Travel Takeaways: 7 Things I Learned from My Backpacking Adventure
Are you considering venturing across the pond via plane, ship or self-made raft anytime soon? Have you scoured the Internet for advice, but found yourself drowning in a sea of “not all who wander are lost” BS? Do I sound worldly and knowledgeable yet? If you answered yes, no, or hell no to at least every single one of these questions, then keep on reading!
My goal here is to offer a realistic, yet fully exhilarating, reflection on the post-grad backpacking experience. Before we get started, I would like to emphasize that I am speaking from the viewpoint of someone who has traveled around the UK and Western Europe. This is not intended to be globally generalized advice. If you are looking to backpack in other corners of the world, take what I’m saying with a grain of salt because it may not be applicable. I am merely speaking on experiences individual to Lane Sasser.
Okay, now let me offend you for reasons unrelated.
1. Go it alone, baby.
Cannot stress this enough. I met up with friends along the way, but did about half of the trip on my own. You are not going to be taken. The world is not out to get you and sell you into a Russian prostitution ring. Stop flattering yourself. Just don’t be an idiot (I’m not here to tell you how to do that).
Traveling alone gives you the freedom to do WHAT you want WHEN you want. How often is that ever the case in life?
Plus, you would be surprised by how much more approachable you become to other travelers when flying solo. The camaraderie between fellow loners is instantaneous most of the time—it’s actually quite beautiful. Just be friendly and genuinely interested in people (I’m not here to tell you how to make friends). You’ll have a squad to ball out with in no time! Which leads me to my second point…
2. By all means, ball out. Just don’t ball out 24/7.
Anyone who knows me well knows that I am all about the act of treating oneself. I can justify almost anything, which is horrifying. You checked one thing off your Everest of a to-do list? You deserve 35 cookies AND a drink! Now imagine this type of person in a foreign country. I take “when in Rome” and do unspeakable abuse it. This is fine in theory until you remember that, oh wait, you are not a Wall Street fat cat; you are actually on the world’s most insane budget so, no, you don’t deserve an authentic sit down meal every single day.
Know your budget and take it easy. The amount of spending you end up doing once you’re abroad is inevitable, so save up well in advance because public transportation, hostel fees, certain attractions, drinks and even the cheapest of meals add up quickly. Try not to blow your money on unnecessary things and gauge what you’re willing to sacrifice. Or just locate the nearest Wall Street fat cat and have him pay for it all.
3. We’re gonna need a bigger boat… (don’t over pack).
You know that thing I said earlier about not blowing money on unnecessary things? Well, you actually will buy lots of random shit. Just accept this and leave some room in your bag.
4. Don’t get bogged down by an itinerary.
I support doing your research so you can figure out what you’re absolutely dying to see, but I cannot understand people who lose their goddamn MINDS over hitting all the spots. That, my friends, is how you get burnt out by day four. The majority of my days were spent wandering around aimlessly, headphones in, stumbling into things.
Divvy up your time by exploring specific neighborhoods one by one—everything can be spontaneous and manageable from there. That is what gives you a feel for the local culture, not the long lines, tourist traps and overcrowded museums. When your face is buried in an iPhone, planning your next attack, how do you expect to observe and appreciate the place surrounding you? Travel can and should be as simple as that. Also, make naps a priority.
5. When in Amsterdam, don’t eat the entire space cake.
The suggested half is not merely a suggestion, unless uncontrollable-sobbing-turned-laughter-turned-paranoia is your idea of fun. Don’t get cocky. You are not and have never been a stoner, Lane. Why did you do that?
6. Journal, journal, journal.
With time, memories become hazy, names and stories are forgotten, and you can’t for the life of you offer anyone recommendations because you have no idea where you went. That is why we have been blessed with the ability to keep a written record, people.
One of my big regrets from my semester abroad was never writing. My pal Savannah gifted me a journal, but there it remained, neglected on a bedside table for months. Months of stories, feelings, observations—worthy of documentation and never given the chance. You better believe it when I say shit went down differently this time.
Not only should you try to keep a daily record, but be sure to do a little pre- and post-trip reflection as well. It’s pretty cool to look back at your headspace from then to now and to see how your anticipations and worries were met. It’s a story of personal growth, unfolding on paper before your eyes only. The conversations and late nights and experiences and what they taught you from start to finish are invaluable. They deserve to be remembered fully.
7. The best journeys answer the questions that in the beginning you didn’t even think to ask.
As much as I wish that was an original thought, I actually heard it in the documentary 180 South (a beautifully shot and wonderfully inspired film—I want every person on this planet to check it out).
I carried those words with me and considered them carefully throughout my entire trip.
On the eve of my flight back home, I took myself out for cozy dinner and drinks at my favorite pub in Dublin. Very off the beaten path and the perfect spot to bid a farewell. It’s probably important to note that I was the youngest person in the room by at least 25 years. And, yes, I am not saying the name of the establishment because I do not want any of you to know about it. LMAAAOOO.
Just as I was finishing up my lamb stew (I balled out), a group of traditional Irish folk musicians appeared, sat in a corner and set up shop. All dads. No mics. A tin whistle was involved. Nothing about it was showy and everything about it was heartfelt. As the night went on, person after person would join the circle to sing or play along. Irish Jeff Bridges invited me to sing at one point, but I graciously declined since showing up others with my incomparable talent isn’t really my thing. The whole evening was personal and warm and everything the Nashville “house show” wishes it could be.
The combination of the gorgeous music, being two Guinesses deep and reaching my journey’s end was a lot. I just sat there and listened and cried so much. The woman next me leaned over and said, “If it’s a boy, don’t cry.” I laughed, then cried harder.
I thought about that quote from the documentary and wondered what question had finally revealed and answered itself. Themes of growing up and the avoidance of growing up were heavy throughout my trip. That’s nice and all, but I realized that the real answer actually had nothing to do with me and my silly quarter life woes.
This journey allowed me to take a glimpse into lives different than my own. To travel is to be a guest somewhere. To be a guest somewhere is not to take what you see and the stories you hear and make it all about you; to be a guest somewhere is to listen, observe and appreciate intently. The music and community shared that night in Dublin reminded me that the answer all along had been found in the people, and travel should be as simple as that.
[Title photo by Juliette Kibodeaux.]
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