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?
The Story of How I Quit My Job to Travel.
Dealing With Travel-Wary Indian Parents.
How I Afford My Travels, and How You Can Too.
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Welcome to my blog, The Shooting Star. I’ve been called a storyteller, writer, photographer, digital nomad, “sustainability influencer,” social entrepreneur, solo traveller, vegan, sustainable tourism consultant and environmentalist. But in my heart, I’m just a girl who believes that travel – if done right – has the power to change us and the world we live in.
I still think it’s backpacking all the same 🙂
If you aren’t into hostels, another option you didn’t mention was Couchsurfing.org where you stay with locals for free, converse, share, teach and learn. It can be a cheap and great way to travel.
Yes couchsurfing is an option I’m yet to try. I just want to be able to offer up my own couch before taking someone else’s!
I just had my first (impromptu) solo travel experience and it was awesome. I am hooked. While on my trip across Kerala and Tamil Nadu, I chanced upon your blog and as a fellow Indian woman it was quite comforting to know someone had trodden these paths before. I took your advice to click lots of photos for my blog. I have started penning down my experiences on (still in the trenches!). Just beginning to realize how much work it takes to document a journey on a blog. So wanted to thank you for all the time and energy you invest in your blog for your readers.
I would encourage you to try couchsurfing. Any host would love to have you over and would only gain from knowing a person such as you. I can’t host at present but I do surf and go for CS social events. I’ve blogged about my CS experience here (it is a long read). The best part is that surfing ensures that you leave behind friends. However you seem quite adept at making local friends even without couchsurfing, so if you enjoy your comfort/privacy (one does not always have a good prior idea about the level of comfort at a hosts place in couchsurfing) then perhaps you can stick to your current means. :).
Wish you many more adventures and I look forward to reading about them.
you are inspiring me to follow my wanderlust.
There are still a few things which keep me from taking off. I am starting to make a note of everything that stops me.
Share that note with me when it’s ready 😉 Let’s cross it off together!
Know what, I actually had a discussion with a himalayan hermit on ‘Veragya’. I have a few points 😛
hey will you read my blog, I am new, your feedback will help me tremendously.
🙂 Sure thing, I’ll do tonight.
I loved loved this post of yours !
I prefer backpacks to suitcases and firmly believe the lighter the travel the happier you will be!
I prefer quaint of beat homestays B&B to normal hotels
I avoid the usual touristy spots like plague – I think each city has something more unique and different to offer than only the tourist spots and I prefer to explore that !
Also I think walking is the best way to discover a new city .. I have ended up discovering so many quaint cafes, farms, markets simply by walking – Its also a lovely way to interact with the locals !
Thanks Ruchira, our travel styles are really similar then! Hope to catch you on the road sometime 🙂
I sincerely hope we get a chance to travel together 🙂
There is so much that I learn about travel everytime I read a post of urs. Keep traveling, keep exploring and keep sharing 🙂
Thanks Mansee, I’m happy to hear that, and to be honest, I’m learning so much more about travel everyday too!
Started reading your blog and tweets recently and I am kind of inspired. I love travelling but the grinding demanding work at hospital leaves less time for all these.
Anyways I’m not giving up either.
Travelling alone is one part and travelling with family is another.
I travel alone to places when I go out as an examiner.
Travelling with family just for relaxation i haven’t ventured out yet. Could you suggest some for us?
I have a 10 month old kid and of course a lovely wife. My parents too are with me and would love to have them on board too..
Looking forward for your tips and comments
Sometimes I wish I had enrolled myself in a medical school; it’s a profession I really look upto. And truth be told, it opens you up to so many travel options – medical care is much needed in remote parts of India, and what better reason to travel than to offer it? Take your family and kid too a few years from now, I’m sure they’ll thank you for it.
For the time being, I’d recommend that you experiment with homestays in parts of India that are accessible. We have some lovely tried & tested option on India Untravelled – http://indiauntravelled.com/ 🙂
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I am lil late in reading your blogs, however I am sure I am going to be a regular one now.A very very well written piece. Its always a pleasure reading travel stories, they emphasis on living the moment.
Although I haven’t traveled the world but have traveled to a lot of less known places in rural India. Travelling is the best experience that you can give yourself and who better than yourself to accompany. Soon going to write to you on some tips for a single girl traveler
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My partner and I stumbled over here different page and thought I might
check things out. I like what I see so i am just following
you. Look forward to going over your web page again.
Great article as usual, Shivya. I kind of identify with your style of travelling, that’s what I do most often. Fast food outlets are total no-no for me….except when they offer something new for my taste buds! I love staying in quaint, boutique hotels and eating the local cuisine of every place I visit, and I hate splurging on luxury travel because there’s so much more I could do with that money. Didn’t quite know the new jargon for this style of traveling- “flashpacking”. Very interesting 🙂
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Its a pleasure to read your blog..am awestruck by the way you’ve been travelling and more importantly the way you’ve shaped up your blog. I have a huge wanderlust and even though have been travelling for as long as i can remember after reading your blog it feels i’ve been nowhere..
Keep up the good work..am looking forward to many more travel blogs from you..😊
I am goin to dubai for two months..it would be nice if you could guide me with some places to look out for in dubai
wow! this is the first time i read a traveller admits as not a backpacker..
I ejoyed reading your post very much. It is inspiring (your writing is aways very inspiring ) and gives a different perspective to travel.
I wish you all the very best. I am very proud of you Shivya.
I absolutely agree with you! Paying a little more for ‘the experience’ is absolutely worth it. I’ve also stayed in a hostel twice and probably never will again. The discovery of airbnb and couchsurfing for travelling was a game changer. Interacting with locals/your hosts makes the experience of travelling and staying somewhere feel more genuine for me. And I do like the term ‘flashpacker’ haha!