Backpacking is something normally associated with gap years and students just out of sixth form or university, but is there room for anyone else in the often stereotyped travel choice?
As many of you know, seeing as I can’t get it out of my mind, I will turn 25 this month. It seems like a bit of an ‘assessment of life’ age, and this is something I’ve been doing lots of. The last backpacking trip I went on was entirely different to the first in the people I met and the places I went to.
My first three month trip was a tour of the US, during which I met a huge range of people of all ages, lifestyles and backgrounds. The second trip, however, based mainly in Australia, New Zealand and Thailand, seemed a lot younger. This could have been down to my previous experience of travelling, and therefore being less nervous and naive about things, but it also seemed as if those donning the backpacks and sleeping in rooms of 20 people or more were much more around the age 18 mark than before. Of course, I still met a range of people of different ages and at different stages of life, but the difference was noticeable.
Lately I have been considering whether I would go backpacking again, and I can’t help but wonder if I would feel a bit like the token older member of a group if I were to go.
I think it comes down to what backpacking is. The definition changes for everyone, but to me I consider it to mean a lengthy trip abroad – a few months or more – consisting of going alone or with a small group of friends, sleeping rough or very cheaply, meeting strangers everyday and living out of a backpack. The term also indicates a lot of rapid moving around from place to place, covering as much ground of a specific part of the world as possible.
Backpacking is also commonly referred to as travelling, and the two terms are pretty much interchangeable. Travelling doesn’t have to be a trip that takes as long, it could be visiting somewhere just for a short holiday, but the difference between those can be seen on your trip itself. Will you stay in hostels or hotels? Do you expect service staff to be a part of the trip or will you be self sufficient? Will you take tour buses or figure out routes on foot? These changes might not seem important, but they make up the basis of a very different trip, and I feel once you set foot into the more luxurious category, you are leaving backpacking and travelling behind.
I’m planning on going on a short trip to Eastern Europe this summer, and although I’ll have my backpack and trusty flip flops with me, in a metaphorical sense they will still be packed away in storage. I don’t see myself going on endless trips again spanning months and months. I love travelling and will never stop going new places, but as for the backpacking lifestyle, I can’t help feel it is really just for the young.
Saying this, I am not excluding anyone from backpacking, but to backpack you must have the time to commit to it, and during that time the rest of your life is on hold – a career, a house, a family, etc. You can go backpacking into your 80s if you like, but other aspects of your life will undoubtedly compensate, and you may still be that 18 year old in your head who finds it hard to adjust to adult life later on.
So my advice to those who love their backpacks and all the hundreds of grains of sand within it is this: look at your life,
your age and your situation and where your travels fit in. If they are close to 100% of your reasons for being, then you will be a backpacker for life. If not, hang on to the memories and acknowledge that life-altering trips may be fading out, but travelling will be there forever.
One more thing though, the day you use the word ‘glamping’, meet a tour guide before a local, pack more than two pairs of shoes or find yourself staying somewhere with complimentary shampoo, you can be sure your backpack has retired and you have crossed the line into HOLIDAYING. Be warned, and if in doubt, check to see if your bag has sprouted wheels.