1— It’s Exhausting
Despite the glorious rewards, traveling can take it out of you. The 13 hour plane rides across two Oceans is no easy feat and managing to steady your nerves while speeding through the Andes on a bus is a difficult task. You may often find yourself in situations where you’re sleeping in an airport or on an overnight bus, usually to save money, as a means to get you to your next destination. The biggest challenge we had to overcome when beginning to travel was realizing that the distance on a map is relative and that allotting for travel time was no joke. When we started planning as new backpackers 5 years ago, we were hungry for travel and tried to cram in more countries than was comfortably possible. Now we’ve learned to afford ourselves some recovery time in between long hauls and to enjoy the journey. It may get exhausting sometimes, but the payoff, memories, friends you meet along the way, and pictures you take are so very worth it. Just like us in the photo above; A 3 day, 37 mile hike up 16,000ft is exhausting, but the reward of sitting on a peak looking at something you have never seen before is all the motivation you need to keep going.
2— You Can Travel On Any Budget
Unless you’re adding up some rather lavish multi-year vacations, it’s unfair to categorize traveling, backpacking specifically, as just for the rich. We’ve been able to travel to 27 countries in the last five years and we’ve been on the road full-time since July of 2016. We receive questions all the time about how we’re able to afford so much traveling and our answer is always the same—we work hard. We’ve tried to be as realistic as possible with this aspect of traveling, not only for people interested in DIY travel, but for ourselves. Money is a real part of travel, but we’ve discovered that we can exchange time and research to make our money go farther. It takes a good balance of saving and research that allows us to invest what little money we have in what we love. Prioritizing and working hard makes traveling a possibility for everyone. With that being said, there are so many travel services around that are aimed to helping the "broke backpacker" travel successfully. You can use couchsurfing.com to find free accommodation in almost every country around the world or Hostelworld.com to find amazing cheap hostels. Sites like Skyscanner.com or SecretFlying.com to find the cheapest flights on the web. You can hitch-hike for free transportation, cook your own meals with food from the local market for cheap meals or find a good group of friends to travel with which will effectively lower your travel costs as you will be sharing goods and services. No need to spend money on guide books or maps, use the amazing app called MapsMe for detailed offline maps and search for backpacker blogs for the most up-to-date knowledge on your decided or undecided destinations.
3— If You’re An American, People Don’t Hate You
It’s been a popular belief that people who live outside of the United States dislike Americans. Particularly after the recent shift in politics, we wondered if being American would have an effect on our travels. But it hasn’t. Sure there are extremes in every aspect of life and there are certainly some very outspoken individuals against America and its policies, but we’ve yet to encounter any more than a laugh at the fact that we’re Americans which is followed by a political question or two. The initial response we’ve received when announcing our nationality is positive. People generally want to talk about politics or they want to hear about New York City, but nationality has never played a huge role in traveling for us. We’ve had people poke at different cultural aspects that seem to be “so American,” but it only vaguely comes up in conversation. We’ve found that nationality is just a talking point and a point of reference in which we can spark a conversation with strangers on the road. We don’t feel that it has to completely define us. The more we travel the smaller this reference becomes as we assume a greater identity as citizens of the world, which is pretty awesome.
4— You’re Not The First
And you won’t be the last, but don't let anyone squander the feeling of something being your first. We would love to claim that we’re the first one’s to have hiked over the caldera to Oia from Fira Town in Santorini, Greece or to have encountered Gypsies in Transylvania, or to have even climbed Machu Picchu, but we’re not. Yet these trips were our own firsts and as such, they were magical and vivid. When you get the travel bug, you want to go everywhere and see it all—taking the road less traveled. But as everybody is looking for that “off the beaten path,” the path has now become worn in and there’s even road signs to lead you there. William D. Chalmers, a travel writer for the Huffington Post, shed some light on this subject when he offered some insight to seasoned travelers who’ve forgotten the initial excitement of a first-time-trip. He says that when we think that we know everything and we’ve been everywhere, we tend to undermine the tales of other backpackers. It’s true and it’s easy to cross that line between simply sharing and being braggadocios. We think this has something to do with a travelers obsession to be the first. We get it, but it’s unlikely you are and listening to others allows for an exciting environment to swap stories rather than trump them. We think it’s helpful to focus on how your experience was uniquely your own because even if you do the same trip twice the experience will be different; different people, time, and temperament. So ignore the obsession with being the first and enjoy the simple fact that you did it.
5— Advice From Others Is Priceless
Now that you’ve realized that you’re not the first to climb Machu Picchu in Peru or see Angkor Wat in Cambodia, take advantage of someone else’s tales and their suggestions to make the best of your own experience. Someone has already struggled through figuring out how to avoid the tourist traps when heading up Peru so there’s no use trying to rewrite the guidebook yourself—listen to what others have to say. Of course you can take it or leave it, but there’s no harm in lending your ears. Some of the best encounters and experiences we’ve had came from the recommendations of others. Exchanging stories between travelers in a hostel will bring about destinations and activities that you may not have found in doing your research. Think of it as an insider’s guidebook to adventure. You’re getting feedback and directions from people who have already done it and found it to be amazing, so amazing in fact that they can’t stop talking about it. Taking advice from backpackers, or even locals, is the best way to add in some unplanned adventure especially when you have the freedom to do so.
6— Things Don’t Go As Planned
Backpacking is indefinitely linked with being unstructured. Meaning that despite your efforts to be tactical, something will interrupt your plans. Even if it’s the difference of taking an evening train instead of a morning train, there is guaranteed to be something different about how your trip plays out in real life than was planned. It’s ok. In fact it’s pretty exciting when these things happen. Yes, initially there is a small fit of anxiety to figure out the next move, but we always manage to end up where we need to. For example, when we were traveling Eastern Europe in 2014, Bosnia suffered an awful natural disaster and the country suffered major flooding. Bosnia being our next destination on the Eurail pass, we didn’t feel it was right to wander as tourists in a country that was struggling to regain its ground. So our route up the western coast of Europe quickly became an exciting route through Bulgaria, where we got to meet up with old friends, and then we found our way to Transylvania, Romania. This is just one of the many examples of altered plans we’ve experienced. We’ve learned that the less planning, the better. Just go with the flow and accept that some things are out of your control.
7— Being Well-Rested is Hard Work
You can put your body through some rigorous and unforeseen cruelties when you’re traveling, but being able to schedule in some solid sleep will make a tremendous difference in the way you survive those tough days. The difficulty is, sleep comes in different forms and opportunities when you’re on the road. You probably won’t have the luxury of a standard sleep schedule - and if you do then congratulations — get some sleep for the rest of us. Sleeping isn’t always horizontal, quiet, or done after dark, so being able to catch some zzz’s on the go will enable you to do more. Being able to curl up on a train, finding the perfect position on a plane or mastering the art of sleeping upright on a bus isn’t easy. But we’ve found that when you’re tired enough, your body will figure it out if you can just take a moment to close your eyes. You might consider packing some some sleep amenities, we take earplugs everywhere and we’ve recently crossed over to the realm of airplane pillows. Being well-rested is hard work, so enjoy the simple pleasures of a warm and clean bed when you get one.
8— Best Friends Can Be Made In a Day
There’s an entirely different level of friendship when you meet people on the road. You’ll know them for a few days, maybe only hours, and suddenly there’s nothing that can replace the magic of your night out. It’s like a secret that’s not so secret— travel makes people happy and we all just want to share that. It seems silly and hyperbolic to describe the positive energy that unites people who travel, but ask any backpacker and they’ll have stories of their one-night-stand friendships that they just can’t shake.
9— Cleanliness Is a Privilege
Maybe this is more of an American idea, or a westernized way of thinking, but your personal hygiene is more of a status than a basic need. Showering is an everyday habit rather than a privilege. We’re so lucky to be able to shower everyday, multiple times a day if we want, and to have constant access to clean water. But this is not always the case when backpacking. We’re not saying you can’t shower or won’t have access to a shower (maybe you won’t), but the way in which you shower or even think about showering will be different. When we started our year-long trip in July 2016, our entire first month was full of cold showers. Showering will be more of an obligation of hygiene rather than habit. You’re going to get smelly and grimy. It’s part of the experience, but the struggle to stay clean will make the opportunities when you do get a good (hot) shower special. Yes, special. It’s been humbling and simultaneously troubling to experience a life without a dependable shower everyday. It has, however, restored an appreciation for the simple things in life.
10— Your Backpack Is All You Need
Taking life on the road we’ve never found ourselves wishing we had packed more. Instead we’re usually ditching stuff along the way. Traveling with our belongings consolidated into 60 liter packs, has given us a greater understanding of the words want and need. You quite literally feel the effects of your belongings on your back so we pack light. We scrutinize every item on our packing list and we enjoy the freedom of carrying experiences rather than things. Picking the right pack for you is very important to your success and comfort on the road. Read more on How to Choose the Correct Backpack for You to make sure you have a successful time abroad!
11— You’re Never Immune To Culture Shock
You never really escape that feeling of “Oh, that’s how it’s done here,” when you’re traveling, no matter how experienced you are. We had both been prepared by this term culture shock, years ago and it was something we assumed that you grew out of the more you travel. But you don’t. We also assumed that culture shock was negative. It’s not. Culture shock is also something people can experience when meeting you (not just something you may feel). We like to view culture shock through a lens of admiration. Everywhere you go and everyone you meet is different than the last and as much as it’s useful to draw similarities, we’ve learned to appreciate the differences for what they are. The more experiences we can draw from the greater our overview of the world and the citizens in it.
12— Anybody is Capable of Traveling
This is such an idealistic statement, but we stand by it. Traveling has become a very glorified “hobby,” but it’s a very basic and amazing way to experience life. Travel doesn’t have restrictions or rules and it doesn’t discriminate. Traveling by definition means the journey to a new and distant place. If distance is relative than there’s not a lot of excuses. We’ve all heard about the stories of middle-aged people who are unhappy with their lives, drop everything in desperation to seek adventure, but what’s crazy to think about for us is knowing that people they have to wait until they are unhappy to travel and that they have to give up everything. Although we can see how easily the rhythm of everyday life would lead people to believe these are the only options for travel. Travel could be a vacation within your state, or it could be an international jump over the Atlantic. There are many different way to travel; find the right way for you and go!
13—Your Feet Are A Precious Part of Travel
There is always an option to walk when traveling, and we do. We invest in good shoes before hand. We’ve made the mistake of having poor footwear before and the consequences are devastating when fighting blisters and no arch support. We walk everywhere when we travel because the experiences we get when ducking down narrow streets and wandering where vehicles can not, enables us to interact with a new place like the locals would. Your feet will take you around the world, if you let them, make sure to take good care of them and dip them in every new body of water you come accross.
14—There’s Always A Way
Whether it’s when routes become too expensive or you want to create another leg of your journey, we’ve learned that there’s always a way. That could mean finding another route between destinations (Eurail, Busabout, Ryanair, hitch-hiking), or scanning different accommodations (hotels, hostels, Airbnb, couch surfing, etc.) there is always a way to travel. Thinking outside of the conventional travel routes will allow you to experience a greater level of adventure. Besides you’ll probably met some cool people along the way. Maybe you end up traveling on 5 trains over a course of 24 hours to reach your next destination instead of a one-night overnight train - guaranteed you will end up meeting some cool people and see some amazing countryside you would have missed. You may end up getting in the back of a Tuk-tuk or on the back of a truck or motorcycle, chances are that will be a memory you will have for a long time. Create unforgettable moments for yourself and live-in-the-moment. It truly is about the journey. The final destination is just the cherry on top.
15—You’re Going To Get Sick
Whether it’s a small 24hour bug or a three day knock out, you’re most likely going to experience sickness. It’s a product of experiencing new environments and lack of sleep, but it’s best to just take it easy when and if you do get sick. Having said that, don’t let the obsession to not get sick overtake your trip. Wash your hands and do your best to be hygienic, but be open to trying new things and eating strange foods. How often do you get to try fried ants in Colombia, squid in Tokyo, intestine in Turkey, or whale in New Zealand? As Anthony Bourdain said, “You’re body’s not a temple, it’s a roller coaster. So enjoy the ride.”
16—Technology Can Help, But Also Hinder Your Experience
Technology moves so quickly and the amount of resources that are available to travelers now a days is unbelievable. Apps like Maps Me and social media sites have enabled the great age of global travel all from your desktop. Technology allows us to travel differently than ever before. We have the world at our fingertips. We can book tickets, research destinations, translate words and move money around because of it. Technology is something that truly helps todays backpackers and a lot of us would be lost without it. But we’ve found that because we’re so easily connected that it can be difficult to disconnect. Being a photographer and writer, we have to remind ourselves to step away from the screen and avoid always viewing the moment through a lens. It’s a privilege to be where we are, and we have to find a balance between living in the moment and sharing everything online. Use your technology when you need it and then put it away. Don't forget to actually talk to the new people you meet, ask locals for directions, experience the sunset for your own eyes, not through a lens, and tell your friends back home you will call them next week. Live in the moment and enjoy the destination. You travelled a long way, which took courage; enjoy the pay-off.
17—Slow And Steady Wins The Race
We’ve had the time to be both power tourists and timeless travelers in the past few years. Overwhelmingly, we’ve discovered that the slower trips we’ve planned, meaning more time spent in one place, have been more enjoyable. It’s tempting to look at a map and want to conquer it all. But the more time we can afford to spend in one place the more we get out of the time there. That doesn’t mean we have to travel for months or years at a time, and it doesn’t mean we can’t visit three countries in 10 days, but allotting for more time in one place allows us to get a sense of the culture. We get to find all the nooks and crannies of a city, eat the best hole-in-the-wall food, and maybe mingle with some locals and that for us is what travel is all about. In order to really get to know a city or a culture you have to assimilate into it. Make sure you spend time with locals, break away from your traditional hostel tours of the city and go exploring on your own. Get lost, ask for directions from locals, eat where the locals are eating, and we can guarantee you will have a more rewarding experience than if you didnt.
18—Courage Is Measured In Little Feats
The biggest part of travel is having the courage to do it in the first place. It’s feeling confident in traveling without a concrete plan and leaving comfort at home. Backpacking is having courage and trust in the world. We took that first step a few years ago and we haven’t looked back since. We have challenged ourselves to talk to strangers, engage in new and unknown activities, and hitch-hike— things we may not necessarily do at home. We’ve already mustered up the courage to take on the unknown so we try to order crazy food, be 'yes' people, and plunge from great heights in order to enjoy the life we’ve set out in front of us. Every country brings its own challenges, just remember you went there for a reason. Have the courage to overcome the fear and don't let the fear overcome you.
19—It’s Ok To Be Fearful
Perhaps something that we didn’t learn until recently, is that it’s ok to be fearful. It’s ok to view challenges and situations with a daunting perspective. This year Tom jumped 120feet over the Rio Grande in Colombia despite his persistant fear of heights and I swam out into the Ocean alone, despite my unrealistic fear of JAWS. These moments of inconsequential fear bring about chances to overcome them. What sets us apart, backpackers, is that we’ve already jumped all in to a world of uncertainty. We’ve packed everything tightly into one pack, maybe two, and set out on an unforeseen adventure. Having fears and missing the comforts of home are a reality when traveling, but the power to overcome them is a privilege all of its own.