

  44. Nice trip


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