I was talking to my Friend Y mid last week, and she said that I was thrifty. Too thrifty when I travel.
If you don’t know me personally, I’m famous for trotting around India, alone at times with my trusty backpack. I’ve slept at all sorts of weird places. The most memorable – a SGD7/ USD5 room in Rishikesh with a tiny bathroom and minuscule sink such that if I were to wash my face, the surrounding area around the sink would be wet as well.
Then it got me thinking, to that outsider accustomed to the comforts of a city apartment, it seems really strange to be spending a sleepless night curled up in a dormitory bed, listening to the endless snores of strangers. It’s even more weird to be sharing a toilet with strangers – I do confess cringing when I see hair of unknown origins on the bathroom floor.
“Why?”, questioned Friend Y, would you want to go on a holiday and make yourself feel uncomfortable? She even added, “Why would I wish to be like you and bring back bedbugs?” Ouch, but she had a point.
She said she would rather go on a holiday to rest, relax and rejuvenate, rather than be stressed out over basis necessities – hygiene, cleanliness and convenience.
I thought about it. And I must admit that even though money isn’t such a big deal now that I’ve got a day job. Although I have sworn off super cheap hostels and walking 5 km to my destination, certain things doesn’t change.
Here’s why I would never give up backpacking even if I’d won a million bucks in lottery/ TOTO money.
1. Backpack, because ultimately, it’s all about the money
It’s true and I don’t deny it, but even after a million dollars, I think I’d still be a Scrooge. I’ll tuck my $1 million dollars in a pillow case at home, and continue to take tuk tuks and stay in affordably priced accommodation when I travel – nothing will change.
It is my belief, that if I can save 100 bucks from a trip, it can always buy me another trip to somewhere else. A new place, a new experience and a new story.
2. Backpack, because to me, travelling and going on a holiday are two different concepts.
Going on a holiday means resting, getting recharged and doing a little sight-seeing. Travelling is about going on a journey. Be it to discover a new place or culture, or broadening your mind. You go with the intention of learning, whereas if you’re on a holiday, you’re mostly chillin’. And for me to learn, I need to backpack.
3. Backpack, because there’s a great sense of achievement to be derived at the end.
It could be tiding through a moment with Russian drunks, or surviving a 7 day train trip from Beijing to Moscow. It’s the sort of moments you can look back and say, wow, that was quite a trip.
I’m not sure how to put this across, but at the end of the “suffering” during my trips, all I am clear is this – I wouldn’t have appreciated the things I had seen if I haven’t suffered that much. Like Kashmir’s beautiful parks and gardens, when I was shivering in the night under its sub-zero temperatures. Or the beauty of Mount Huangshan, after a tedious climb up and sharing a room with 32 other Chinese nationals.
4. Backpack, because there are some things you will lose out if you were to stay at an expensive hotel with and eat at expensive restaurants.
Comfort and convenience aside, backpacking is about braving new environments and trying out new things. If not for backpacking, I would not have tasted the best of India’s chai in Jaipur (it’s a tiny makeshift prata restaurant tucked at a street corner). I would not have chanced upon India’s best breakfast offering at 4am – a teenage boy frying bread and egg at his little stove at the Kashmiri Gate bus station in Delhi.
5. Backpack, because only then can you appreciate the best of all taxis and hotels.
It’s true. After staying almost half a decade in hostels with shared bathrooms, it can be very refreshing to soak in the luxury of a five-star hotel, and indulge in a 500 thread count bed linen, fluffy down pillows with your very own television.
Okay fine, out of that $1 million dollars in my pillow case, I’d squirrel some out (1%) for that occasional stay at a five-star hotel.
6. Backpack, because some trips just can’t be done with a four-wheel luggage.
It’s true. If you read the article “16 Astounding Backpacking Trips To Add To Your Bucket List” you’ll know why.
Some trips in this world just have to be done with a backpack.
7. Backpack, because I don’t believe in asking for help from guys to carry my luggage.
Just kidding. Anyone’s help (male or female) is always welcome to stuff away my shopping bags.
8. Backpack, because it makes me feel like Forever 21.
Minus the fact that I tire slightly more easily and have a lower tolerance to dirt and hair (other than my own) than five years ago, backpacking makes me feel young again. Those days with my boundless energy, where I could walk 3 km to my destination under the hot afternoon sun without a single complaint.
9. Backpack, only because you can.
I have decided that I shall backpack whenever I can in my twenties. Five-star hotels are to be enjoyed in my fifties where I need help from the porter to carry my luggage. Limousines are for when I can’t hold my pee for long.
10. Backpack, because it’s the best chance to make friends and seal bonds
It’s through backpacking in Myanmar did we meet Ara, our Korean friend, who later brought us around Seoul when we visited many years later, and introduced us to Korean culture and a great local restaurant.
It’s also about sealing bonds of friendship. Remembering the epic things you did together, and the beautiful moments. When I think about the sunset among the pagodas in Bagan, or the volcanic ash days at Mount Bromo, I’m just glad to have friends there to tide over the difficulties, and share the great moments together.
11. Backpack, because only then will the stories unfold.
It was by backpacking – my failure to take a taxi, did I meet several of India’s street children, and took so many lovely photos of them.
It was by backpacking – my insistence on walking did I meet a Tibetan refugee in India, who brought me to her home and told me her story.
It was by backpacking that we met The Ordinary Man in Yangon, Myanmar.
If I haven’t backpacked, there wouldn’t be any stories. The Travelling Squid wouldn’t be the way it is today. And so would be The Travelling Squid’s Instagram account.
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Hey, I’m not saying it’s a crime to be enjoying villas and five-star hotels. It’s nice to indulge in these from time to time. I’m just saying, despite its tough and seemingly hot and sweaty facade, backpacking has its merits. Backpacking is not just for poor people who love to travel.
It’s for people who love pushing their limits and trying out new experiences, be it for better or for worse.
There are two types of people in the world. Some who create stories as they go along, and others who are happy to take a backseat to watch things happen around them.
Which one are you? Or are you a mix of both? Do share your thoughts.