This is the 4th post of my Travel Secrets series.
It is a common assumption that someone who travels as much and as often as I do, is a backpacker. And that as per the conventional definition of a backpacker, I carry only a backpack when I travel, I get by with the lowest possible budget, I stay in hostels, I spend a large amount of my time interacting with fellow backpackers, and I swear by a guidebook (most likely the lonely planet). While I have nothing against such a style of travelling, and in fact have a certain sense of admiration for people who travel that way, I have a confession to make: I’m not a backpacker.
I carry a backpack when I travel, yes.
I bought my first backpack, a green and black rucksack, during my two-month sabbatical from work last year, and took it for a spin in Europe and India. Even before that, I did shorter trips with a small daypack. I can’t remember the last time I carried a suitcase. The idea is to travel as light as possible, so the weight of my luggage doesn’t weigh me down. I carry my rucksack for trips longer than ten days, and my daypack otherwise. I’ve realized over time that the more space I have in my backpack, the more stuff I’m likely to carry. The best I’ve done so far is 10 kilos for 3 weeks on my Turkey trip, and prefer a backpack over any kind of luggage for practical reasons – it is easier to lug around, especially when you intend to walk a lot, take stairs, and run behind buses and trains you’ve decided to take impulsively.
I don’t like staying in hostels.
The only two times I’ve stayed in a hostel were on my way to climb Mount Kinabalu in Malaysia’s half of Borneo, and on my first day in Paris. The first was a dormitory-style room, cheap and basic, and fairly loud. The second was a bit more fancy with free Wifi et al. I didn’t mind either, but they didn’t do anything for me, and given that I consider where I stay an essential part of my travel experience, I decided not to stay in a hostel again if I had a choice. With the same budget that a private room in a decent hostel would warrant, I have stayed in some very unique places; home-stays run by hospitable families in small towns and villages in India, boutique artsy hotels in Europe, heritage and eco lodges in Turkey, and countryside farms in rural India. To me, accommodation is not just about where I crash for the night, but a way to get to know and experience a new place. So no, I’m not a hostel-hopping backpacker.
I prefer interacting with the locals.
There is nothing like meeting a fellow travel enthusiast and swapping travel tales, but my priority when I travel, is to seek conversations with the local people, get to experience their culture first hand, understand their lifestyle, and walk in their shoes for a day or two. In fact, this priority defines everything about how and where I travel. It is the reason that in Turkey, I ditched the popular Mediterranean Coast to seek the Karadeniz culture in the north, where a small town called Ordu really charmed me; it features in no tourist maps of Turkey, but I loved it so much that I spent 4 days of my trip there. In Italy again, I chose the alpine Lake Garda region over Milan and Rome; I’m sure the cities are beautiful, but I discovered my undying love for Italy in the unassuming little village of Gargnano. So no, I’m not one to follow conventional backpacking trails.
I have never owned a guidebook.
Honestly, I’m a little surprised that travellers still use guidebooks in hard copy! I’m a compulsive Googler, I carry my iPhone and Macbook when I travel, I choose places that offer free Wifi, I trust in the experiences of fellow bloggers, I read reviews on TripAdvisor, and sometimes I outsource my decisions to Twitter or Facebook. I’ve never owned a copy of a lonely planet guidebook, or any guidebook for that matter, and I think that’s blasphemous for anyone who would consider her/himself a backpacker, right? That is not to say that I don’t like Lonely Planet; I dig the way they write about a place online, and if a Lonely Planet article can’t convince me to go to a place, nothing probably can – they have a way with words. But having said that, I don’t need a guidebook to tell me what to do or where to stay, when I can find much more updated and crowd-sourced information on Google. So no, I’m not a backpacker following a guidebook like a travel bible.
I prefer value for money options.
And finally, even though I mostly travel on a shoe-string budget, I prefer to pay a little extra to upgrade myself from the cheapest possible alternative to an experience that offers value for my money. That means I’d pick a quaint cafe over a fast food joint. Or an experiential accommodation over a no-frills budget hotel. Or a costly detour off the beaten path than sticking to a well-trodden trail; my biggest expenditure in Mauritius was a flight ticket to Rodrigues Island, and it also turned out to be the adventure I loved most. So no, I’m not a save-every-penny backpacker.
I guess I’d classify my travel style as something of a “flashpacker”, a new term that’s doing the rounds in the travel circuit these days; it means a traveller who’s neither a backpacker nor a luxury traveller, but seeks value for money experiences. I don’t know if there’s a better word to describe it, but I also consider myself an experiential traveller; I like to stay in a place long enough to really get to know it, spend time with its people, sample the local cuisine, witness its cultural idiosyncrasies first hand, adopt its lifestyle, and carry a little bit of it with me when I leave.
So if you run into me on the road someday, or invite me to travel with you, or drop me an email just to say hi, I’d appreciate if you wouldn’t refer to me as a true-blue backpacker ;)
Disclaimer: I am well aware that the “conventional wisdom” referred to here to describe a backpacker does not apply to every backpacker. The reference is merely a means of defining my travel style, so you can get to know me a little better!
How about you? How would you define your travel style?