Go on, admit it. You’re jealous. Maybe it’s only a tiny bit, but you’re definitely jealous.
You see those backpackers hanging out at the bars, or in the hostels, or in the bars in the hostels, doing very little but boozing their meager savings away, and you can’t help but be just a little envious.
Sure, they’re not doing anything particularly cultural. They’re not mixing with locals or immersing themselves in a foreign land. They might not be learning much. They might be missing out on plenty that their destination has to offer.
But they are having a lot of fun. And there has to be a small part of every traveller that would like to go join in.
The trouble is, as you get older and richer, you tend to shed your backpacking tendencies. Like going to all-night rave parties and voting for the Greens, there are certain things you’re expected to just grow out of at some point.
Backpacking is one of them. And maybe that’s mostly for the best – no one wants to be that one creepy old guy in the dorm room.
But still, there’s plenty to admire about backpackers, and plenty that every traveller could learn from those cheapskate, drunken goons (said with love, backpackers, don’t worry).
The thing I’ve always loved about backpackers is that they very rarely lose sight of why they’re travelling: to enjoy themselves. To have the most fun possible at any given time.
They don’t get too upset about trains that are late or buses that don’t turn up. They don’t freak out over hostel rooms that don’t match up to the brochure. They don’t take one look at that rickety ferry and cancel all plans. They roll with the punches.
They understand that a fancy hotel doesn’t equate to a great experience. They know you can have just as good a time in a dingy bar as in a fancy restaurant. They will have experienced first hand the fact that some of the best travel experiences come through hardship, from riding on the roof of some rickety old bus, from trawling around markets looking for cheap food, from jumping in a tuk-tuk instead taking an air-conditioned cab.
Backpackers will be happy to tell you that time is far more important than money – in that the less you spend in any given day, the longer you can be away from home, doing what you love. Travelling.
I also like the fact that backpackers don’t seem to feel any compulsion to do things that they’re not really interested in. They understand that, sometimes, sightseeing is really boring. Sometimes you don’t feel like joining the hordes at the museums or the churches or the galleries. Sometimes it’s far more fun to just hang out at a bar all day and get drunk.
That might sound like a cop-out, but it’s actually a great way of meeting people, too. Maybe those people won’t be the ones who call the city that you’re visiting home, but backpackers seem to get that there’s just as much value in meeting other travellers as there is mixing with locals. Sometimes more.
Other travellers have amazing stories, too. They have knowledge, they have experience, and they’re willing to share it.
That’s part of the fact that you can usually rely on backpackers to be up for making new friends. Meeting people is part of their experience.
For some reason, though, that doesn’t last. As travellers get older they tend to become more insular, to travel with a partner or with family and to cloister themselves in private hotel rooms, to take private tours, to disconnect themselves from other travellers.
Backpackers, meanwhile, are always mixing with new people. Just stay in a hostel and you can’t avoid it. Everyone is up for a chat. Everyone is keen to hang out with someone new, whether that’s spending the day sightseeing together or just going down to the hostel bar together. Why does that social atmosphere have to get lost as you get older?
You have to admire, too, backpackers’ commitment to long periods of travel, to taking time away from study or even full-time employment to just wander the world for a year or so. They understand that it’s never too late to take a gap year. They know that it’s worth a few sacrifices to be able to immerse yourself in the travel experience for so long.
And that experience is all about having a good time. Maybe it’s not always cultural, and maybe it’s not always what you would describe as mature. But it’s fun. And we can all learn something from that.
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See also: 13 signs you’re too old to be a backpacker
See also: 15 lessons every traveller learns in their 20s