A heavy bag on your back, no set plans, hitchhiking rides when you can, little cash on you—it might seem like backpacking is more hassle than it’s worth, but stick with it, tough it out and you might discover pleasures anew.
Backpacking is a very different beast to the regular holidays most people take. The concept may seem simple on the face of it, but not many people really understand the essence of backpacking.
Moving on the cheap
In uncomplicated terms, it is basically low-budget travel, where the trip is longer compared to your usual holiday, extending from anywhere between three weeks to a mighty two years!
The aim of backpacking is not just to visit the local sights, but to discover a city, village, hillside or even a forest all by oneself. It is about absorbing the local culture, becoming familiar with its nuances, and in a way, actually ‘living’ in that area.
Unlike most vacations or luxury holidays, there are no fixed itineraries or travel plans when backpacking. A backpacker is free to do whatever, whenever he feels like. That is also the best way to learn about a place—by dealing with what is thrown at you each day.
Stage for self-discovery
Everyone who backpacks has their own motivation for it. Some backpack just for the fun of it, some do it to meet new people and discover different cultures. Then there are those who do it to learn new cuisines, or to learn yoga, or simply meditate. But one element that is common to every backpacking experience is the achievement of a better understanding of who you are and what you are capable of.
So, while the aim of regular holidaying is simply to get a break from the monotony of your life for a few days, backpacking is a holiday lifestyle that you adopt in order to understand yourself, your life and the way
Full of surprises
I may be biased, but there are only pros to backpacking. Never-ending fun, the discovery of new things every day, being able to do whatever you feel like, making new friends from around the globe, getting to try out different cuisines, and to add to it all, saving a lot of money—as backpacking equals low budgets—there is hardly anything not to love about this way of life. The only con I can think of is the difficult time you face when a trip gets over and you have to get back to your old lifestyle and adjust to it. Yes, it is addictive!
Backpacking doesn’t mean you have to opt for down-market accommodation to save money. You can stay at amazing, clean and safe hostels or even camp out in the open. You could even spend a little more and stay at decent budget hotels and guesthouses. You might be derided as a flashpacker in backpacking circles for doing that, but you should stay where you feel comfortable instead of conforming to some ideal of how backpacking should be. As far as sightseeing goes, it’s a myth that backpackers save money on it. A backpacker is always ready to spend money on sightseeing if he feels it’s worth it and necessary.
The whole culture of backpacking hostels has been catching up in India and now there are some wonderful hostels operating here, like Asterix Hostels in Goa or Vedanta-Wake up! in Fort Kochi. These give you a dorm room at a price as low as `500 [US $8] per bed for a night along with breakfast. What’s more, there are parties, events, yoga sessions and all kinds of recreational games at these hostels which also help in enhancing the destination experience.
Most backpackers like to discover a place by themselves and learn the entire history and culture of a place. For example, you might see a backpacker visiting the Taj Mahal to buy an audio book so that they can spend as much time as they can, getting to know the place and discover it themselves. You won’t see them bargaining with guides to get a good price to be shown around. Again, it’s about learning or absorbing something at your own pace, in your own way, with no rules or restrictions. This desire to discover and learn, whatever the circumstances, is at the heart of backpacking.
In conclusion, my opinion is that everyone should try backpacking. It’s the best way to sort your life out, have complete peace of mind, be more aware of things around you and to travel.
10 backpacking havens in India
- Rishikesh – Home to some of the best known yoga practitioners of the world, this is a magnificent city with temples everywhere you turn your gaze.
- Varanasi – The sights of this city situated by the Ganga simply take your breath away.
- Gokarna – This beach town in Karnataka has become a second home to many exhausted with the crowded Goan scene.
- Pushkar – A hop, skip and jump away from Ajmer in Rajasthan, this town has always welcomed backpackers.
- Darjeeling – If the evening bazaars don’t sweep you off your feet, the idyllic hills and tea estates will.
- Dharamshala and Mcleodgunj –Tibetan culture thrives here with the Dalai Lama and his fellow refugees living here. Backpackers usually choose to head off to Triund from here to see the Himalayan Snow Lines.
- Leh – There is no better feeling than standing on a mountain, looking over the valley and realising how insignificant we are when faced with such beauty.
- Khajuraho – If the beautiful architecture of these temples don’t get to you, the erotic art outside the temples will!
- Goa – It may be congested and over-commercialised but that never stops people from returning to Goa year after year.
- Agra – You’ve got the Taj Mahal there, need we say anything more?
This was first published in the September 2013 issue of Complete Wellbeing.