It is now 3 months and a few days since my return to Europe.
In this period I’ve been to Sicily, got back to Rome about 3 times, I went to Belgium to visit a dear friend, then to Amsterdam to meet with others and for the last 16 days, more or less, I’ve been settling in Berlin.
Well, maybe you were by now used to my more exotic destinations and more “unconventional”, surely far, but it’s good to be back in Europe.
And from here, from my home in Mitte, with a ginger tea beside me I think over what these years of backpacking around the world have really taught me.
With a clearer mind and the coziness of a flat which I call home, and this makes me very happy because here I can invite friends, my family, I can wander around in my pajamas, I buy bread always in the same shop, Mr. Schneider recognizes me and smiling always tells me something in German when we meet on the stairs, I tried to find the 10 most important things that I understood and learned from this long journey that lasted 2 and a half years.
1# – Travelling for long periods is a challenge in itself
Figuring out where to sleep, what and where to eat, how to move around, when, where to go, not speaking the local language but still trying to be understood, giving up the comforts of your own home to learn how to “adapt” and above all to be aware of being alone and far from home, where if I needed help it would never be long in coming, is a daily challenge.
Traveling is not just about visiting monuments and museums, it goes much further and it will try you in so many ways, of course there are such moments but definitely they do not cover most of the time on the road.
The trip is rather characterized by a desire to understand and to get lost in the places where you stay, regardless of the museum or the cathedral ( in the long run they would all look the same ).
2# – It’s easier to find someone who wants to help you than those who want to deceive you
Distrust is normal especially when you are at the beginning of your journey, but just a little will be enough to realize that most of the people you meet, in my case all but do leave one small and infinitesimal percentage, are trustworthy.
Stereotypes exist: the British do get drunk and when sober they are quite shy, the Italian are very loud, the Germans love trekking more than Italians love the sea, the Panamanians are quite grumpy while Colombians are friendly and approachable, the Argentines eat a lot of meat and I could go on indefinitely.
But apart from the stereotypes, that are anyway traits that make you smile, in the years of my journey the people who have reached out and helped me are countless, while those who wanted to deceive me very few to the point that I don’t even remember them.
To trust and to be kind and generous is a currency that pays off and that opens many roads allowing you to discover a culture from within.
During my trip in Morocco I have always been welcomed, thus enjoying a priceless travel experience and human touch, despite one single bad experience.
Do not be put off by one comment coming from other travelers or 1 in 200 people who behaved badly, the truth is that the good far outnumber the bad guys!
3# – It’s cheap and teaches you to spend less without sacrificing quality
The fact of traveling for long periods, so with no hurry, allows to distribute the travel budget to cover more days and above all allows you to wait for the right offer to come.
When I was looking for the flight to come back to Italy from the United States in order to save I did a search for flights with special offers and booked what I thought was the right price, I waited for the available date without planning. I had no urgent commitment back home.
To search low-cost flights refer to the post How to search and find a low cost air travel.
Backpacking in the long term allows you to give a lot of value to the small budget you have teaching you to manage it and use it because you know that you can’t spend more than that (the more you spend, the faster you do it, the sooner you will have to go home).
Sleeping in hostels, eating in local restaurants, moving around by public transport, minimizing shopping and unnecessary expenses make you realize on what is WORTH to spend your money.
4# – Solo travelers aren’t uncool
On several occasions I have written that the problem of traveling alone has never occurred to me, but I still get emails from those who believe that traveling alone is lame.
NO IT’S NOT and you know why? Because most of the people you meet is following the same path and is doing it alone.
Couples or groups of friends are outnumbered by solo travelers.
Forrest Gump would say: “Stupid is as stupid does.”
5# – Backpacking is cheaper than renting a room in London
Backpacking is cheaper than a rental apartment in the City.
On balance during my years of travelling I pretty much spent less than I did just to pay the room I rented in London which, incidentally, was £ 650.
At the same cost of renting a room in Zone 3 of London I was traveling for a month all included ( transport, sleeping, eating, tours ).
6# – From Tourist inevitably you will become Traveler
This is the great step that takes place after a few months of travel. And how it happens is peculiar, it reminded me a bit of learning a foreign language.
Suddenly something changes in your perception and the way you live the journey. You stop, you lose interest in monuments and go hunting down instead what characterizes a country, its people, its history, its culture, which let’s face it, when you go for 5 days you could not find, you wouldn’t have the time nor the tools to investigate.
The traveler is the one who leaves for the pleasure of knowledge and discovery, whether he has a blog or not is secondary. He is the one who tells you so passionately about his adventures and the people he met, because this is where memories reside, not the cathedrals or the museums he saw.
These elements in the narrative of the journey are small notes without which the story would still make sense, because the journey lies not in the opening or closing of a museum.
7# – You learn to recognize when it’s time to go home
Travelling involves a start and a return, and everybody needs to go home sooner or later, or at least you have the need to stop in a place and live the feeling of being home.
You simply can’t go on wandering forever but it is important and right that even those who travel often would create a base for themselves, a place to call home.
Here is where you put in order the ideas, you have the tranquility and peace necessary to be able to eventually organize the next trip. This stability is essential in the planning of a period, more or less long, of instability.
**** For house I mean a chosen place, which right at the moment for me is Berlin, where I create a life of routine and with certain landmarks.
8# – You don’t have a clear plan, you only have one direction
Travelling for long periods, backpacking force you to forget the detailed planning of the whole trip.
It is literally impossible planning what you will do and where you will be two months from now, this way you’d lose the beauty and the essence of a travel in which standstills and delays on the roadmap will take place, and instead of not accepting them or behave as the White Rabbit who feels he’s always late, you need to face what gets to you.
It is worth accept and enjoy the place where you are forced to stay longer that planned, sometimes by mistake sometimes due to force majeure, sometimes because you met new friends that are worth more than the roadmap.
Planning far and wide just six months travel does not make sense. Let this event free to flow as it should, according to your moods and the people you meet.
For once in life let yourself be carried away by the events without necessarily having to have everything under control.
9# – You learn to save money and it does not seem a sacrifice
I paid, and I continue to pay my travelling to the last penny.
Can I be honest?
I believe that if I were to ask hostels or hotels to host me for free in exchange for a mention in the blog they would do it, but the best of the trip is to work hard for it, have the satisfaction of INVESTING your money into something unique and put yourself to the test to see how good you have become to find opportunities or find places absolutely decent and clean at incredible prices.
Per quanto economici possano essere alcuni luoghi nel mondo un viaggio lungo, per quanto in budget implica dei costi, assicurazione, voli aerei e budget mensile, viaggiare costa (meno di quello che stai pensando…ma è un costo).
How do you do then? You start saving, just like you would do to buy a new car. And no, it is not a sacrifice but a great pleasure because you know that every penny saved contributes to the realization of one of the most significant and important experience of your life.
10 # – Traveling in the long term is NOT a holiday, it is exhausting and tiring
What? Yeah, sure… I know this is what you’re thinking but believe me when I tell you that traveling for long periods and backpacking is not always easy nor relaxing.
18 hours, sometimes even longer on a bus, sometimes with too much air con and sometimes without, sometimes on paved roads and at times not.
Sleeping in hostels, beautiful and fun, but zero privacy, you do not have a closet where to put your clothes, so that generally the ones at the bottom I even forgot I had.
You don’t always eat properly or you do it at funny hours or absurd places.
Sometimes you find yourself at -20C, as in Bolivia, where radiators are virtually non-existent and being desert areas there is not even any firewood.
A holiday is a limited period in which, exempt from work, you relax by the pool or on the beaches while sipping your drink, get around by taxi, and, quite rightly, you spend even more than you would in a week at home.
Backpacking instead involves trying to make ends meet, giving up comforts and learn to adapt to everything. Even to what you used to say “That I’ll never do, ever!”
11# BONUS – There is not an age for backpacking
On the bus Amsterdam/Berlin an American lady in her sixties with her backpack on her shoulders approached me asking if the right bus is the one in front of me.
We start to chat and I find out that the lady after divorcing and after she retired started traveling with her backpack around the world.
She’s been on the road for more than two years, and she has been everywhere, including Africa.
What strikes me more is the enthusiasm not only in her voice but in the eyes. While she talks about her journey they shine just as if it were her first day, as if she had never done it before. She chats with everyone, listens to stories and tells hers in turn, she asks for advice because a real traveler doesn’t have the presumption to tell you what to do, but has the humility to ask you!
There is no age for backpackers.
Even when at 60 you decide to explore the world with retirement money because, as she says, she did her duty as a mother, her children are grown up and have their own fulfilled life, it was just time to go to discovering and give a meaning to the money earned over the years.
A small backpack in proportion to her small stature and plenty of desire to discover. I asked her when she’ll go back home.
“I do not know,” she says, “the day that I get tired of this life and I will be satisfied and full of this beautiful world.”
The road ahead for her seems very long yet!