Long-term backpacking is not a holiday or vacation. It's tiring, draining, and challenging just as much as it is awe-inspiring, educational, and fulfilling. Over the past 13 weeks of nomadic hoolanganism in Asia, I've noticed things developing within myself from my experiences that I threw down onto my computer screen. Here's my top 13 in 13:
1. You Lower the Value of your Personal Comfort
I don't care whether I have a bed to sleep in or not anymore. As long as I can keep on breathing, then I'm cool with it. 32 hours on a ferry, trying to sorta sleep in an airport, on a bus, or in a room with 24 other snoring, drunken assholes aren't problems anymore. Same deal with meals; if I need to, stale, terrible food, or no food at all, can get me through the day.
2. You Become More Outgoing
I have no friends within a few hundred kilometers of me right now, which happens often, and it doesn't phase me in the slightest. That loneliness lasts for as long as I allow it to. I can decide to approach any random fucker/group of fuckers now and it will likely lead to good times and friendship, assuming they aren't too crazy -- a manageable amount of crazy is ideal, however.
15 hour ferry ride? Go ask some bullshit question to another wayward soul and then spend the whole time hanging out with his group. Alone in a new place? Respond to someone's question or exclamation and use it to segue your way into more conversations. That one stupid question or response could lead to weeks of travel buddies and years of friendship.
3. You Become Your Own Best Friend
That being said, I am fundamentally my only company for sizeable portions of time. The lapses of solititude bothered me at the beginning, despite being decently introverted, now I enjoy them profoundly. Back home, I always knew there were people in the same region of the globe I could contact for good company or something to do. I don't have that reliable network anymore, instead it's sporadic random encounters. Maybe I'll meet some cool people at any moment, or maybe I won't. Either way, I'm in good company.
4. You Will Want More
Traveling is addicting as all hell. You continuously experience and see some really awesome things, like ripping through breathtaking landscapes on top of a "jeepney", snorkeling through gorgeous coral, or see stunning ancient works of art. You just want more and more. Everyday you're excited about what's to come.
What is most addicting, however, is meeting people from around the world, who either invite you to visit them at home, on the road, or fill your head with other amazing tales. Trek across Israel? Weird Swedish festivals involving penis' and songs about frogs? Use a camel and cart to travel India? Hell. Yes. All of it.
5. You Become More Open (and Reckless)
Open in so many ways. I'm willing to eat practically anything now, including chicken fetuses and various random animals and parts of pigs/chickens. I'm more open to the cultural quirks and differences, try harder to understand and appreciate them, and engage in them. And more open to doing random/dangerous activities. I figure if someone else has done them or eaten them, so can I. If death isn't imminent... why not?
6. You Stop Being Surprised
My first weeks of traveling in Asia were filled with one extremely confusing and surprising discovery after another. Shit is definitely still going down, but my reaction to it now is a calm headnod and an, "Of course it is!" A full-grown pig laying down in a side car, rolling past and squeeling at the top of its lungs, for example. Personally, I'd be more surprised now if things weren't quirky.
7. You Realize You Can't See it All
No matter how long you're in a place, you will never see or do it all. If I tried to visit one island of the Philippines' 7000 every single day, it would take me almost 20 years. Now multiply that by almost 200 countries in the world, many being significantly larger than the Philippines, and each with a continuously evolving society. Too much for one life, and one human's worth of energy.
This endless supply of things to do is what makes traveling so amazing and addicting, there's an infinite amount to discover. You'll want to see it all, and you'll kill yourself in the process. Eventually, you accept that you're only going to see/do a few things, and be happy with what you've done. Honestly, the sights are cool and all, but what really matters is the people. Visiting the Great Wall was primarily enjoyable because of the cool people I shared the experience with, and some of the best nights have been spent in some shitty restaurant/bar/hostel just shooting the shit with randoms.
8. You Discover How Little You Need
My total bag space is 55L, weighs 25lb (11kg), fits in carry-on, and it's not even full. Many of the things in it are seldom used, or exist only because I'm carrying my entire life with me. My bag is everything I own. I have no home filled with books, furniture and gadgets. You need so little to be happy and to get through. When I go to a store, I literally can't think of or find anything I want to buy.
9. You Find How Cheap Life Can Be
I'm living on $30 per day right now, including food, accomodation, entertainment, and lots of bus, ferry, and plane transportation. That's with my decently high pace of changing spots every 1-3 days. Even Japan, a relatively expensive country, only cost me $1650 for 3.5 weeks of jam packed, great times. Compare my $30 daily average to your monthly rent back home -- maybe my entire life is cheaper than that. Then layer on utilities, food, entertainment, shopping, and miscellaneous expenses. I'm actually making my bank drain slower by traveling.
10. Your Emotions Level Out
I encounter something that could frustrate me every single day, and sometimes in droves. Logistical issues galore, being ripped off, things being cancelled, losing items, and less than savoury accomodation/transportation. You experience all physical and emotional extremes; loneliness, pain, discomfort, confusion, elation, excitement, hot, cold, disgust, and frustration. I'm becoming numb to them, and mostly just shrug them off, suffer through, and/or try find a remedy/alternative. It just doesn't matter, find a solution and get on with your life.
11. You Become a Master at Logistics
Long-term travel, and life in general, is impossible to totally plan ahead of time. Planning where you're gonna be, when, with whom, and how to link all those things together in a somewhat logical, time eficient, and cost effective manner, is a constant to-do. When a cage rattler comes around, you have to quickly figure out an alternative, re-calculate, and keep on movin'. After a while, you get really damn good at it.
12. You Realize We're All The Same
This isn't a Baha'i or Buddhist statement saying we are all one entity, but rather that we are all profoundly more similar than we pretend. We all desire, fear, and fundamentally feel the same things. We all: want to feel important; have no idea who we are or what we want; want to be loved; to feel free; under/over value both ourselves and each other; and we all compare ourselves to others to our detriment. Meeting locals and travellers alike just continuously reinforces that.
13. You Definitely Won't Stop Missing Friends
Despite all the people I'm meeting, I don't miss the people back home any less, and the list of people I miss is only increasing. A decent portion of my non-activity time is spent messaging/writing letters to loved ones around the world, and I revel in it. Hearing what's going on in their lives with my absence, having philosophical discussions, adding my two cents (for what it's worth), and sharing what I'm up to are all extremely important to me.
So if you've had the misfortune of meeting my white ass, write me! I might not always spontaneously message you, but it doesn't mean I don't want to. And if you've been lucky enough to avoid me thus far, feel free to contact me sometime too. In the meantime, thanks for reading my random travel thoughts, I'd love to hear your comments below or directly. Otherwise, I'm excited to see what the remaining 36 weeks of traveling will do to me.