Most kids dream of toys and games and roller-coasters. I dreamed of travel. But It wasn’t until I finished college with some extra cash from Uncle Sam, that my dream came true.
Magically all the stars aligned: The movie Taken wasn’t yet out (thank the lord or my parents would have freaked), I scored a 400 dollar flight to Heathrow (CHEAP), a friend lent me his 70 liter travel pack (saved me a few hundred bucks), and my girlfriends were 100 percent in (fun factor).
We hit seven European countries in two months: saw more ruins, naked statues, and frescoes than we’d ever imagined. We made loads of friends and bonded over our fear of Italian drivers, pickpockets, and horribly mistranslated conversations.
We fell in love with Swiss guards, chocolate crepes, and Nessie; sang the Hills are Alive in Austria; and sunbathed on the rocky beaches of Nice. It was the trip of a lifetime.
Of course, it wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting without a visit to the U.S. Embassy–where else would one go to feel like Jason Bourne–and recover a friend’s lost passport.
Looking back, this trip changed my life–It forced me out of my comfort zone, away from everything I knew and everything I was. It’s an experience I’ll never forget. So here are 5 reasons why you should travel as a backpacker at least once in your lifetime.
1. You’ll have more fun
Sure. I may only be saying this because I can’t afford the Four Seasons or the Ritz Carlton, but here’s the thing–Backpackers live in spontaneity. When everything is on your back, and countries are mere train rides away, it’s easy to go with the flow. You’re not locked into reservations or others’ expectations. Travel is at your whim. You go where you want, when you want. If it’s raining in Germany and Greek sunsets call–Go! If you want to stay an extra day somewhere–do it! Nothing holds you back.
When you’re staying at a hostel in a room for 20, you’re bound to make new friends–or the very least–have wildly entertaining stories. You may choose to hang with folks for a day, or for the duration of your trip–it’s up to you! But chugging German beer, dancing in the Scottish highlands, and getting lost on the Paris Métro feel far more exhilarating when shared with others who are just as psyched to be backpacking as you.
2. You’ll mingle with locals
Believe it or not, you’re far more interesting bulked up with a killer-size pack than toting a “First class only” Prada bag. People will strike up conversations because they’re curious: They want to know where you’re from, where you’re headed, and why on earth you’re lugging around a giant pack that could knock you down. Can you blame them? It’s awesome.
If it weren’t for our packs, we wouldn’t have met the British football player who drove us around Bath in his fancy Bimmer (Jane Austen would have been proud), or the Scot on the train who invited us to dinner in Inverness, or the Italian hostel owner who took us out for pasta and live music in the square. These are experiences we had because of our backpacks, because we left our every day lives, and stuffy way of doing things in pursuit of adventure.
So live a little–let the pack take you where adventure calls.
3. You’ll feel free
There’s something to be said about having everything you need in one place. It’s simple. You don’t need to worry about all the stuff you left at home: your car, apartment, bills, will still be there when you return. You won’t need the mail key or your crock pot. Hungry? Stroll a Paris market for some bread, cheese, and wine. That bulky hair dryer you can’t live without–leave it, and let the Tuscan sun dry your hair. The sunglasses you left on the train–buy a knockoff pair in Rome. When we let the freedom of backpacking sink in, we appreciate each moment.
Life is only as complicated as we make it. Backpacking frees us of the things that don’t really matter anyway.
4. You’ll learn about the world and yourself
When you’re immersed in a foreign country, everything is new: from the language to the currency, to the food and etiquette. It’s no wonder you learn so much about others and yourself. I learned I was capable, fearless, and determined.
Capable: I carried my fully loaded pack over 4,000 miles without losing my money or my passport. I got lost a few times, but always managed to find my way (pre-smartphone). I thought I’d get homesick, but the only thing I missed was Mexican food. Note: I tried a place in Salzburg and that was a mistake (don’t buy guacamole in Austria).
Fearless: I struck up conversations with strangers, tried new foods (haggis-yuck), and spent hours exploring Venice alleyways by myself.
Determined: I saw everything I dreamed of seeing– from the flying buttresses of Notre Dame to the ornate ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
When backpacking, you learn what’s important to you and what’s not. It’s amazing the clarity one finds when abroad. Sometimes it takes leaving what’s familiar to find oneself.
5. You’ll make memories to last a lifetime
Studies show that life experiences bring us more happiness than money. Why? Because experiences can never be stripped away. The memories I made while backpacking Europe will remain with me for the rest of my life. They’ve made me into the person I am today.
Rather than tearing through your wallet to buy the latest tech–consider this. When tech falls apart, when it’s no longer the latest and the greatest, will you still feel fulfilled? I guarantee you traveling the world, either by backpack or otherwise, is the best decision you’ll ever make.
Who knows, maybe this time next year, you’ll be off gallivanting the Scottish highlands.
Featured photo credit: Backpacking Europe/Lori De La Cruz via flickr.com