The rules of backpacking

Backpacking /bak-pak-ng/ Verb:  1. Form of travel, involving a single, independent traveler who carries a minimal amount of possessions to assure cheap and easy travel, usually in a backpack or other form of small and easily managed luggage.

Backpacker /bak-pak-r/ Noun:  1. A traveler who journeys by means of backpacking [see definition of backpacking].  2.  A poor person with ambitions for traveling and does so by means of backpacking.  3.  A young person who travels internationally for a period of time with a minimal amount of possessions carried in a backpack.

The world is a vast place of endless joy, culture, and amazement.  With so many things to see, with so many things to do, with so many people to meet, with so much food to taste, with so much music to hear, with so many places to visit, it’s easy to fantasize about taking off on an adventure to all the places you could possibly dream of, especially while still young with the world at your feet and minimal responsibilities to attend to.
Traveling, as everyone is aware of, costs money.  However, some genius out there created a relatively cheap and wonderful method of traveling, in which you pack a small amount of necessary items into a backpack and just take off.  Ah, the wonderful world of backpacking.  You ride trains, you sleep in hostels, you crash at the homes of people you may know or the homes of friends of friends, you walk everywhere, you explore nature, you go to festivals, you can almost always find free attractions to visit…  What could possibly go array when you are full of ambition, your plans and possessions are minimal allowing for only possibility, and you are ready to tackle the world?  You will find yourself surprised, let me tell you, at what sorts of things will happen along the way.  And so to prepare you for the misadventures that may lie ahead, I have prepared a list, known as The Rules of Backpacking, to eliminate some of that element of surprise.  Here it goes:

1.  Pack minimal for the maximum experience.  This may seem like a total duh, but packing can prove to be more challenging when it comes time to deciding what to bring along on the adventure.  When it comes to packing, we tend to OVER pack, fearing that somewhere along the way, we might need a particular item.  Sure, if that time comes, it would be convenient, but trust me when I tell you that you won’t need it, and if you do, you’ll learn to live without it.  It’s as simple as that, and it exercises your ability to be resourceful.  Packing the absolute minimum allows you to tear yourself away from the materialistic world we live in and completely immerse yourself in your experiences.
2.  Pack wisely.  Our everyday lives don’t ever give us the opportunity to think very wisely about our possessions and how we use them.  Remember, you may not always have access to a sink or washing machine, so your clothes may want to something that doesn’t show dirt too easily.  Don’t pack anything you can’t afford to lose and pack items you don’t mind leaving behind.  Given that your space is precious, packing items you are attached to really limits you.
3.  Let’s face it, you will smell like a hippie from time to time.  Ever sit in a small place for ten hours at a time?  You will begin to smell gross after four hours, now imagine what you will smell like after ten hours.  Ever walk for hours carrying a multitude of things?  You get really sweaty really fast.  Showers, soap, and deodorant may be in low supply at times, so it is a great time to learn to embrace your pheromones, keep your arms down, and accept the fact that yes, you are a smelly beast.
4.  Learn to love crackers.  Crackers are the Kibbles and Bits and the Meow Mix of the human kind.  Crackers are cheap, filling, and a good source of sustenance that requires no refrigeration, no cooking, and travel well.  Good for those moments you find yourself low in cash and high in hunger.
5.  When in doubt, remember that you are a stupid foreigner.  Maybe you know the rules, maybe you don’t.  If you ever get caught, though, play very dumb, like dumber than you would normally and hope the authorities take pity on your “helplessness.”  Never EVER let the authorities know you are carrying your passport, because that will prompt them to fine you.  And if they do try to fine you, argue “If you charge me, I won’t have money to spend that would help stimulate your country’s economy.”  It certainly sounds like a solid argument, anyway.  The reality, though, is that as a backpacker, you don’t have money to be fined or stimulate an economy, so the situation would prove an excellent opportunity to test your BSing skills.
6.  Don’t be embarrassed, it really is funny.  Words, dialects, and slang will portray different meanings in different places, this is simply unavoidable.  Someone may ask you for a fag, in which case you look at them confused and respond, “I’m sorry, my gay friend is not with me today,” even though they were referring to a cigarette.  Or you may compliment a girl on her pants, for which she asks, horrified, “How do you know what my pants look like,” thinking you were looking at her underwear.  It is innocent, it is funny, so just laugh and appreciate these moments.
7.  Foreigners from time to time will look lost and stupid, it’s okay.  We’ve all seen them, the foreigners wandering aimlessly with that bewildered look on their faces as if this was the first time they’ve been introduced to earth.  Of course they’re just finding their way around, getting a feel for the lay of the land, but inevitably there is no way to not look stupid while wandering around seemingly lost.  You will be that person.  It’s okay, though.  You will eventually find your way and these people will never see you again, so don’t concern yourself with how you look as you walked up and down the same street twelve times.
8.  The ground is never just for your feet, be prepared.  Something to expect while backpacking is the unexpected, so don’t be surprised when things, even the simplest of expectations, don’t follow through.  I’m mainly referring to a bed to sleep on at night.  We don’t consider this sort of thing when getting ready to embark on a journey, but there is always the possibility that the ground your feet travel on may be the bed in which you lay down to rest at night.  As a good friend scolded me, ALWAYS remember your sleeping bag, or you may find a miserable night ahead of you.

I have formulated my rules based on my misadventures while living out of a backpack, and I know the list of rules will continuously grow with every mistake I make, every time I embarrass myself, every time I appreciate a moment, every time I am able to laugh with people, and every time something had enhanced my experience.  Traveling offers humor, enlightenment, and opportunity.  Our traveling moments are too short to be filled with nothing less than appreciation for everything that awaits us on the path of our journeys.

Please, comment with your own contributions to The Rules of Backpacking, and maybe help me and others on future journeys!

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