1. Backpacking is not “vacationing”

I mean maybe it is in a sense.

You’re taking a break from your usual life, but you’re not taking a break from life itself. You’re doing the exact opposite, because you’ll spend little time sitting or lying around.

When I was backpacking, it didn’t feel like I was on a vacation at all.

Traveling from city to city, island to island across a Southeast Asian country isn’t easy. It’s pretty tiring, and doesn’t allow for laziness. Lazy backpackers are hard to come by, as these travelers are constantly on the move. It’s hot, humid, and uncomfortable. Keep in mind that you have your entire sum of belongings on your back. I traveled on every source of public transportation I can think of…I rode on crammed buses without air-conditioning, tuk-tuks (little motor street carts), catamarans that made me sea sick, small wooden boats that looked as if they were falling apart, and motorcycles & mopeds as I held on for dear life, hoping that my luggage didn’t fall off.

Add not speaking the national language to the equation, and it gets even tougher.

Many times, I was in a tropical beach atmosphere, but I spent most of my time physically traveling, and walking…A LOT. Everything was spur-of –the-moment for me, and I didn’t even book any of my rooms in advance. There was no point, because you really never know what’s going to happen or where you’ll want to be.

I never knew where I was going to sleep, until about midday when I’d find a room after walking the streets for a bit. Sometimes, I got lucky enough to stay with travelers I met along the way.

I didn’t eat luxury food, and I found that street food was not only the cheapest, but it tasted the best. I didn’t sleep in luxury places. Most of the places I slept had a lack of hot water, and sometimes a lack of electricity. I spent my nights lying on a cot-like bed watching bats fly across the room and through the windows. Many of the places I went did not have toilets in the restrooms, and I remember seeing geckos on the walls as I took a leak.

Backpacker lifestyle is pretty rugged, but so worth it.

It’s not a vacation. It’s a whole different life.

 

afterlight (1)2. Planning is important, but not that important.

Like I said before, you never know what’s going to happen to you, who you’ll meet or where you’ll want to be.

When you’re on the other side of the world, your options will never seem more endless. Don’t make commitments, because they’ll probably change.

The first place I landed in Thailand was Bangkok, and then  traveled south to the islands for more adventures. I met new people, and ended up making completely new plans with other backpackers I met. I decided to go with the people who were doing the coolest things and visiting the best places.

There was one point during my excursion when I even lost my passport, and couldn’t leave the country. I had plans to go onward with my travels, and visit northern Thailand and see Chang Mai…but that wasn’t even possible after losing my passport.

You never know what’s going to happen. Don’t worry so much about planning. Don’t ever feel like you aren’t ready to leave, because you’ll never be more ready than you are at this very moment.

 

afterlight (2)3. Know the name of a place you’re going to, and how long it should take you to get there.

Throughout my travels, I didn’t have a map, phone or computer to guide me. I made it everywhere, based on the sweet hospitality of Thai locals. Had it not been for locals being so nice and helpful, I would’ve been doomed.

I don’t have an expensive cell phone package, nor do I own a laptop or tablet. That, being said…it WAS do-able, and I came home in one piece.

My advice is that you know the name of major cities and landmarks in the areas you wish to travel. After a village retreat in the middle of nowhere, I knew I had to get back to the Bangkok airport. I also knew that it was about eight hours east of my location.

Everywhere I went, I walked up to locals and said, “Bus stop? Bangkok?” People pointed me in the right direction. To be certain I was headed the right way, I approached people every 50 feet or so, to ask where a bus stop was, or how I should travel to Bangkok. I asked different people the same question over and over…“Bus Stop? Bangkok?”

After many bus transfers and not knowing where I was. I looked at my watch, and realized I had  traveled for about six hours and I was nearing Bangkok.

After backpacking, you learn the tricks of the trade and how things work in a different country. I had no idea where I was, I just knew I was close to Bangkok and needed to be at one of two of its airports.

Be aware that knowing how to say “hello” and “thank you” goes a long way when you don’t know where you are, and don’t speak the language.

 

afterlight4. Backpacking alone was the best thing about backpacking

When planning my trip, there were instances when I had intended on backpacking with friends, but plans fell through and people bailed on me.

I was nervous, and didn’t originally want to travel through Southeast Asia alone, but I didn’t let any excuses stop me. I decided I was going to Thailand with or without anyone…it was now or never. Looking back, it made my trip more exciting.

I was forced into my new environment 100 percent. Everything I knew from back home was thrown out the window once I stepped off the plane. Every decision was mine, and I did everything I wanted to do without worrying about what my friends were “down for.” Now that I think of it, many of my friends back home wouldn’t want to do some of the things I did. I also didn’t have the money that some of those friends were trying to spend.

I was forced to meet new people. I was completely out of my comfort zone, and that’s how I learned so much about myself. I learned to handle situations without even being able to talk to anyone I knew. It felt good traveling by myself, and with all the beautiful things I was seeing and experiencing, it was great to just be alone. Really being one with myself.

I had to pay closer attention to every situation I was thrown into. I didn’t have a friend to depend on for being “good at directions.” I wouldn’t have made it, had it not been for my interactions with new people, and that made me appreciate the new people more. And to me, that’s what traveling is all about.

When times got tough, I didn’t have anyone to vent to. All I did was open my eyes, look around and stare at my crazy surroundings. I’d never seen a scenery so mesmerizing. I appreciated the land of new adventures.

I appreciated the people I didn’t know. I appreciated the land I didn’t know. I appreciated everything I didn’t know.

It made traveling a little bit harder, but that adds to the experience. I loved every bit of it.

I learned so much from traveling in wanderlust alone, maybe next time I’ll bring some friends to share my experience with!