Unless you get lost in a new city (yes, it’s possible in spite of Google Maps), eat the local food (macarons or ratatouille, anyone?) and interact with locals, you haven’t really experienced a new place.
Travel influencer Ansoo Gupta says, “Travelling should not be done on autopilot. Backpacking allows you to step out of your bubble and really connect with a place.” Gupta, who’s visited 35 countries and holds travel workshops called Come, Plan, Go across the country to inspire people to travel more, also believes that backpack travelling doesn’t mean just travelling with less money. “It’s more of a mindset,” she adds.
So before you just hand over your cheque to that tour operator, who’s only interested in selling you luxury – and a wada pav on a Swiss mountain top – take a minute to consider why you should take a backpacking trip. Here are seven essential reasons.
To understand that less really is more
Whether you’re roughing it out in the wilds around Manali or in towns across Europe, you realise that carrying more than you need will quickly become an impediment – and break your back (quite literally!). Travelling light helps you prioritise your needs and make do with what you have. The lighter you are, the freer you will be. As Gupta says, “Carry less stuff, bring back more experiences.”
To realise the value of money
For a backpacker, understanding the way money works at his/ her destination is paramount. From paying for daily basics to public transport—you cannot appreciate a destination until you understand the way things work there. The upside? You’ll end up spending like the locals on local (more authentic) experiences that are considerably cheaper than touristy options. That’s smart economy, dear Watson.
Indians don’t like hostels, period. Remember Kangana Ranaut's Rani in Queen
? I would like to make a case for staying at one though. I love hostels because they’re the cheapest places to crash in the city centre of whichever place you’re visiting. The best way to scope out a hostel before you decide to stay there is to walk up to the reception and hang out over a friendly cuppa (which is on the house more often than not). Staying in a hostel is also about overcoming your own inhibitions and learning to trust and stay together with a bunch of people from around the world. If Rani could get over it, so can you.
To make friends around the world
Here’s my experience: On my first trip to Vietnam, I built lasting friendships with people across the world. A few years later, one of them invited me to France for the holidays; and this year, I met another friend in Singapore, who took me to eat the most authentic food I tucked into on the trip. The truth is that backpacking forces you to seek out other people and can help you make friendships you wouldn’t seek out otherwise. #JustSaying
To experience local customs
Backpacking is another word for ‘going local’. Picking up basic words and being polite are the only two things you need to get a grand welcome that no $1,000-a-night hotel can rival. How else will you get invited to dinner (as I was) in a small Kenyan village near Lamu? Or be jokingly (I hope) married off to an aunty while taking a break from cycling around Vietnam’s border region of Chau Doc.
To understand your destination
On a backpacking trip to the United Kingdom and Ireland, I stumbled into a history lesson and understood first hand the grouses of the Irish, Scots and English still have for each other. While they use humour to cover up their mutual dislike for each other, the Irish and Scots blame the English for repressing their Independence movement, while the English seek refuge under the monarchy if you begin asking difficult questions. God save the Queen indeed!
As clichéd as it sounds, roughing it out helps you understand yourself better. From discovering the basics (do you like hostels or luxury hotels or early morning treks or late-night pub crawls?) to the more existential (are you a spendthrift or a miser? Are you spontaneous or adventurous?), backpack travel teaches you to look outside as well as within.
Like this article? Also read: Take A Fruit-Picking Holiday Across India
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