Reflections on Backpacking

January 4th, 2015 - Bali, Indonesia

Seven weeks doesn’t seem like a particularly long time. It’s not long enough to take a class at any accredited university. It’s not even long enough to complete most projects at work, from inception to delivery. But when traveling you can go learn and accomplish a lot in just seven weeks (just look at the map below!).

As this segment of my journey comes to an end and I transition to an extended period living in Indonesia, I wanted to capitalize on my recent experiences to share some of the most poignant lessons I’ve learned. My intent is to dispel three key myths one might encounter when considering a similar trip in the future.

Myth #1: Long-term travel is expensive 

One of the largest mental barriers preventing individuals from travel is the prohibitive factor of cost. Most people, conditioned by standard work vacations, believe that it requires a large financial investment to embark on a long trip.

John Muir, legendary environmentalist, traveler, and writer had a term for this attitude: “time-poor.” Long-term travel is ultimately about how one decides to utilize their most valuable commodity: time.

By traveling slowly, choosing a destination that is relatively inexpensive, and making certain sacrifices along the way, I found it incredibly easy to travel comfortably at a very cheap pace.

This million dollar view doesn't actually cost a million dollars
This million dollar view doesn't actually cost a million dollars

Although there were certain upfront costs that had to be incurred (flight, travel insurance, etc.), I tried to spend about $50/day and comfortably came in under budget for the whole trip.

Myth #2: Travel requires a ton of advance preparation 

Before this year, every single trip I’d done had been accompanied by extensive planning up front: a daily itinerary, hotel bookings, ground transportation tickets along the way. Long-term travel invokes a different approach: embrace the freedom and ambiguity of having no set schedule. The key here is to rid yourself of heightened expectations, just enjoy the present moment and make your own decisions about how long you want to stay in each location.

For example, I arrived in Pai, a tiny town in Northern Thailand, with plans to stay for 2 or 3 days and see the main sites before moving on to Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai. But when I was met by an inspirational amalgamation of fellow travelers from all over the world who were all having an amazing time, it was easy to make friends and thoroughly enjoy myself. I ended up staying for a full week before moving on.

On the flip side of the coin, I planned to stay in Nha Trang, Vietnam to relax on the beach for a few days after a long motorbiking journey in Laos. But the gloomy weather, influx of tourists, and lack of fellow backpackers made it an easy decision to move on to my next destination after just 36 hours.

The gloomy barren beach in Nha Trang
The gloomy barren beach in Nha Trang

Myth #3: Solo Travel is

Dangerous and Lonely

When I first started telling my friends, family, and co-workers about my plans, one of the most common refrains was “Who are you traveling with?” followed by surprise when I informed the person that I would be tackling this journey alone.

Although there are definitive positive externalities to traveling with friends, I never found myself lamenting the fact that I was alone on the road. To the contrary, I found great comfort at enjoying each day at my own pace, unencumbered by the agendas of others. At the same time, I also vastly enjoyed sharing my traveling experiences with people I met along the way. Making new friends from all walks of life is one of the core pillars that makes traveling such a special experience.

With the exception of a couple of finicky busses that broke down and a brief scam attempt in Bangkok, this trip was also miraculously devoid of any particularly arduous situations. Although there were a few times when I found myself in potentially dangerous situations, maintaining personal awareness and a calm demeanor can go a long way in keeping you safe in a foreign country, even when traveling alone.

Although the sun is setting on my backpacking trip, I must try to maintain this traveler's mindset, for it opens up a world of learning and results in enrichment of the soul. If extended travel has taught me anything, it’s that much of what we pursue and fret over in our regular lives is largely meaningless. Life, even with all its complications and endless information, can be boiled down to certain universal truths (like this one, from a temple in Chiang Mai).

This trip has been the adventure of a lifetime. It was replete with a multitude of moments that had me wondering what I have done to deserve a life as great as this one. I’m distraught to think that I’ve reached the end of my vagabonding life, yet I hold hope in my heart that it is just the beginning of a much longer journey.