Why Backpacking Sometimes Sucks

You’ve been there before – For those of you who’ve been daring and adventurous enough to strap on a backpack and set off into the great unknown, you know what it’s like to rough it in almost any circumstances. But there are those times when you pause and think to yourself why you’re even doing this in the first place. I lived out of a backpack for more than 8 months when I was traveling around India, Nepal, and SE Asia, which is considered quite a long time for some.

 

As much as I love traveling light and leaving all my useless things I don’t even use behind me, after a while I start missing all the comforts of having some kind of a routine in life. I miss the little things, like knowing I can walk into a supermarket without having my purse sealed in a plastic bag (Like when I was living in Vietnam). I still think backpacking far beats traveling in some boring, organized tour group where everything is planned already and it takes the fun and the challenge out of travel. But there are times when I became seriously jaded while backpacking, and here’s why.

 

Isa Khan Tomb, Delhi, India – Backpacking around all day in the peak Indian summer

 

It’s Exhausting

 

Let’s face it – Exploring the world with nothing but a rucksack on your back will be one of the most thrilling feats you ever take on in your whole life. But there are times when you’ll be so drained of your energy it feels like it will take months to recover when you’re finally done with your trip. This is especially true if you’ve been roughing it for 6 or more months, when the excitement starts to wear off and the exhaustion kicks in.

 

Backpacking can be extremely stressful and draining at times, especially when things go wrong (And trust me, they will). One time I was at a train station in Bihar, India and didn’t book my train ticket in advance (Which is a big no no when traveling in India). I ended up getting stuck in the general class on a night train, and not only did I face harassment and extreme conditions that would make even hitchhiking look more welcoming, but I also ended up missing my stop since it was never announced and ended up on a 26 hour train ride of Pure Hell. I remember it was one of the most tiring days of my entire backpacking journey, and that experience alone made me almost want to quit and head back home.

 

Stranded at a train station in Bihar, India

It’s not easy for your mind and body to keep up with the demands of living out of a backpack, so as itching as you were in the beginning to venture out and finally see the world, you’ll find yourself looking forward to the end of your trip and will begin counting down the days.

 

The Time Gap

 

Whether you’re gone backpacking for 8 months or three years, there will still be a huge gap in your resume. Most employers will look at this gap period and wonder why you took off so much time from work, and this could potentially put a damper on your job search when you finally return home and want to get back into your career.

 

It’s hard for employers not to think you’ve just been on one long holiday even if you were technically working while abroad

 

No one wants to hire a job hopper, so you’ll have to be pretty convincing to sneak back into the professional world again with such a huge time lapse between jobs.

 

You’ll Miss the Comforts of Home

 

 

Many people say that the reason someone ventures off on a long backpacking journey is so they can find themselves. But have you ever thought that what you really are itching for is right there in front of you? I found that while traveling to many remote parts of India and SE Asia that people everywhere basically want the same things in life, and no matter where I ended up living that people would basically be the same, only living back in the West would be much easier for me overall than living in the Far East for obvious reasons. Most people I encountered just wanted to get an education, find a job, and have friends and be happy; exactly what I was doing in Miami before I left. I thought I was running away from so much at the beginning of my 8 months journey backpacking in India, Nepal, and SE Asia. But the tough reality started slowly seeping in, and I realized there were so many things back home I was missing.

 

Missing the convenience of home

 

For one, I couldn’t go to the cinema every week like I used to with my friends. When I was traveling it felt like I didn’t have time for the cinema since I was too busy chasing one new adventure after the next, and when I was teaching in Vietnam I didn’t find many good options in their cinemas. I was also missing the comfort of being able to have conversations with people. In the UK, I can go out just about anywhere and have a good conversation. In Vietnam, I could pull up a small plastic stool next to a big group chatting away and I wouldn’t catch a word of anything and would end up feeling completely left out. This made me feel truly isolated and I realized I’d taken for granted living in a country where I can speak the language.

 

I also missed the little things like being able to find good cheese and takeaways when I wanted, whereas a lot of the takeaway food in Vietnam I just simply didn’t like and had no taste for, especially the street food. I got tired of seeing bowls of pho or fake bread filled with an unknown undercooked meat at the street vendors stands. The supermarket options were also limited in Vietnam and didn’t have everything you could find in say, Waitrose.

I also missed being able to just walk down the street without constantly having to dodge all the crowds, which most cities in Asia are highly populated, and it’s hard to have peace and quiet on the streets, let alone be able to go for a simple jog down the road without being trampled by cows or motorbikes or whatever. People will always be out on the streets at any odd hour in Asia, whereas in the UK things will close down and you’ll find empty streets, even in the bigger cities (This also has to do with the smaller population in the West).

 

 

The Novelty Wears Off

 

I never would have thought that anything would ever become familiar or get old when I first landed in Bali on the morning of the 16th of January, 2016, and stepped outside and smelled the fresh white plumerias and swam in the warm crystal spring water pool outside my hostel. But after a while seeing all sorts of intricate, beautiful temples and monks wearing all shades of robes, it started getting old and whenever I was moving on to the next temple I would think to myself “Oh, just another temple..” and it just wasn’t as exciting as it was during the first few months.

 

Sometimes you can only see so many monks wandering around until it becomes your new normal

 

At first riding a motorbike around Indonesia was exhilarating and I’d never felt freer in my entire life. But after a while it started getting old, especially during the monsoon season where when it rains, it pours, and I ended up getting soaking wet whenever I needed to get around anywhere. It also didn’t help the few times I fell off my bike and scraped my legs up. Riding a motorbike just became the normal way of getting around for me, rather than the thrilling ride it used to be with the wind in my hair and the smell of burning incense and fresh rice paddies washing over me every time I’d drive down the country roads.

 

Riding a motorbike in the chaotic traffic in Chennai, India was one of the funnest things ever

 

Substandard Accomodation

 

Backpacking can force you to make some decisions on accommodation you wouldn’t normally choose, hence why backpackers often choose the cheapest accommodation they can find. While cheap is good for someone on a limited budget and can help you save more to travel for longer, it can also be awful at times and make you cringe.

 

Traveling around India in the government bus – The opposite of comfortable

 

Once I stayed at a cheap guesthouse in Chennai, India. It cost way less than the hotels nearby, but with a serious cost otherwise. When I walked up to the room I noticed the door was made of textured glass, which meant you could basically see through the door into my room. And that’s something you definitely don’t want as a girl, let alone when traveling solo in India. The bathroom also looked as if someone had just detonated a grenade inside of it and was all torn up. Another time when I was staying at a guesthouse in Varanasi, it rained so much one night and the rain literally poured in through the roof of the common area and the whole guesthouse flooded, so the floor of my room and all my belongings got soaked and it was impossible to dry them.

 

The see through door of my room at this horrible guesthouse in Chennai, India

Most of the times I ended up staying in cheap dorms in hostels, which wasn’t always fun since at times things ended up going missing from my backpack, and having to share a small room with five other people isn’t always the most comfortable thing in the world. Also sharing a bathroom with so many strangers can get downright nasty!

 

 

Constantly Wet Clothes

 

After a while, no matter how many times you wash your clothes while traveling, there will still always be a foul stench emitting from your backpack. Especially if you end up traveling around South Asia during the monsoon season, where it rains heavily nearly ever day. Your backpack hardly stays dry, and your clothes end up moist and smelly all the time.

 

Traveling and living without AC in the peak summer in India means being sweaty all the time

 

The Amount of Research You Have to Do

 

Backpacking in the far opposite side of the world with no plan isn’t always easy, and you have to be able to at least plan for what it is you’re going to do the next day. Sometimes your hostel or hotel may not have the best wifi, so you might end up getting stuck and not being able to do any necessary research ahead of time.

 

It takes quite a bit of research to plan where you’re going, book your accommodation, book your transportation, and since you’re constantly moving from one place to the next, just in general knowing what you’re getting into. And with frequent power outages and shaky data connections, this isn’t always the easiest feat, especially in the developing world. Sometimes being able to plan on the go when traveling in the developing parts of Asia isn’t as easy as you’d like to think it is, and sometimes even the simplest of tasks don’t always end up being so simple, such as getting from Point A to Point B.

 

A prime example of this is when I couldn’t get my data to activate due to the language barriers of the message coming through to my phone to recharge my data, and was stuck on a train in India, lost. I ended up stuck on a shitty train not having any idea where I even was and not being able to book any accommodation or transportation, which can be a nightmare, especially when you’re getting off at the train station and a group of rickshaw drivers surround you all shouting at you at the same time to take a ride from them.

 

 

When You Fall Sick

 

Falling sick while backpacking is something like a nightmare turned reality, and is especially harsh when you’re traveling alone like I was. Once I ended up with a bad kidney infection in Kyankumari, the Southern most point in India. I wasn’t able to eat or drink hardly and could barely get out of bed. Luckily I ended up being able to drag myself to a doctor and got some treatment, but getting sick held me back from continuing my travels and ended up costing me a lot for extra nights in an expensive hotel I wasn’t planning on staying more than two nights at.

 

Just after I fell sick in Kerala – I lost so much weight!

 

When you fall sick in a foreign country and don’t have any health insurance, you can wind up in a lot of trouble, especially if you aren’t able to pay for it. That’s one of the many things I appreciate about being British, is having access to the NHS where my healthcare is virtually free. Now if I were to fall sick in a country like Vietnam and didn’t have  any insurance, it could end up costing me a fortune. Not to mention the state of the medical facilities there, since the hygiene isn’t up to Western standards, as well as the serious language barriers in the hospitals in Vietnam. A lot of backpackers think that nothing will ever happen to them, and that they’re fit a healthy and can take on anything. But accidents happen all the time, and if you’re alone it especially sucks getting sick while traveling.

 

 

You Could Turn into A Pretentious Know It All

 

Some backpackers you’ll meet along your journey will always have stories to share, and at times can come across as arrogant, self-righteous pricks who always seem to be in a competition with everyone around them. They’ll always have done something more “daring” then you, have traveling to more “off the beaten track” places than you, have more local friends than you, and respect the culture more than you.

 

Instead of saying you already know it all because you’ve traveled everywhere and seen it all, why not try listening to others experiences and learning from each other

 

It’s something I’ve had to ignore and shrug off during my journey, since I’m someone who likes to keep an open mind and never think I can possibly know it all, no matter how long I ended up staying in a particular country. I found I could always learn something new from a fellow traveler, even if they hadn’t been there for as long and were still a bit new to the whole backpacking thing.

 

People Come and Go

 

 

The saddest part about traveling is meeting new people. Yup, I said it. Why? Because you know that they’ll just be coming and going out of your life, and chances are you’ll probably never meet again. Which is why conversations in general while traveling seem so superfluous. The same lovely group of people you meet from your hostel one night might be gone the next day, and you’ll have to meet new people. Whether they’re quality people you want as long term friends or not, you’ll never know because you won’t be around them long enough to find out what could have been. The group of fun loving partying backpackers you met the other night might be cool to hang out with for a few days, but you won’t have the same joy as hanging out with your best friend you’ve known for years back home.

 

When I was teaching in Vietnam I met a lot of cool people, but most of them just come and go

 

The Hedonism

 

Sure, there are some serious travelers out there who travel to other countries to actually learn something, but there are also a good amonnt of backpackers who are just there to drink and party. A lot of the people I met while staying in the hostels were just looking for a good time and were always trying to find the next party, rather than being motivated to really explore the city and explore the culture. I always thought to myself, why do something all the way on the other side of the world that you can easily just do back home every night?

 

Some people just come to SE Asia for the cheap booze

 

It didn’t make much sense to me why people would waste so much time while traveling on the other side of the world, and in general there are a lot of people who travel to cheap destinations to take advantage of the cheap booze. There’s also a lot of hooking up going on, especially in the hostels. Lots of guys approached me and thought I was easy since I was traveling alone, but they soon found out I was serious about traveling and moved on their merry way.

 

Sometimes I just wanted to walk around in a Burka so people wouldn’t target me as a solo female traveling

 

Now with all that being said, I don’t want you to think that backpacking is all bad. It has its highs and lows, and most of the time I felt the highs while moving from one place to the next, exploring places I’d never get to explore back home, and storing enough memories in 8 months to last an entire lifetime. Backpacking has and always will be my preferred style of travel. I love the idea of stuffing everything you own in one bag and booking a flight with no real plan. Would I hop on a plan tomorrow if you asked me to backpack around rural China with you for three months? The answer is and always will be “Yes!!!”

 

Wearing soggy clothes and not even having a proper coat to wear – Annapurna Base Camp, Nepal

 

 

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2 Comments Add yours

  1. Even after a 2 month trip, I can identify with so many of your points. Even being new to backpacking at the age of 51. Nice piece of writing. Enjoyed it.

    1. Hi Menno! 🙂

      Thank you, so glad you liked my article and were able to relate! Which all places did you backpack in?

      Blossom

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