Just like tattoos, backpacking is always wonderful in thought, you do it and it really sucks, and after you look at the finished product and completely love it (forgetting the duration of the suck).
Backpacking sounds so wonderful- doesn’t it? Greater amount of mobility, life on your back, trekking countries border-to-border, those wonderful pictures of backpackers on a mountain. Well let me be the first to tell you that it isn’t all pomp and circumstance.
There is no better flag to locals that you are a tourist (other than maybe a giant neon sign that reads tourist). Which can be to your benefit… but odds are it will just make it harder to barter and be a beacon for pick-pockets. Backpacking also hurts after a while- your shoulders, back, feet… Sometimes you’ll pay the extra bit in Venice to sit in a restaurant to just get some rest. Your clothes are always wrinkled, you have to really pick and choose what to pack and sparingly add souvenirs on your travels, always repacking your bag, trying to keep wets/dirty separate from clean etc. you get the picture.
Obviously it isn’t all bad, but contrary to popular belief it has a lot of draw-backs.
But it won’t stop me from doing it.
Backpacking gives the ability of mobility while travelling. You don’t worry about rolling suitcases around and everything you have is literally on you. There is security in that (with that said, my passport/seaman’s book, ID, some cash, and my phone/camera are always on my front in a secure place-please note a secure place is not your pocket).
At the end of the day it is really the only way to travel on-foot (or transit) with distance. It would not be the choice option if you were going to stay in a hotel in one spot for your vacation, but realistically if you want to do a few countries training across Europe- there isn’t a better option.
After a while you get used to your backpack- what it can hold, how to adjust the straps perfectly, and how long you can go without putting it down. (For me this balance gets thrown off whack when I add a water bottle…) But if you are new to backpacking or want to give it a go, I recommend that you pick a bag with full back support and be ready for it to suck a little-cause it will.
In choosing your bag, get a size realistic for your trip. I have a 30L backpack and that was perfect for a 3-week trip (and will be the one I use for a month). I also have a 60L bag for more extended trips or for trips that require some additional equipment. You also want to pack it properly- don’t overstuff and try to keep your packing as light as possible. For my fashionistas- put only clothes that can all be paired together in your bag- if you can’t reach in and grab a pair of trousers and a shirt and have an outfit- I suggest you change your packing. Get bar shampoo and conditioner and use less liquids if you can. Always bring your rain cover if you have one. You will regret it if you don’t and you get a rainy day. Don’t set any expectation for your wonderful backpacking trip, just go with the flow and take breaks when you need them.
There is nothing wrong with taking rests and rest days. Remember that you want to enjoy your trip! If something isn’t working for you- don’t do it.
Backpacking isn’t for everybody. Some people do it once, feel the suck, and never do it again. Some people are like me and are willing to endure suckitude for the end result and some people are just never going to do it. There are also the crazy people who love backpacking and love the suckyness.
Wherever you are on the spectrum of backpacking I hope you get everything in the trip that you are looking for- and remember even if you don’t, you have experienced something new (congrats!). Don’t just backpack because it is something you feel like you have to do. Wander your way.
“Tourists don’t know where they have been: Travellers don’t know where they are going.” – Paul Theroux