The Freedom of Backpacking
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.