- Where I’m coming from
When a thing becomes mainstream, it fades in novelty. Same is true with travel. Travel has been, and still is, an exercise in exploration, philosophy, and life-lessons. But commercial travel has dulled its impact and caused more harm than good.
I believe an authentic travel experience lets you experience a new world and not just sight-see a place. It allows you to experience the unfamiliar with all the pleasant and scary feelings exploration evokes. A real trip makes you live a different life and makes you to be a different person. I find this through backpacking.
Leave home, leave the country, leave the familiar; only then can routine experience – buying bread, eating vegetables, even saying hello – become new all over again.
- What is backpacking?
Don’t be a tourist, be a traveler.
Backpacking is low-cost, independent travel, which involves using public transport, staying in inexpensive lodgings, and carrying all necessary possessions in a backpack. Extensive travel journeys of the past are considered as a tool to explore and learn about the world and the self. Backpacking is a more convenient version of such experiential travels. Every traveler has their own style and approach towards backpacking but, what characterises backpacking is,
. Not a vacation
.Spending relatively much less money
.Using public transport
.Carrying one’s luggage in a backpack
.Experiencing the local life of the region
The distinguishing factor of backpacking is how you approach visiting a place.
Tourist scene: You are in Spiti valley, Himachal. You drive into Langsa village. You enjoy the scenery around the road. You drive up to the monastery, visit the Buddha statue, click a few photographs amidst other tourists, you have tea and make a few comments on the place, then drive off to your next destination.
Backpacking scene: You drive into Langsa village. You enjoy the scenery along the road. You drive up to the monastery, visit the Buddha statue. You are there to explore, not simply check the place off of your list. You walk/hike to a point across the village. You watch as the locals performing their daily activities. You know the activities, but they seem new here.
You stop by a house and ask them for some water. You compliment their village. You ask them something; they ask you something about your hometown; maybe you offer to assist them in an activity like sowing or harvesting. You learn about them, the village, and their life there; you leave them with a pleasant impression of a traveler. You walk back to your vehicle and drive off to your next destination.
The first scene is comfortable, but not engaging. And if you’re into authentic travel, then the second scene appeals more.
In a pre-booked tour, the agency does the planning-arrangement-execution, and we simply go through the itinerarised motions.
Backpacking is a more hands-on form of tourism where you plan, organise, and execute for yourself. This takes considerable time, energy, effort, and willingness. This sounds a bit of work, but this is more fulfilling.
The difference between packaged travel and self-guided travel is like the difference between hiring a prostitute for sex and trying to pick up the attractive person at the bar. It’s the same activity, but it’s not the same experience.
Life is an adventure, not a package tour.
- Economics of backpacking
Time, money, and energy are the basic investments for a trip, and the experience is the ROI.
When Money spent = Unrestricted, Time spent = Less, Energy spent = Less, Experience = Cushioned
When money spent = Restricted, Time spent = More, Energy spent = More, Experience = Immersive
Why does backpacking emphasis on having a bootstrap budget and spending less money?
Money buys you comfort and convenience. It grants easy access to places which are difficult to reach. Having spendable money makes life easy.
Backpacking is not about the easy. You subject yourself to pain and exhaustion in the gym to grow stronger, similarly backpacking is to put yourself through rugged situations to grow stronger. And in this endeavour, spending a handsome amount of money keeps you from the experience.
I once traveled to camp a night solo in the Thar desert. It required a camel/jeep ride to get to the Thar desert from where the road dropped me. I needed a drop-off into the desert and then a pickup the next morning. The camel trip cost 1700 Rs. If I were to pay the price, it would be a no fuss transaction. No strain on the brawn or the brain. Easy. Would I have learnt anything?
But I didn’t have 1700 Rs. I had 300 Rs. and some spare change. Thus, began the dance of negotiation. I took a moment to examine the person and think of the best way to convince him. A fair transaction was out of the window; I had to appeal to him on a personal level. A wise man on the TV once said, ‘you don’t get convinced, you convince yourself’. I explained my reasons; I was frank about my ignorance and disclaimed that he didn’t need to help me, but it’d be amazing if he did. I also made it clear I wasn’t completely at his mercy as I was prepared to walk the distance if nothing worked out. I let him marinate in that and asked him for a bidi. We shared a smoke, joked about stuff. He told me about his work and tricky circumstances he had faced in the past. After chatting for a while, we bonded over our mutual fondness for adventure and our lack of foresight. I reminded him about the ride I still needed; he didn’t agree. I was not upset. I thanked him for the conversation and said goodbye.
I set out to find another camel operator. Just as I went a few steps, Alif called me back, and nodded his head in the direction of his camel. I was to pay the camel in kind; just kidding. I got a drop and a pickup for 300 Rs. Not only that, but he even called his friend inside the desert and told him to look after the fool he’s sending.
Not having money gave me a momentary friend and a lifelong memory.
PS: I was lucky I met such a person; it’s not common for people to entertain such situations. Don’t do such things intentionally. My point is, try to push yourself to get what you want using limited resources.
A more advisable thing to do would be taking public transport to get the feel of how locals commute. Talk to a fellow passenger, get to know a person from a different region. Don’t just pass by in your private car, but let people see you make an effort to explore their area; they’d be happy to give you a tour. You might even get invited for tea or lunch, maybe even a stay. Staying at local homestays, it’ll be a richer experience than staying in a hotel.
- Philosophy of backpacking
Backpacking is about the Simple. In backpacking, you carry your belongings on your back, use public transport and homestay accommodations, and experience the local life. It is to practice carrying the weight of your desires, recognising what truly matters to you, and expanding beyond yourself.
Packaged travel is like getting your dream job. Backpacking is like starting your dream company. The fulfilment comes from putting effort into the things you want.
The difference between backpackers and vacationers is that the former can’t help but invite hassle, whereas the latter pays to escape it.
- Effects of backpacking
You live on fewer things, money, and utilities.
You function with less assurance of how things will turn out.
Your need for control eases. You become less uptight.
You expand your comfort zone.
You learn to pursue a journey and enjoy it.
You learn to not get bored.
You develop quick arrangements and connections.
You learn to modulate your behaviour.
You are quick on your feet.
You learn to trust people.
Downside: Backpacking is exhausting, uncomfortable, lonely, mentally & physically demanding.
Backpacking affects every individual differently. Every person should go backpacking, but that doesn’t mean backpacking is for everyone.
If at some point you ask yourself, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’ then you’re doing it right.
- The Trip
Not all of us can afford to travel for months at a stretch. But travel is an essential component of a balanced life. We should have a dose at regular intervals. Having an approach to planning a backpacking trip should definitely help with the experience.
The following steps view travel not as an escape from life, but as a planned break, which is a part of life.
– Choosing your destination.
If you think choosing a destination is quite easy, you’re right.
Research and explore what the place offers, and what you’d like to experience.
Think about, type of scenery, landscapes, and climate of the place.
Dry, hot deserts; windy, cold mountains; breezy, humid coasts; dense, green forests; icy, white glaciers, etc. Learning about our planet is always interesting, and essential, considering how we’re destroying it.
Consider the weather during the time of your visit.
You prefer warm summers, gushing monsoon, or chilling winters?
Whether you want tropical or temperate climate.
Think about all the activities through which you can connect with the place; hiking, cycling, scuba diving, cave diving, jungle safari, rock climbing, walking tours, etc. Don’t get scared of putting yourself in some harsh environment.
Checkout local life at markets, restaurants, residential colonies, local hangouts, etc.
– How much can you spend?
Think about the resources you have, how many does the trip require, and how much are you willing to spend, Resources = money, time, energy, will, and equipment & gear.
This consideration allows us to limit to our endless desires and keep things real.
– Find your places of interest
- Search internet for things to do. > Places to visit, unique experiences, interesting activities, fun phenomenons to witness
- Look into travel portals, blogs, and other libraries.
- Research on how to get there > Map directions on how to travel from one location to another.
- Consider food, lodging, and transport options > Carry a tent if you’re into camping. Always carry some food & water. Public/shared/private transport, one or the other, is always available. If you prepared yourself to walk, you’ll be unstoppable.
- How to spend time when you’re at the destination > This is where your interests help you engage with a place.
– Organising ‘Things to do’
- Plotting on google map
- Create a trip on Google Maps. Google Maps→ Options→ Your Places→ Saved → Create (+) One by one, add all the places on your list. You will see them popping out on the map. Select a starting point; connect the dots to form a travel route.
Around each destination, mark the places/activities you wish to explore.
Ideally, plan your travels such that you form a circuit; have a start point, an endpoint (could be the same for day trips), and arrange the points of interest such that they take you towards the endpoint.
Note the travel time and distance between two points. This serves as approximate timing; in actual, it will be more. These durations add up and give you the total time required for the trip. Thus, the number of days required.
Organise these things day-wise. Arrange the places of interest such that you don’t have to commute on one route multiple times. Based on the transport connectivity, create a circuit map of your trip to optimise the use of resources (time, money, energy).
You’ve created your day-wise itinerary.
- Transportation, stay, food, and activities are the major costs of a trip. Research and find out how much each of it costs. The more detailed, the better.
- Starting with the ride from your home to the designated train station/airport. Then your train/flight tickets; in-transit expenses; cab fare/public transport fare of the place you’re first visiting; lodging-food-leisure/activities; continue this for everyday till you reach home.
Consider the cost of preparation as well: buying climate appropriate clothes, a good pair of shoes is a must, a durable & comfortable backpack, and some more.
Carry more money than you think you require. Keep your money in 2 or more separate accounts.
Inventory: Compared to the trip requirements, how much do you have right now? Collect what you don’t have (save money, transfer the itinerary onto your calender, workout-train-get fitter)
Get excited about the trip: Describe what the trip means to you; what will you miss if you don’t go; tell your friends, family, and colleagues about the trip; block the days on your calender; apply for leaves; notify people of your absence; mange your responsibilities accordingly; unburden yourself to travel with a free mind.
Keep reading about the places you’re going to visit: Monitor news & updates from your destination; less explored places and local-favourite spots; zoom-in on google maps to discover interesting things; read other travelers’ experiences; check Instagram for picturesque spots; read up on local culture, locals’ attitude & behaviour towards tourists; a community with a unique practice; endemic wildlife.
Get in touch with a local person: Connect with people using online platforms like Facebook groups, Couchsurfing, Instagram, co-travel apps. Ask them about how weather affects activities, about social conduct, local transport options, must-try things & hangout spots; if they’d like to help any part of your trip.
Make travel arrangements: Acquire appropriate clothing, accessories, utilities, gear, equipment; train physically, mentally, and emotionally; book tickets; check out lodging options & activities. (Punctuality is uncommon in backpacking. Avoid pre-booking anything that is time-sensitive.) Watch videos on packing efficiently; break into every item you have; learn to use a medkit; get travel insurance if you believe in such things; apply for visas and other documentation; update your bank accounts to work in a new region; read up on converting currency.
Stay relaxed: Don’t let excitement cloud your judgement. The journey is the destination; try not to have expectations. Focus on your breathing. Don’t control it, simply observe it.
Cheers. Travel responsibly.