Eight ways to relive your days as a backpacker
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
You miss it, right? Surely part of you misses it. You might be a grown-up traveller now, someone who can afford nice accommodation, someone who drinks alcoholic drinks because they actually like the taste of them, someone who hasn’t been bitten by a bedbug in about 15 years – but you still miss being a backpacker.
You should, anyway. Being a backpacker is one of the greatest experiences a traveller can have. It’s a rite of passage. It’s travel at its most raw and real. It’s an adventure. It’s a thrill.
But there comes a time for most of us when we have to admit that we’re too old for backpacking, that we’re done with being the creepy old guy in the hostel dorm, that we actually value a decent night’s sleep and a hangover-free morning. Most people can’t keep backpacking forever. It has to stop.
That doesn’t, however, mean you have to give up the spirit of being a backpacker. If you’re too old for the game these days, but you still miss schlepping the world with nought but the pack on your shoulders and the Beerlao in your hand, then these are the ways to get back in touch with your backpacking past – without being creepy.
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* Top 10 Europe backpacker experiences
* Six one-off experiences every traveller should try
Stay in a hostel
Anyone who thinks they’re too old for a hostel clearly hasn’t stayed in a hostel recently. You might legitimately be too advanced for a dorm room, however, pretty much every hostel these days offers private rooms, usually with en suite bathrooms, meaning you can access the flavour of the hostel experience – the social interaction, the kitchen facilities, the group activities – while still being able to get a good night’s sleep at the end of each big day.
Travel without a plan
Remember the thrill of waking up with no idea of what you were doing today, with no idea of where you’d go next and with whom you’d go? There’s no reason why you can’t do that again. While older travellers with limited holidays often tend to plan their trips fairly strictly, those who yearn for the backpacking experience should head to, say, Ho Chi Minh City with only their first night’s accommodation booked, and just wing it. Read no guides; check no reviews. Just go with the flow.
Do a tour
Although there’s a huge amount of fun to be had on the backpacker tours run by the likes of Contiki and Topdeck, you’re probably too old for that now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t do a tour and have fun with like-minded individuals. You just need to find new tour companies. The likes of Intrepid Travel, G Adventures, Peregrine and On The Go offer tours around the world for travellers of all ages and interests, allowing you the chance to make friends and have fun while seeing a place you might not have thought to go to on your own.
Travel by yourself
This is the key. If you want to harness the backpacking spirit, to really feel the freedom of that style of travel once again, then you have to go on your own. You meet more people when you’re travelling solo – you have to. You get to travel with no compromises. You get to go wherever you want to go. You get to make snap decisions and change everything in an instant because you met someone or you saw something that inspired you to do things differently. That’s what backpacking is about, and anyone can do it.
Go to a place you’ve never been before
Want to feel the same thrill as those first big adventures you went on? Want to glory in the discombobulation that only travel for newbies can bring? Then you’re not going to get it in the easy countries, in the predictable places you’ve already been. If you want travel to challenge you again, then you have to go somewhere new, somewhere different, somewhere strange. Head to West Africa, or Central Asia, or Central America, or anywhere really that you’ve never been and probably never thought you’d go. It’s just like backpacking.
Stick to a strict budget
Maybe you don’t have to be so tight. Maybe you could splash out on a nice hotel if you really wanted, or book a first-class train ticket, or take taxis instead of public transport. But that’s not how you have memorable, backpacker-style experiences. If you want to get back in touch with the unpredictability and the social nature of budget travel, you have to engage in budget travel. Set yourself a small amount of money a day, and stick to it. Force yourself into the divey restaurants, into the seedy bars, onto buses and into hostels. All of a sudden, the travel experience has changed.
If you feel like you’re probably too old for a bus tour around Europe, then you’re probably too old for a bus tour around Europe. So here’s a better idea: go sailing. Go sailing in Croatia; go sailing in Turkey. Book yourself on a group trip through the islands; prepare yourself for four of five days of boozy debauchery. Though different companies offer different experiences in these places, if you book yourself on a short, budget-friendly sailing tour in the Mediterranean, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be sharing your time with boozing backpackers who will allow you a short window into your hard-partying past.
Maybe you don’t want to stay in a hostel, or schlep around West Africa, or go on a group tour or even head overseas without much of a plan. That’s fine. You can still take a very quick dip back into the backpacker life by rocking up at the closest seedy travellers’ bar and having a night out. Meet new friends. Drink as much as you want. Wake up with a killer hangover and spend the entire rest of the day clutching your head and moaning, and realise that maybe, just maybe, backpacking isn’t all fun and games any more.
How do you stay in touch with your backpacking past? Or have you decided to move on?