Embracing my travel style

When I was in university, every summer I would say goodbye to most of my friends as they departed for their family’s home for the season. A large group of them weren’t going home, though. Instead, they were headed for global destinations to backpack across Europe or some other place. I envied them. I stayed behind to continue taking classes so that I could graduate more quickly. But I remained enamored with the idea of being a backpacker and always wanted that travel style.

travel style, Guatemala

As we prepared to become nomads, I was so excited to get our backpacks. I was actually going to be a backpacker, even if I was launching in my 40s versus my 20s. Part of me was a bit nervous, though. During previous travel, I usually was right at the maximum weight for my baggage. The old Boy Scouts motto of “Be prepared” stuck with me, and I always had more than I needed. Just in case.

When I began traveling for marathons, it was even worse because I needed my running shoes, trail running shoes, walking shoes, running gear, regular clothing, and my hydration system.

I picked a 42-liter backpack and was determined to only bring what could fit, and I wasn’t going to overstuff the bag either. I was going to figure out how to pack less for an indefinite journey than I would pack for a weeklong trip.

travel style in Honduras

For our first year, we traveled pretty much within the backpacker spirit of living on a tight budget, staying in some pretty . . . interesting accommodations, and opting for the cheap, crowded chicken buses to get around part of Central America rather than paying extra for comfortable, air-conditioned, non-livestock-containing buses.

Those situations certainly added adventure to our travels, but I started to rethink things after our extremely long travel day from Belize to Guatemala. Out of curiosity, after we recovered from our exhausting journey, I sat down and compared prices and was stunned to realize that we had essentially traveled 4-1/2 very uncomfortable hours longer than needed only to save about $11. And to top it off, Tigger lost his Nintendo gaming system in a taxi, which we wouldn’t have been on had we paid just a little more money.

I sat there stunned and reflected on the 8 hours sitting cramped and sweating on a recycled school bus made worse by the downpours that necessitated closing all the windows. In a bus with no air conditioning. And I was seated above a wheel well which meant that I was folded almost in half for the entire 8 hours.

And that was just to get to the border. We still had to do a taxi ride into town and another bus to get to Santa Elena, followed by yet another taxi into Flores where were staying. We left Caye Caulker, Belize in the morning and arrived at a hotel at about 10 PM.

travel style in Guatemala

After our Guatemala experience, we endured the worst travel day of my life. I decided my travel style was definitely not backpacker.

I will spend more money to be comfortable if I can at all afford it. It isn’t worth saving $6-7 to be in my bed with sweat pouring off me when I could have AC. Taking the Hedman Alas bus to get around Honduras may be $10-20 more expensive, but it is money very well spent. In Thailand, we took a short trip on the 3rd-class train, but I would gladly pay the extra money for 2nd-class aircon for anything longer than a few hours.

I love saving money. Who doesn’t? But if being a backpacker means having to stay in bug-infested, sweatboxes, or being in a horrid tourist-saturated “backpacker district,” I am no backpacker.

Someone once suggested I was a “flashpacker.” I wasn’t happy about that. I wanted to be a backpacker! I don’t know what my fixation on that specific label was, but I wanted to still fall into that category. I have completely given up on that, though.

I’m quite content with how we travel. Yeah, sometimes I wish I didn’t care so I could save a bit more money, but then I see my backpacker friends complaining about the couple in their dorm having sex, the used condom floating in the toilet, the guy with the leaf blower snore. . .

Umm, no. I didn’t like dorm rooms when I was in college, and I certainly haven’t developed a fondness for them now. In fact, I’ll pay more to not only have a private bedroom but en suite bathroom as well. That’s right. I don’t even want to have to share my bathroom if I don’t have to. But I’ll do a shared bathroom before I’ll sleep in a dorm room in a hostel.

In fact, I’d rather sleep on someone’s living room floor as a couchsurfer than stay in a dorm.

I’m not completely sure why it took me so long to get comfortable with my travel style, but I’m glad it arrived.

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  1. Absolutely! We carry backpacks, but were don’t think of ourselves as travel backpacks (wilderness backpackers for sure, though). There is definitely something to be said for spending that extra $6-7 to sleep somewhere comfortable, or have your own en suite bathroom. Of course saving money is nice, but since we are traveling (to some degree) everyday, we recognized that we need a certain level of comfort and privacy!

    Love that you were able to find your happy place with your travel style, even if it isn’t ”backpacker” 🙂

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  2. I think the definition of backpacker is expanding from what it once was. At this point, I travel with a backpack primarily for practicality sake. I can walk around for hours on end with my 32L bag. And while I’m generally cheap, I’d almost always spring for a private room over a hostel dorm (that said, I spent a few nights in hostels in Singapore last week to save money, and earplugs and an eye shade go A LONG way). Now that I’ve got a filthy, cheap private room here in Ranteapo (Indonesia), I kind of long for the CouchSurfing experience I had a few days ago in Makassar… Yes, I will happily pay a bit more for comfort…within reason.

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    • I hear that! We almost had to go for a dorm room recently because of the cost. But I will do almost anything to avoid it.

      So glad you had a great CS experience there!

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  3. I soooo hear you on this! I hated hostel dorms during my rtw trip and didn’t stay in one after about the halfway point. And while I like having a private room, I would gladly pay a few bucks more for a hotel room with an ensuite bathroom and more privacy!

    It’s funny you wanted to be considered a backpacker – I tended to cringe at that label. 🙂

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    • I think it was just going back to those uni days and remembering how fun it all sounded back then.

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  4. Definitely with you on not glorifying the (dubious) charms of shared sleeps and 14 hr. spaghetti-cramped chicken buses.

    And I do think it’s an age thing. Not so much that as aging backpackers we need the comforts more, but because we’ve “been there, done that” and and have learned that for a few more bucks you can be TONS more happy. It’s also as Steph above says – a matter of where do you put that $17? In 3 “buckets” at a Full Moon party or 3 nights of en suite toilet?

    That said, I do draw the line at fancy hotels (even if I can get them comped). Just far too isolating, and I must say, the folks who generally stay there, aren’t exactly my kindred travel spirits.

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    • We stayed at an all-inclusive resort in Morocco to celebrate Chrismakah, I really felt so out of place there. I just don’t enjoy those kinds of places.

      I so agree about the $17! I’ll go for AC and en suite over a Full Moon party any day.

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  5. Dude, I totally get that!!! We traveled similarly through Cambodia, Louse, and Vietnam just to get back to Thailand. It was difficult, but I don’t think it was a bad thing. Just a thing that everyone should experience. Although I don’t think I have ever found a used condom floating in a toilet. Normally I don’t want to know what is in the toilets of backpackers hotels and such. BLAH!!!

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    • I think it’s definitely a great experience. On a limited basis. I wouldn’t want to live like that long term. After our 1st year of travel, I was over it. LOL

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  6. Completely agree! I do think there is some value in roughing it as a traveler, and Tony & I have certainly had our share of that—staying in dorms in Japan because it was too expensive to do otherwise, taking 3rd class trains because they are so much cheaper, foregoing hot water and aircon (which we rarely actually need any more)—but we’re not afraid to spend money when we know doing so will dramatically improve our happiness. I think the value in going bare bones is that not only does it make those nice moments all the sweeter, but it helps you understand what is actually worth paying more for. I don’t personally care about a cold water shower, but Tony hates them, whereas I really don’t like shared bathrooms, but Tony would prefer that if it means hot water. Like any couple, we compromise, but without having stayed in a range of places, we wouldn’t know what we consider important and I’m glad to have that knowledge now.

    I definitely don’t understand the people who travel and are so fixated on being cheap that they make themselves miserable in the process. Sure we cut some corners here and there, but we always think about how much something is worth to us and that helps us figure out when we should spend more money. Sure, we could sleep in Bangkok for $10/person in a dorm,but for an extra $10, we can get our own room with private bathroom. That’s worth it to us! Same for here in Indonesia: we had the choice of a fast boat at $25/person one way to get to Lembongan Island, or we could take the slow boat for only $8/person. We decided we had the time and that a 90-minute ride didn’t bother us and we’d rather save the $17 per person… it wound up being a great ride and we’re glad we saved the money. But if you hate boats or the water or were on a tight schedule, of course it makes more sense to shell out the extra cash! Money really has no value except for what we spend it on, so if you’re not making yourself happy with your purchases, you’re wasting it!

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    • Some of those roughing it moments can be great memories. We took the 3rd-class train from Ayutthaya back to Bangkok. It was 1-1/2 hours so not horrid, but it was such an interesting experience. We wouldn’t have seen some different sides of the culture had we not been on there. And Tigger got to hang out of the moving train which wouldn’t have happened in 2nd class. But for me there would’ve been a big difference between 1-1/2 hours on a 3rd-class Thai train and a 15-hour trip. Would not have happened unless the 2nd class was way too far out of my budget.

      I’m with Tony on the hot showers. Even when it’s blazing hot outside, I’m not such a fan of cold showers.

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  7. Slackpacker: A backpacker who’s too lazy to visit all the museums and churches in the city, and mostly just plays cards in the hostel with other English speakers.

    Crackpacker: A backpacker who spends the majority of his time and money consuming illicit substances, and very likely bragging about it later.

    Mackpacker: A backpacker whose entire existence is focused solely on the seduction of whichever foreign ladies enter his eyeline.

    Hackpacker: A backpacker who pretends to be interested in the cultural wonders surrounding him, but mostly just wants to hook up with ladies.

    Ackpacker: A backpacker who is constantly terrified of everything he or she encounters.

    Quackpacker: Accuses everything and everyone around of him of being a huge scam.

    I could go on. This is fun. A little, anyway. Eventually we’ll have a word to describe each and every nuance anyone could possibly desire!

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    • Ditto, LOL OCDemon.

      And I might add: Frackpacker – A backpacker who… “Ain’t no frackin’ way I’m riding in a 14 hr. bus and sleeping in a 16 bed dorm with a squat toilet down the hall!” 😉

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  8. Amen! Its what Mike is always saying to me, my comfort is worth it. We just don’t do dorms cause he snores like those leafblower guys. And we like our privacy. And he busts his ass for 3-4 months a year so we can have a bit of luxury. Everyone has their style and I think it does have a bit to do with age. If you’re young and you don’t care about shit, then its alright. But when you’ve traveled a bit- we spent a fortune on an apartment in Chiang Mai because I wanted to have a full kitchen. Did others do the same? Nope. But I am a chef/cook whatever you want to label it and damn some days I wanted to make some food from home. And it was nice when we had company to be able to cook for them.
    No dorms for us either, and I hate sharing a bathroom. I want the bathroom in my freaking room so when I get up at 3am naked I don’t have to go very far, and no one can see me. And that is priceless!

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    • Amen to the bathroom! I hate having to wake up, put on clothes, and then trudge to the bathroom. We stayed at a place in Tulum that involved walking to the other side of the building and going downstairs (which weren’t lit) to use the bathroom. No thank you. By the time you’ve done all that, you’re wide awake and can’t go back to sleep.

      I hear you on the kitchen, too. I REALLY missed that when we were in Asia. Since we were moving around a lot, we almost always were at a hotel or something. I hated having to eat out for every single meal. Sometimes you just want to be able to cook!

      I think age may be a part of it as well. If you’re in college, or recently out of, you’re probably used to having to share your space with other people so it’s not much of a big deal. But when you haven’t had a roommate in over 20 years . . . nope.

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