Why Do Backpackers Travel?
Backpackers are people who choose to travel light by carrying all their clothes and travel belongings (and sometimes tents) in a lightweight backpack or in bags on their backs. They will often make a checklist before a trip of all the bare necessities and essentials they may need to survive in rough conditions or in day to day travels, unlike a person taking a vacation who packs luxuries and non-necessities into a suitcase. As a backpacker myself, I can say that we typically choose a more idealistic way of traveling than your usual everyday traveler who prefers to check into nice hotels and spend all their time at day spas. But this isn't the only reason people choose to backpack and there is no one type of scenario or experience that they are all in search of. If you ask a hundred backpackers why they choose to live how they live and travel to the places they do, they'll give you a hundred different answers. Every single one of them has a unique story to tell and a unique reason for traveling as lightly as they do. Below are some of the more common reasons, however, and maybe you'll have a better understanding of what it's all about after reading some of them.
Experiences and Adventure
For many, Backpacking is all about the "experience" of a trip, and less about the relaxation or vacation part of it. It's like a drug, and adventure and excitement is the pill we pop. If you've ever seen the Leonardo Dicaprio movie The Beach, the backpacker lifestyle and ideals can be summed up with a line that Richard, the main character, says about traveling. To sum it up, he basically points out there everybody travels to places to stay in hotels that have all the same comforts you would find at home, and then he questions what the point of this is. This is how many backpackers feel, that if you are going to cross an ocean or travel thousands of miles, you might as well make it an experience or adventure that you'll never forget. Everybody that travels to Cancun for Spring Break has the same exact stories to tell when they get back, and every year, many return again to repeat those same experiences. Well for backpackers, that kind of story is boring to tell, and they'd much rather explore places or areas that are off the beaten path. This includes cheap accommodation, hiking in uncharted territories (with travel insurance if one can afford it), sleeping in tents with sleeping bags, or staying in cheap hostels in either a private hostel room or the community room with bunk beds. They want to have adventures like the kinds you only see in movies and magazines, and many do.
Some young backpackers are on a gap year, which is time they take off between school semesters to learn about the world or experience new things, before they end up going back to a boring classroom. Some even choose to travel to complete a thesis and earn various degrees based on their travel studies, such as Cleo Odzer, who earned a Ph.D. by writing about prostitution in Thailand and her travels across the country. Sadly, she died of health reasons in 2001 in Goa, India, but not before she wrote and published a book about her travels there, as well as a book on her experiences in Thailand while doing her thesis research. So many people choose to live as backpackers to gain knowledge along the way and insight into other cultures. This can include studying a specific country for their culture, their language, or in Cleo's case, a specific issue that affects a particular country. It's similar to investigative reporting in some cases. For some, the world is their classroom and every day they spend on the open road is like another lesson or another day's lecture. This can not only result in a better understanding of the world, but in better success in the future, as many learn how to deal with other cultures in not only a social aspect, but a business one. Others, like Cleo, use it to better their educational background, but also to secure their financial success in the future by writing about their experiences and selling those stories to others who are in search of a similar lifestyle.
In modern society, it can be very stressful just carrying on day by day, working a 9 to 5 job, sitting in traffic to and from work, and worrying if you'll still have the same job next month. For many people, it's too much pressure everyday to be a part of that rat race, and like the hippies, they feel the urge to "Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out". For those without money or a promising future in corporate society, backpacking is a great way to get away from a mundane existence and live like a rock star or Indiana Jones. Instead of paying $1,200 a month on rent in California each month and working a boring job all day, they can save up 2 month's rent and travel to Thailand or India for 3 months on that and have someone else drive them through traffic and have someone else make their food. For others, they just prefer simpler living and would much rather live a healthy lifestyle in tents or bungalows out in nature instead of an apartment in the middle of a crowded city with smog and pollution and noise everywhere. Then of course you have the trust fund backpackers, who are richer than your average one. They have plenty of money to travel because their parents most likely give it to them, and when it comes time for them to get a job, take over Daddy's business, or take on serious responsibilities, they run away and adopt the backpacker's lifestyle. For these types, they never had to work in their lives and traveling is a perfect excuse to avoid it.
It's no secret that many young people are trendier than their parents or older people. As people age, they often tend to care less about looking cool and aren't as concerned with trends as younger people. But for some young people, they may actually choose to backpack because it's become trendy in certain circles and they do it mainly for bragging rights. This breed of traveler is extremely rare, but they do exist. Many of them are obsessed with the counter-culture fashions and images of the hippies from the 60's, and they want to copy that and be able to say they lived a similar lifestyle. It's not so much about the ideals of the hippies to them, but more so about the image and the trends that come with it. Some people feel better about themselves and their own image if they are copying someone else's whom they admire or respect. This is why, in any backpacker community, such as Khao San Road in Bangkok or in Goa, India (or even some old hippie areas of Europe), you'll always find street venders selling t-shirts of Che Guevara. While some may genuinely respect the man and have studied his ideals, many wear the t-shirt simply because it looks cool and it's all about image to them. These types of backpackers usually don't last long and eventually give up budget traveling once the novelty of it all wears off.
For a small minority of backpackers, they choose to live the way they live because they experienced a tragedy in their lives or a life-altering incident, such as a loss in the family or the loss of a close friend. I can definitely relate to this because it's the sole reason why I chose to start traveling in the first place. My mother had died of cancer at an early age and while I was trying to cope with it, I had one of my best friends move in with me in California. I was originally from Florida and didn't have many friends in California to do things with. So my friend, the only friend who finally decided to come stay with me and do stuff with me in California, came out but had a real bad drinking problem. I tried to get him to stop but one night his coworkers invited him out to a party, so he went and he never came home. I looked for him for 2 days before finally getting a hold of one of the coworkers and finding out that my friend had died of alcohol poisoning at the party. I was already planning on traveling because of my mom's death, but this made matters even worse because I was still depressed over my mom, and I just had to get away. Everyday I went to work, I kept thinking, "I could die today, at an early age, and I won't be able to say I did anything great in my life when it's my time to go". Seeing people close to you die before their time really wakes you up and puts things into perspective. Life is short and even shorter for a select few, so we have to do the things we always planned to do while we still have that chance. I wanted to travel across seas, see the whole world and go on adventures, but I couldn't afford it on my salary. But I could if I went to cheaper places, and as fate would have it, it turned out that all the cheaper places were the exotic countries that interested me most. So many people you see who appear to be backpackers, lost in life, really aren't lost at all. They may have had a revelation because they grew up too quickly and experienced tragedies that many people don't. So they've put their life in the fast lane and are trying to live the most adventurous life they can while they still have that option.
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