I especially love to compare the different times people traveled, to contrast. I was 22 in 2004 when I first went to Europe, which I’d do 5 times in all, and the last couple were one-way tickets (once staying for almost 5 months), as well as two trips to Australia (6 months and 3 months) and Thailand for a month, not to mention many trips across North America (where I’m from)…
I have to say, I’m glad I did it already – the cultural exchange is pretty dead with so many staring nervously at their phones.
There are two distinct definitions of backpacking. Many use it to mean heading out in the woods with a tent, stove, sleeping bag, and travelling long distances by foot. I’ve done a lot of that, sometimes for a few weeks at a time, both in the US and internationally.
The other use, one that you seem to be using, is low budget, long term international travel with your belongings on your back, but staying in hostels, hotels, couch surfing, etc. I’ve done some of that but not much, preferring to go hiking, skiing, or biking when I’m in another country.
Up to the Yukon, with tent etc. Awesome experience, spectacular country to pass through!
Hiked Inca trail to Machu Picchu, camping style bpacking, and across swathes of SAmerica, over a few months. Tremendous experience, glad to have seen the ruins before turnstyles were installed and appointments required.
Tons of Backpacking in SEAsia, India, Nepal. Not really a place for camping, carrying food etc, too many bugs and critters to be practical. Did some in Nepal, but most of the rest was in cheap hotels and guest houses. Added together this would amount to likely five or more years of my time. Def time well spent!
(And I am glad I got to see a lot of these places before the Chinese really started travelling, they now seem to dominate in every location. I’ve nothing against them, but they def change the game as they truly dominate in numbers, and it impacts everything in unexpected ways. It will balance out eventually, of course. )
My back pack is now needing replacing after the last trip, (Vietnam/Thailand 2017.) There’s always something a little sad about replacing a well worn/travelled bag, in my mind.
I should have clarified… I did the hostels, couchsurfing… Stayed with friends (that I met through traveling), worked/lived on a tomato farm in Australia. They were paying us weeks later, and always short, and as we were organizing and coordinating our exit, a few girls didn’t wanna go alone, so I went with them, knowing my buddy would come the next day. We made so many calls looking for work-for-accommodation and when we couldn’t find anything, we slept in a park. We didn’t want to put up a tent and attract attention, so we just slept on the ground padding.
I’ve done the backing/travel thing back in the 1970s/1980s.
In 1973 I hitchhiked from New York to Oregon with my girlfriend. It took us eight days. We slept under highway and railroad overpasses or set up a tent in a field (and one night in the cab of a semi as it crossed Nebraska and Wyoming. I did a lot more hitchhiking with a pack, mostly in the west, but that was the longest one.
In 1974 I hitchhiked or traveled by bus around Australia and New Zealand, sometimes sleeping in hostels but often in a tent off the side of the road (and once in a city park in Melbourne).
I also traveled with a backpack by train or bus in Mexico, Guatemala, and Costa Rica.
I’ve also backpacked for camping for up to three weeks at a time, in the Great Smokies, northern California, and Panama. I still do expeditions into the wilderness, but now at my age it has become worth it to hire a porter to carry my pack and food. (At this point my knees, shoulders, and back are pretty well shot from the backpacking I did in my youth.)
We had dinner with some old Foreign Service friends the other night. They are inveterate travelers and have been to some pretty remote areas. But what saddened me was their account of the latest safari they went on in Namibia. Apparently, young affluent Chinese are everywhere in Africa and spend a lot of time screaming while on safari, while madly snapping selfies. I know this sounds like a stereotype, but these friends are the definition of liberal, and they’ve been all over the world. Our times on safaris were the most peaceful vacations we ever took, and pretty much everyone we met along the way was respectful of the animals and the cultures. It’s a shame that this tranquility is being disrupted.
As for backpacking, my wife is the champ in this house. In the 60s/70s, she used to backpack in the Sierras, alone with her dog. She also hiked the Chilkoot Trail by herself, which is a real bitch. At one point, she closed her eyes, randomly stuck her finger on a map of Alaska, and flew to Anaktuvik Pass to go hiking. She luckily ran into a local who insisted that he accompany her with his rifle, as bears are common in most of that area. We still hike some, but we know our limits and there is no tenting.
I did the “round the world, cheap hostels” backpacking thing in 2002-03. I was away for just under six months, travelling on my own. I’d say it was the start of the end of “feeling isolated” - I had a mobile phone, which worked in most of the countries I visited for text messages, and I picked up Yahoo mail at internet cafes every few days.
Only a few years earlier (1995), contacting home from a trip to Kenya required going to the main post office in Nairobi and booking an appointment to use an international phone booth the following day. Times changed fast in the 1990s!
I ended up in a hospital on a fairly remote island off the coast of Thailand and literally no one outside of the folks in the hospital knew where I was. I couldn’t communicate out until I was back in Bangkok days later, and even then I chose not to as I was headed home the next day.
I did my first backpacking trip (the hostel kind) back in 89, spurred on by a colleague who’d gone round the world backpacking and who gave me lots of tips. I bought a couple of Berlitz language guides (the tiny ones for tourists) and a Let’s Go Europe, ripped out the pages for the countries I was planning to visit, and set out for Paris with no other specifics in mind. About once a week I’d send a postcard back home so my mother knew I was still alive.
It’s a great way to travel especially if you’re by yourself and shy, it makes you come out of your shell and talk to people, both locals and fellow travelers. I’ve done many more trips since that first one, always backpacking and hosteling.
Not sure what you mean about smartphones, even before that when you walked into the hostel’s common area, most people were sitting around reading books. It was just a way to look busy without staring at everybody who walked by. If you start talking to them they happily set aside the book/phone and start a conversation.
Hitch-hiking’s not as glamourus as you might think, people would be stuck in the same town for days before they got picked up. My own limit was two hours, after that I’d go and catch the bus/train. People still hitch-hike but the young 'uns use ride-sharing apps now. Keep your backpack between your knees and be ready to bolt.
Yeah, but not everyone is doing that. I know lots of people (young and old) who are having regular adventures to exotic locales. How many people in the 60’s just went between work, the local bar, and home?
Yeah, in this sense, I did it from about April through December of '96; I needed to take a break from college to just clear my mental energy, so 2/3 of the way through my junior year, I started by applying for a work exchange program called BUNAC in Britain. This allows you to work legally in the UK for six months of a year if you’re a college student or recently graduated. I ended up on the West Coast of Scotland somehow (it wasn’t my intention to start in Scotland, but something was calling me there.) I worked for two months at a hotel there, found a volunteer position in Slovenia, went there for three weeks, came back to Wolverhampton (where I had a relative). Then I found a volunteer job out in Croatia near the Bosnian border, and spent Sept through Dec there.
So lots of long bus and train journeys there, with stops and side trips to Budapest (which I’d find myself living in two years later for five plus years), Paris, Milan, and Poland along the way, lots of stops at hostels, cheap hotels, sleeping in train stations, and a couple of friends places. Mostly solitary travel, though.
Oh, yeah, and some hitch-hiking along the way, too. Mostly in Scotland and Poland for that.
It was a great time. I really enjoyed the solitary travel, and then setting up camp in a place for a little while to get the lay of the land, and then moving on to the next place. It’s really interesting for me now to reflect back on those times and consider how much energy I had, how absolutely fearless I was and how the yearn to travel and see a bit of the world consumed me. It was absolutely the best thing I did for myself at that time, and when I returned to school at the beginning of '97, all my mental blockages and academic roadbumps had disappeared. My last five quarters of school consisted of all As and Bs, whereas the quarter before I left I had earned the first two Ds of my life.
I guess I’ve become a backpacker over the last five years. After recovering from a small health scare, in 2015 I decided to take a six-week trip through Southeast Asia. I was already a convert to traveling light, and with no need for heavy clothing, I invested in a good backpack so I could be really mobile, swinging on and off ferries and trains and simply walking to the hotel no matter the sidewalk surface. Went very well, and I’ve been back every autumn since. Squeezed in a Japan-Korea trip one spring as well. I like a private room because I snore, so I typically do hostels only if they offer that option. In SEA, I can afford two-star hotels. Elsewhere, AirBnB or guesthouses.
Two weeks from tomorrow, I’m headed to the cities of the Andes for three weeks with only my trusty Osprey Porter 46, my MacBook Air, and a dozen items of clothing. I will say it really takes US Customs by surprise when I say yes, I’ve been gone three weeks, and yes, this is all my luggage.
I spent most of 1985-1989 backpack travelling in China, and wrote a guide book about it. In those years, I spent anywhere from 5-9 months on the road in China with a back pack. I did two trips in Japan during that time as well for about a month each.
I also am an outdoorsy backpacker. More of a trekker. During the above period of time, I also did several take a tent trekking in Tibet, with the longest trip being a month solo.
Now my twins are 13, we will probably start some overnight backpacking trips in the national parks here in WA state.