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The Freedom of Backpacking

2010 April 26

One of my favorite aspects of backpacking is the feeling of ultimate, unadulterated, freedom. It’s an almost indescribable feeling, akin to euphoria, that I’ve experienced a few times. I’ve found it to be that moment when you suddenly realize that you are completely free from all responsibilities, obligations and worries. Your only responsibility in your temporary reality is making sure that the sack on your back doesn’t get lost. Your only goal is to have as much fun as possible and if you don’t, the only person to blame is yourself. Other than that, you are free to do whatever you want, whenever you want and with whoever you want.



The first time I experienced this was back in 2007. I took a 3 week trip through Europe prior to starting school in England. After landing in London and a fairly chaotic day/night, I made it to Switzerland. It was at Interlaken when I first felt this feeling. We were walking in the Alps on a sunny day and I just thought to myself, “Holy crap, here I am, in the Swiss-F******-Alps with absolutely no worries or responsibilities, just CHILLING with 3 weeks of travel ahead of me, while all my friends are slaving away in school.”

I think at that point, I became addicted to that feeling. It would be another couple of years before I felt the same way. When I landed in Bangkok, all I had was my backpack, money in the bank, a flight home and 61 days. No itinerary, no idea where I was going, what I was going to see or who I would meet. And that uncertainty only added to the sense of adventure and excitement. South America was similar except it was a bit more hectic. I had booked a flight into Quito, Ecuador and out of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and had only given myself 7 weeks. Looking at the map, I realized I had to traverse a continent probably 4-5x the size of Southeast Asia in 7 days less of time. So throughout that trip, I felt pressure to get a move on things. Nonetheless, I still had the freedom to stop along wherever I wanted in between Quito and Rio and I still had 7 weeks to do it.

My advice for anyone who’s about to embark on a long trip (1+ month) is to not plan anything (or at least keep things loose and flexible). The moment you book a flight is the moment you lock yourself into a commitment and that while traveling is a terrible mistake. There are so many times when I planned on staying at a certain place for only a couple of days, only to end up staying 5-7. There are also times when I bounced after one night. The only reason why I was able to do that is because I planned my trip as I went along, playing by ear on where and when I wanted to go.

You almost never get that kind of no obligations, worry only about yourself, freedom in day-to-day life so take advantage of it when you can.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. May 13, 2010

    I think loosely mapping out your trip is always a good idea, this is what I have done to ensure that I catch everything that I must see and keep everything else pretty simple.

  2. May 13, 2010

    Hell yeah! No plans, no expectations, and NO GUIDEBOOKS! I’m with ya.

  3. September 26, 2010

    Got to disagree. Backpacking obviously has points in its favour, or I wouldn’t do it, but “freedom” is not a word I would use to describe it. You’re in a foreign country, an outsider to the culture, you don’t speak the language, you’re often reliant on the kindness of strangers, you have to take public transport everywhere, you’re subject to visas and immigration requirements, there’s a decent chance you’re in a police state, you have to secure a new bed every couple of days and a meal three times a day, and your entire life is contained in your backpack – which you will often spend hours lugging about under the sweltering sun.

    Looking back on it, I had way more freedom at home than I ever did on the road.

    • September 26, 2010

      “Your entire life is contained in your backpack” is the beauty of it.

      You can pick it up and go anywhere, anytime you choose. At home, you have to go to work or school, you can’t do what you want when you want.

      • September 28, 2010

        Backpacking is certainly free in the sense that you no longer have to attend work or school, and you spend your day how you please, but that’s it really. Are you able to go wherever you want? Not really – you’re typically limited to bus routes. Are you able to form meaningful, long-lasting relationships? Not really, because the people you meet generally live in different countries and cities. Are you able to find a place you love and stay there forever? Nope, because you’re on a tourist visa.

        I’m not trying to knock it. It’s worth doing, and I’d never dream of discouraging someone from trying it. But “freedom” is the last thing I’d use to describe it.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

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