I almost missed it, if I’m being perfectly honest. I’ve stopped checking my phone for the time or date, and I most definitely couldn’t tell you if it was Monday or Friday. Time is no longer relevant, and I’m enjoying being off the clock.
As it turns out, it has officially been six months since we started our backpacking adventure! I have no idea where the time has gone, and it certainly doesn’t feel like we’ve been gone six months.
For those who are thinking of backpacking, but not quite sure what to expect, here are 10 important things this experience has taught me!
1. Backpacking is like having your body and emotions on overdrive all the time:
The highs are so incredible that you never want to come down, the bad days are heartbreaking, stress runs higher, a cough or mosquito bite could turn into the plague, money is treated like gold and getting the bottom of a bunk bed makes you king. I sometimes get hangry (which is probably why Matt keeps me regularly fed) and ‘Sleepy Ally’ will literally sleep anywhere, at any time. Some days, I prefer to keep to myself and read a book, rather than talk with anyone because I’m annoyed and wishing for my own space. I’ll be the first to admit I’m tired of having nowhere to dry my clothes, washing up after someone else because they didn’t clean the pan I need to cook my dinner on, keeping half my belongings in a locker but still worrying about things getting stolen and sleeping on the top bunk (…again). Backpacking tests you and reminds you to appreciate the little things.
2. The ‘Basic Backpacker’ Questions:
Almost immediately after meeting someone, I am asked the same three questions back to back:
Where are you from?
How long have you been here?
Where are you going next?
Closely followed by:
How did you meet your boyfriend?
How long have you been travelling together?
What will happen when you’re done backpacking?
No matter where we go or who we meet, it’s always the same. Instead of the typical questions and conversations, tell me about your dog, the weird person staying in your hostel room, that time you took an overnight bus and it was awful or maybe about the cool local market you found. Ask me to join you at the beach, play a game of pool or tell me a cheesy joke. The more we talk, the more we’ll find in common. There is nothing to talk about after you’ve covered the ‘backpacker basics’ because the conversation feels forced, repetitive and impersonal. Trust me, 9/10 times will end awkwardly.
3. Make sure your equipment works and/or fits before taking off:
– Test your travel adaptor and double check you packed all the right cables
– Does your backpack fit properly? There’s nothing worse than using a backpack that is broken or too big/small for you
– Try out all your zippers before you leave (and pack safety pins as a precaution)
– Choose the right lock for you, and understand how to correctly open and close it (I once had a combination lock change itself on me overnight… Not fun!)
4. Research before you pack your bag:
I feel as though I packed the wrong clothes and shoes, and only wear about half of what I brought. Make sure to research where you are going and what the weather will be like, taking into consideration if your destination gets extreme weather (are you likely to come across a heat wave, high UV index, heavy snow, hurricanes, cyclones, strong winds, etc).
I’m in Australia and packed all fitted clothes…. big mistake! The weather is so hot that I sweat all the time and it shows because of how tight my tops and shorts are. I’ve had to spend money I don’t have on a few new tops to help me keep cool during the day. Also, there are things I didn’t think I would need until the weather changed, and has to rush out to buy — it’s always the way! You’re not going to need everything you want to bring, and if you pack less, there is room to collect more as you need it. That will save spending unnecessary money to send unused things home (coming soon: ‘What’s In My Bag’ where I break it allllll down for ya). Sure, that dress looks pretty and that t-shirt fits well, but only pack it if you don’t mind potentially losing it!
Lastly, don’t skimp out on your health. Pay the money and pack a good first aid kit, a well-known brand of suncream and light layers to protect your skin from the sun. Don’t forget to look at dangerous animals and bugs you might come across on your travels and be prepared. We have invested in the best mosquito spray and After Bite to help us avoid the itch here in Australia! It’s better to have it and not need it all the time, than buy something cheap because you’re in a rush, and it doesn’t work very well.
5. A bad day is not a reason to quit:
I preach this over and over, as it’s so important to remember: one bad day (or even a few bad days) does not ruin your entire trip. If anything, it’s made you a little stronger and taught you an important lesson about a mistake or situation that could be avoided in the future. It’s ok to want to be alone, stay inside or not talk to anyone, but don’t let it become a habit – you didn’t leave home and go backpacking to sit in a hostel room by yourself all day! We are led to believe every day will be an amazing experience filled with adventure and fun, but in reality, it’s only like that some days. Do something small to help you connect with your surroundings… the feeling will pass! Read more on ‘A Bad Day Backpacking‘.
6. I haven’t found my place in the world just yet:
I didn’t decide to go backpacking to find myself; it’s actually something I work on every day. When it comes to human nature, I believe people can grow up, mature and learn along the way to improve themselves. As a child, life seemed black and white: I liked something or I didn’t, that was good or that was bad. As an adult, you learn to not close the door so quickly, open up and try new things (or at least, to tolerate them).
This experience is teaching me about new cultures, people and how to handle myself in different situations. I’m grateful that I am in an environment where I have the opportunity to continuously learn, grow and challenge my ideas of life. Each day, I’m a little bit closer to becoming to the person I dream of for myself, family, relationship and friendships. It’s a work in progress!
7. I’m worth more than what I own:
I have about 5 storage boxes full of belongings in my mum’s crawlspace back in Canada, and an entire loft full of furniture, clothes, shoes, books and such back in England. It’s nice to have a home and beautiful things to fill it with, but backpacking has taught me I really don’t need anything I can’t carry on my back. I’m healthy, happy, have a roof over my head and food in my belly — I have more than most people, and not a worry in the world. There’s no need to spend money on clothes or decorations that make me look pretty on the outside. My backpack has become my life, holding my clothes, shoes, personal documents, toiletries and a few souvenirs, and it feels great knowing that I don’t need anything else! What I own does not define me.
8. Social media doesn’t show you the whole picture:
We are constantly asked by family and friends,
“How do you afford to travel so much and not work?”
The truth is, we are always working hard to produce new, fresh and engaging content, but only choose to show you the best moments. We’ve been open about the struggles of backpacking, and what goes into maintaining a blog and 5 other social media platforms; It’s very time consuming, and we have to actively take breaks and remind ourselves to enjoy where we are. The photo-shoots are sometimes planned, each blog post is edited over a few days (often scrapped and rewritten) and captions are carefully crafted with puns that you’ll relate to. Travel is fun, but we also treat it like a job. Thankfully, this has led to some amazing opportunities for us (and we hope it will only grow our blog from here). Don’t assume you know the whole picture because of what you see on our social platforms!
9. Keep a diary:
Whether you keep a handwritten journal, jot notes in a day planner, collect ticket stubs, make a photo album on social media… the options are limitless. Find a way to keep track of everything you do on your trips, you’ll be grateful for all the photos and videos you have to look back on when home. Matt and I use our iPhone’s because it’s an easy way to record snapshots of what we’re up to, connect with friends on social media and update our blog! The phones are small, lightweight and Matt’s phone is even waterproof.
If you also choose your phone as a diary tool, remember not to get too obsessed with using the phone, and put it down from time to time!
10. Backpacking as a couple is more challenging than backpacking solo:
Believe it or not, we get treated differently to other backpackers, simply because we’re travelling together. More often than not, people are afraid to approach us and we have to go out of our way to sit apart, grab breakfast or dinner at different times and not be on the same team for hostel activities, just to meet others. This also means we avoid physical contact (meaning we act more like friends) when in the common areas and wait to share a moment when alone in our room, which is sometimes frustrating. Even when we make the effort to speak to other people, they often aren’t very engaging when they find out we are a couple. I’m not sure if they have a perception of couples being boring, or maybe it’s a new situation and they don’t know how to react to it, or possibly individuals are intimidated by a couple and don’t want to be the ‘third wheel’.
That’s not to say everyone is like that though, we’ve met tons of awesome people during our travels together, who have had no issue hanging out with us. So if you’re reading this, and you meet a couple who are travelling together, get to know them! They may be more fun than you expected.
It has been an incredible journey so far (I’m sure you’ve been following along), and I’m grateful for everything I’ve learned along the way because it’s already made me a better version of myself. Who knows what the next 6 months will bring… I’m excited to find out.