Backpacking is far more than a way of traveling. It’s a way of looking at and discovering the world. It is, to all intents and purposes, a way of life. You can’t truly claim to be ‘a backpacker’, or to go ‘backpacking’, unless you’re already a certain type of person. Backpacking doesn’t teach you independence – it hones your independence and makes you more self-sufficient.
It teaches you to survive in an occasionally tough, but always alien environment. And once you’ve figured out how to survive in this strange world, then you can embrace its difference, marvelling at its richness and its unceasing variety.
The backpacker knows that the only way to find out about the world is to explore it. Whether you’re talking about finding some little local bar in Paris, or a trail through the dense jungles of Borneo, the principle is the same: frontiers are there to be crossed, wildernesses to be discovered.
Do you really need a backpack?
It might seem silly to suggest it, but the backpack itself is actually genuinely central to the whole thing. It could be seen as a purely functional thing – a piece of luggage – but the philosophy that it underpins runs much deeper.
A suitcase simply doesn’t cut it. You’re always going to be limited by how far your poor, aching arms can carry it. If you’re lucky, you might have one of those wheelie cases, but anyone who’s tried to lug them along cobbled streets knows that they’re not so great when it comes to going ‘off-road’!
A good pack, on the other hand, with all your belongings strapped comfortably on to your back, shares the weight around evenly, allowing you to walk for much longer, and across far more uneven terrain. A good backpack is a liberator: without one, you’re unlikely to get beyond the beaten path.
Understanding your travels
Another key factor that marks the backpacker out from the average holiday-maker is their desire to learn from their travels. The package holiday, with its idle uniformity is anathema to the backpacker. Little can be learnt from something that is spoon-fed to you. Learning has to be done through personal experience. With an understanding of the world through which you travel, comes an understanding of your place within it. As with all important journeys, backpacking is a voyage of self-discovery, too.
Nowadays, the only limits to travel are imagination, ambition and courage. Can you imagine the most fulfilling places to go? Do you want to get the most from your travels? Are you brave enough to put yourself out there on the road, and face up to its challenges?
Backpacking is the pursuit of the unique and fleeting moment of beauty. Watching dawn come up over the ocean in an explosion of colour, perhaps, marvelling at the mists as they shift over a mountain range, or being amazed by the long shadow cast by a temple…
Backpacking is catching a glimpse of something strange and exotic, something you know you’d never see at home. It’s seeing something weird and wonderful and not understanding it – but realizing that not everything has to be understood to be appreciated.
Ultimately, though, backpacking is the awareness that the experiences and the knowledge you have acquired on your travels become a part of you, and as such, can never be taken away.