By Hafiz Asnawi
“Not all those who wonder are lost”, according to J.R.R Tolkien. This phrase has been an inspiration of so many people to start backpacking. True enough, backpacking is becoming a trend nowadays. Some even say that it can be addictive at a certain point, that once you start you will never be able to stop. You’ll find so many people flooding their Instagram feeds with pictures of all the places they’ve visited. From sipping a freshly brewed coffee in the street of Vietnam to hiking along the mountain of Kathmandu, Nepal. So what exactly is this “backpacking” thing that everyone seems to be talking about?
Now and then there are arguments between those who called themselves as “backpackers” against those they called “tourists”. The main point of the argument is always the same: who are the real travellers?
Backpackers consider tourists as non-travellers. For them, tourists only go to a place for the pictures and the five-star hotels, maybe buy some souvenirs on their way back at the airport. For backpackers, travelling means real cultural experience, blending with the locals and go to places many never have heard of. All of this while maintaining a low budget throughout their travelling period.
Backpacking is more than travelling around the world with a backpack on your back. Instead, it is a form of low budget independent travelling for people who want to go around seeing the world without paying too much during the process. Basically, the idea is that you don’t need large amount of money to be able to travel. This concept is extremely relevant especially for students where backpacking is the number one choice in travelling considering that for most students, money is always the issue. So basically, backpacking means not just to travel but to travel cheap.
The effort to go cheap in your journey starts from the basic which is the backpack, and that’s why it’s called “backpacking”. For a backpacker, your backpack on your back is where you stuff all the things you’ll need throughout the journey. This way you will be able to avoid yourself from paying all those extra luggage fees at the airport and at the same time helps you to be more mobile. This is because a backpacker will opt for the cheapest means and will rely on public transport, hitch a ride or even go by foot. It will surely be a problem to bring extra luggage.
What about hotels and places where you sleep? Expensive hotels are obviously out of the picture. Forget about the king size bed, hot showers, giant bath tub and free breakfast buffet package because as a backpackers you’ll need to find the cheapest hostels for the night. The hostel here means a small dorm, double-decker bed, and shared bathroom which means you will have to say goodbye to privacy. Some of them even don’t mind going to the extreme of sleeping on benches. The aspect of being comfortable is not the priority as a backpacker (well, at least most of them). Some of the excuses is “I don’t come here to sleep, I come here to explore”. This could save them a lot of money instead of staying at hotels and villas.
Backpacking is more to educational trips than a holiday. To backpack means to gain maximum experience and knowledge about the places you visit. This include exploring all the streets and villages instead of cities and tourist hotspot as well as blending with the locals and to take part in their daily activities. Forget about all the fancy things in big cities and shopping malls, you can go to Turkey to experience the cultural and architectural collision of east and west or you can eat your way through Thailand’s street market and maybe volunteer yourself to be a punching bag for locals Muay Thai’s fighter. Some people even don’t mind staying at a place a little longer to be a part-time worker in a restaurant or to harvest fruits to experience deeper the life of the locals as well as to add up to their finance resources.
Travelling has become much easier today than it was the past because of the development of modern technology. The advent of the Internet changes the way people travel. With Internet, planning a trip has never been so easy. From booking your airline trips, navigating, and even acquiring knowledge about your destination all can be done with the internet. There are hundreds if not thousands of blogs and websites available online where people share their tips on how, where, and how much money you need to have to travel. Some are also kind enough to provide a surprisingly detail list of what to do and what not to do during your trips. Thanks to the Internet, you can already plan your next trip before you even finish you current trip.
These backpackers “community” even set up accounts on social media as a means to share pictures and experiences regarding places they have been to. Just go to twitter for example and search ‘backpacker’, you will find many posts and stories about interesting places to visit. Some of which you never knew existed. The number of people following updates on these kind of accounts shows that more and more people has put up an interest in backpacking.
The development of public transportation is like a big helping hand that enables backpacker to travel easier and cheaper. Being a “true backpacker” so they say, to move around places means either to hitch a free ride, use public transportation or even walk on foot. The development of the public transportation today such as trains and busses has made moving from one place to another a lot cheaper. Most developing countries of today has ensured that their public transportation system is easily accessible at the same time, being cheap. You can go almost to any places just by taking buses or trains. The tricky part is just that to know your way through the sometimes confusing system of it like which trains for which location, where to stop and where to start and how much money will it cost you.
So all this backpacking and cheap travelling sound great, isn’t it? Now you know why it is becoming a trend. Well, if you don’t mind travelling cheap, backpacking is a perfect way of travelling for you, but of course, there are reasons why some people do not prefer this concept of travelling. Backpacking carries a lot of risks. Being an independent traveler, you could be the victim of thieves and scammers around the world. Walking around with a big backpack on your back is like wearing a big sign saying “hello everyone! I’m not from around here” and travellers are exactly who these people are looking for because they are the easiest target.
Thieves, street scammers, kidnapers, pick pockets are those you should be careful about when traveling. There are cases where someone is stranded in a country and cannot return home because all of his money and even his passports were stolen. For example streets in Rome, Italy are full of these kind of people. Drop your guard and in a blink of an eye and soon you’ll realise that you can’t find your wallets, you lost your purse, and sometimes forced to buy things you don’t even want.
This is why some people prefer buying travel package because for them, they don’t mind paying extra as long as their safety is ensured. That is why it is crucial that you have done your research on any places that you are planning to visit. You must know where to go and where not to go, who to meet and who to avoid, also you must always have some emergency plans in case something goes wrong.
Is the culture of backpacking and seeing the world especially among youngsters of today actually good for them? By travelling to new places, you will open up your mind and change your perception on the world. It’s not just about taking beautiful pictures and pampering yourself with wonderful local cuisine, it’s about meeting new people and to see the world from their eyes. People who travel often will understand the beauty in the differences of places in the world as well as the people living there. You will look up to those who are different rather than to despise them.
Seeing the world is also a very good way to release stress. Most of the time you are working and studying like there is no tomorrow and at some point you feel like your head is going to explode? Well, instead of wasting your weekends on movies and karaoke machines, why not travel? Everyone needs a time out every now and then, pack your bag and go on an adventure. There’s more to life than assignments and those piles of works in your office. Nothing clears your head than nature itself.
As students, backpacking will teach you to be decisive. Throughout your journey, you will be facing many problems as well as choices. Backpacking helps you in a way to remain calm and work your way to find the solution to your problems. On the other hand, for those who are travelling in groups, teamwork will be developed. Your social skills will be polished because along your journey, you will meet a lot of strangers and do make them your friends. Hear their stories and tell them yours. Laugh your heart out and maybe sing a song with them.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you are a backpacker or just a tourist, those are just name people label themselves with. What matters is that you are travelling, not for the pictures and the “been there, done that” part. It’s about learning something new and going to different places and unraveling new cultures and tradition.
A wonderful quotation by David McCullough Jr ,“Climb the mountain so that you can see the world, not so that the world can see you” described perfectly why we should travel. Every part of the world is equally beautiful and all of them are waiting to be explored. So what are you waiting for? Grab your backpack, go and see the world!***