Backpacking Travel

Backpacking travel on train tracks in the Andes

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.

Nomad rides camel on a beach in 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.

Secluded waterfall and fish in 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.

Boats and blue water at Coral Bay in 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 at a beach party in the Thai islands

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.

Bridge over muddy water 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.

Science of Escape

Want Travel Help?

If you’re nervous about making the leap — I certainly was — I’ll gladly talk to you on the phone so that you can ask questions about backpacking travel.

Learn more about the backpacking mentoring and coaching that I offer.

You can also check out my course and blog for aspiring travelers, especially if you’re interested in escaping the Rat Race to become a digital nomad!