6 Things To Realize When You Start Backpacking

I’ve been traveling for over a month now and it feels like I’m now getting the hang of this backpackers life. I’m starting to get used to it and found my way of traveling. The following 6 realizations helped me shape the way I look at my travels now:

1. This is your trip. You decide.

I know most people include Laos in their South East Asia trip. I’m not. I don’t have enough time to do it properly. And I’m totally comfortable with that decision. I also decided to cut out Vietnam. No time for that either. Fine by me, perhaps I’ll come back some time and visit it then. I did spend 2 weeks in Chiang Mai though, doing basically nothing, and loved it. Does this make me a terrible South East Asia traveler? It seems like it, according to many. In the end, a proper South East Asia backpacker ‘does’ Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam! Right?! The majority of people I tell my itinerary to, respond like:”WHAT?! You’re not doing Laos/Vietnam?! Ow men, you should change your plans girl, Laos/Vietnam is beautiful!”. In the beginning it made me insecure and doubt my trip and my decisions, but then I realized.. screw that. This is my trip. I decide. I’m having a great time so far and seen many great things already. I’m happy with my trip the way it is right now. So, bottom line: decide for yourself! This is your once in a life time trip. Be open to good advice, but in the end, do whatever you like.

backpacking things to realize

2. You don’t need to tick all the activities off the list

In line with the above.. Every destination has things you ought to do. New York: Thou shall visit the Statue of Liberty! Paris: Thou shall visit the Eiffel Tower! Sydney: Thou shall visit the Opera House! Well, and what if I don’t feel like doing that huh?! I’m in Phnom Penh at the moment. Everyone says I should visit the killing fields and the Tuol Sleng Museum, aschool that was used as a prison where thousands were tortured. Both are on every Phnom Penh travelers must-do list. I visited the killing fields. It was horrific, and definitely made me aware of what happened here. It was good to know and be aware, but did it make me feel happy? No, of course not. So I decided to be a total badass and skip my visit to the Tuol Sleng museum the next day. A huge Phnom Penh travelers sin, I know. Just didn’t feel like it. And this is my trip, so I decide.

3. It’s okay to do nothing for a day. Or 2. Or 3. Or 4.

Step 3 of this ongoing realization. This is a vacation. A really long one. But it is a vacation. Its okay to, and you should, relax. Maybe even more so because it is a really long vacation. During the first week I wanted to run around Bangkok, not waste a single minute, do everything there was to do, experience it all… But by the end of the week I was exhausted. How was I going to keep this up for another 8 months!? You need breaks. Traveling is awesome, but also tiring. You’ll experience an overall lack of sleep due to parties/overnight travel/jetlags, and there’s just lots to deal with in general. Different cultures, languages, new people, etc, over and over again. Adapting to new environments just costs a lot of energy. So give yourself a break, stay in bed or hangout in the coffee place around the corner, or at the pool all day. Its not a waste of time. It’s vacation.

things to realize backpacking

Next to that… I love exploring all these places and such, definitely. But you know what else I really like? Staying in bed, all day, watching tv series, eating chocolate and cookies, sipping coke from the bottle and having pizza delivered so I really don’t have to get out. Being a complete lazyass. A day like that every now and then makes me genuinely really happy. And isn’t this trip about being happy? So, here I am, in my hostel bunkbed, with empty oreo wraps around me, an empty bottle, and an empty frappuchino cup. Just finished watching a few episode of my favorite series and I’m about to head down to the hostel cafeteria for a pizza. While I’m in Cambodia. Does this make me a terrible traveler? Perhaps. But it makes me happy.

4. You’ve to look after yourself 24/7, and thats tough

One of the things that I realized that makes me really tired and requires me to have a break every now and then, is the fact that, especially as a solo traveler, you need to look after yourself 24/7. Its not like at home, where your boss will start calling you when you don’t show up, or your friends asking you what you’re up to. If I get hit by a car, there’s no one here who really knows who I am. If I loose my passport, there’s no one here who really cares and who I can rely on for help to get me to the embassy in Bangkok. If I’m not feeling well, there’s no one to talk to (unless I right away want to bother my new hostel roomie). I now realize that back home, there’s kind of a unofficial shared responsibility for each others well being. Friends, families and colleagues are there to help you. You can (till reasonable extends) expect them to care and help you if you need it. When traveling solo however, you really have to take care of your own shit, and that’s a big responsibility.

things to realize backpacking

5. It’s not all going to be perfect

things to realize backpackingAnd you will actually face situation in which you’ll have to look after yourself. I post lots of happy, beautiful, smiling, great pictures on Facebook and Twitter. But its not like I’m wandering around in Disneyland here. Negative things happen as well. Although I’ve only been traveling for a little over a month, I’ve already had my fair share. And then you can’t sit down and give up or wait for mom to come over and help you. You gotta face it, suck it up, deal with it. My guts refused all the water/food I took in the first 3 weeks, requiring me to stay in a 5 minute radius of a toilet. It makes you feel terrible, it limits you in where you can go, and makes your body pretty weak. Then when I was in Chiang Mai, I saw a bed bug crawling out of my pyjama pants. Left the hostel in the middle of the night, wandering through the dark streets by myself, looking for a new place to sleep. I spent the entire next day doing laundry, and felt totally disgusting and most of all scared that they had ended up in my backpack (which doesn’t seem to be the case. Hurray!). I fell off my motorbike. Nothing too bad, just badly bruised from top till toe, but it hurt. And these are only some examples of things that affected me personally, not even mentioning all the crappy unorganized things you’ve to deal with in developing countries such as Thailand and Cambodia. (Me:”I want to go to the train station. Train.. Station… you know?” Taxi driver:”Yes yes, okay okay” 35 minutes later, we pull up at the bus station. Sigh. Facepalm.)

6. Sometimes you need some comfort/luxury, and that’s okay

So because traveling (by yourself) is challenging at times, I can really appreciate some comfort/luxury every now and then. First I thought this was stupid, non-backpackerish, and that I was a spoiled western brat, but I know I’m not. In the end, these South East Asian countries are developing countries and they don’t provide the same comfort and easiness we’re used to in the West. And especially when living off a small backpackers budget, you’re not going to get much of it anyway, wherever you are in this world. So sometimes its okay and good to treat yourself and book a private room instead of that 24 persons-dorm, or book a hotel room instead of a hostel. Sometimes that $15 meal is just sooo good after eating $1 Pad Thai for a week. Sometimes that 1 hour flight is worth double the price of a 16-hours overland bus journey. Again, this trip should make you happy, and if some levels of comfort/luxury make you happy.. go for it. I would rather travel a little shorter but in a for me more comfortable way, than adding a few days while having to deal with things I just really don’t want to have to deal with.

things to realize backpacking

The bottom line… do what actually makes you happy during your trip and don’t be too hard on yourself. We all have expectations, or stereotypical ideas of what a cool backpacker looks and acts like. What the ultimate trip looks like. But its going to be different anyway, because you are you and not them. So stay calm and keep asking yourself… am I happy? Am I enjoying this the best way I can? Deal with issues that arise one by one. You don’t need to prove yourself to other travelers or to those at home. The very fact that you dared getting on that plane in the first place is already enough reason to be damn proud of yourself!

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26 Responses to 6 Things To Realize When You Start Backpacking

  1. Totally agree with you on all six points. And absolutely love no. 3. I take lots of breaks when traveling. Otherwise it can get stressful. That bruise looks scary, like it hurts a lot. Safe travels!

  2. Laos?? I’m embarrassed to admit that this is actually the first time I’ve heard of Laos as a must visit destination. What’s to see there?

    I agree with you not going to places that everyone else is going. Forge your own path, and your experiences will be different, and to a certain extent, the things you write in your blog will be different. That’s how you stand out from the rest of them! ;)

  3. KAtie says:

    I love this list! I completely agree with #3. At first it bit hard to allow myself to do nothing for a few days while traveling long-term, but it is oh so necessary! Love your blog :)

    • Flying Dutchgirl says:

      Right?! Doing nothing while you’re in a special place with so much to do feels weird, but you need it to be able to keep going. Thanks :)

  4. Le John Smith says:

    So true. I’ve been backpacking for more than three months now and I totally agree.

  5. Paris Marx says:

    I learned many of the same lessons while backpacking, and though they can almost make you feel a little insecure at first, travel just gets better once you’ve accepted them.

  6. Olly says:

    What’s your Facebook?

  7. Ben den Hartog says:

    I can really relate to this article. Been traveling solo for the last 5 months in Australia and now I needed some people around me again. I get responses like, you’re crazy travelling trough the outback all by yourself but I’ve always been able to go where I want and my route formed on the way. I never looked far ahead, never knew where I was going to sleep or end up every day.

    After travelling this long trough the outback, quiet and by myself I got a bit depressed for a week when I arrived in a city (Adelaide) again. I’m now in a working hostel outside Melbourne and I’m happy to have some people around me again.

    A big realization as well is that when I started travelling was that I was juiced up and felt like I needed to keep going. I’ve covered quite some distance in a couple of weeks but really, I didn’t see much.

    This has all changed and this trip has totally changed the way I travel for sure!

    Fijne reis op de Great Ocean Road, Teddy’s Lookout is mooi en het museum over de Great Ocean Road in het visitor information centre is interessant! Beide in Lorne

  8. Milly Day says:

    Couldn’t agree more with all of the above!

  9. Jacques says:

    I really enjoyed your story. I couldn’t agree more. I know you didn’t go to Laos but the last picture looks the like the river restaurants in Vientiane where I spent three days doing practically nothing. Keep having an amazing time and stay safe. :-)

  10. I so agree with all this points. Great blog post

  11. Sally says:

    Firstly great post. I 100% agree with all of the above! Secondly, I love Laos! Friendly people, great food and it is beautiful! The water falls in Luang Prabang, Tubing and the blue lagoon in Vang Vieng and of course 4000 Islands. Such a chilled out, relaxed place! Sorry, just had to add that :)

  12. Extremely good blog post! We agree with the last one: “Sometimes you need some comfort/luxury”. It’s OK if you decide to travel as a backpacker but sometimes people need to enjoy without thinking on budgets. It’s all about a good travel strategy, there tons of options out there.

    Nosara Hotel

  13. Clyde Micallef says:

    Hi

    I am planning u 3 or 4 week holiday in Laos and Vietnam heading to Bangkok, could you help me how to combine the holiday, I have already found interesting places to visit.

    Regards
    Clyde

  14. Alex says:

    I havent start my trip yet, but i can already say that I totally agree with you, this is gonna be my lifetime experience, MINE. Theres no rules about it, I really dont understand why people say there looking for freedom while backpacking, but yet they follow some unwritten rules, it seems like some people they just going places to get a nice profile pic

  15. Susanne says:

    Thanks for this wonderful report! I totally agree!
    It is your life!

  16. Jason Tatum says:

    Hello Flying Dutchgirl,

    One thing i’m sure after reading your article, you are really though girl! I like when you said ‘It’s your life, you decide’, really open my mind. Thanks for greate advice and keep writing a great article.

    Cheers

  17. April Yap says:

    I think Niagara Falls would be an amazing place to explore. I love how majestic the place is. It would be so romantic to go to this place with the people that you love and take an amazing photo.

  18. Jio TV says:

    I totally agree with your points of view.
    “This is your trip. You decide.”, that’s the reason why i want to travel alone. i felt that the more people join, the more trouble.

  19. Yeah, quite similar my thought! Nice!

  20. Totally agree with you on all six points. And absolutely love no. 3. I take lots of breaks when traveling. Otherwise it can get stressful. That bruise looks scary, like it hurts a lot. Safe travels!