8 Myths about Backpacking Around the World

8 Myths about Backpacking Around the World 4
Backpacking around the world...solo

8 Myths about Backpacking Around the World

There are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to the idea of backpacking around the world. Most conjure up myths as a way of putting off what is uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and what is perceived to be hard. It’s important to note that these are just excuses put in place to keep you from going, and in return, keep you from growing. Lets put these excesses to rest and dismiss some myths about backpacking around the world.

Myth 1) Backpacking  around the world is for college kids and hippies

This is a common one. Yes the world of backpacking is dominated by students taking a break from studying, the free spirited, and nomads. This is the most but certainly not the many. Even though I am an advocate for traveling after graduating high school or college, this by no means is to discourage my readers beyond that. Many backpackers are just like you. They are looking for their own adventure. They are those fed up with their day-to-day life and those looking for change. They are backpacking around the world alone, with friends, or their significant other. This includes people of all ages proving that it is never too late (or too early) to live. Folks taking a gap year between careers or life moves, retired couples, and families that have pulled their children from school can all be found searching for a life of learning on the road. This also includes my mother. She backpacked across Australia at the age of 49. She stayed in hostels and met people of all ages along the way. She did this trip 5 years before I did my first backpacking trip around the world. And no my mother is not a nomadic hippie…although she has threatened to stop shaving her armpits to embarrass her kids. Hmmm…

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Myth 2) My vacation time is better used for the beach

Why? The world has so much to offer. The memories, the lessons learned, and the incredible moments achieved taking a backpacking holiday or trip will last longer than the tan achieved from lying in the sun for two weeks. Also note that backpacking can still take you to a relaxing beach if you let it.

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Myth 3) It’s too expensive

Please. You can go as extravagant as you want or as cheap as you want. You just have to go. Backpacking around the world costs vary. Some backpack with no money. Some save up for years. The point is in life there are always decisions and this is no different. You need you put your priorities in order and finance them accordingly. Setting aside money to accomplish your dream should be a goal and an achievable one at that. Look at your options and where you can afford to get to and go from there. The world is large outside your personal bubble yet within reach. Also know that you have many options to finance your trip as I have pointed out in a recent post called 7 Tips to Finance World Travel. There are many ways to save, there are many options to work, and there are plenty of opportunities to volunteer your way across the globe.

Myth 4) You have to sleep in dorm rooms

Again, you can go as extravagant as you want or as cheap as you want. If you are traveling on a tight budget and by yourself then staying at hostels are going to be your best bet. What most people don’t realize is many hostels offer private rooms for a reasonable price. If these private rooms are just too expensive for you then be sure to book your bed in advance. Check hostel ratings and reviews online and book a room with the fewest number of beds in it. This will minimize the amount of people coming and going and can make for a quieter sleep. For those traveling in groups, splitting a hotel room is often cheaper than individually paying for a dorm room bed.

Of course backpacking around the world doesn’t mean you have go on the cheap. If you have saved for luxury then you have many options. You should try splurging once in awhile or stay in unique accommodations like sleeping in a cave in Cappadocia, or a in a water tower in Amsterdam. I also recommend living like a local and staying in long term accommodations through sites like Air BnB. Some of my best memories of Istanbul came from staying in a unique small apartment which allowed us to experience what living in Istanbul was like.

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Myth 5) Backpacking is dirty

Just because you are trying to save a few dollars by sleeping in hostels doesn’t mean you have to stay in a hell hole every night. Sites like hostels.com, tripadvisor.com, and hostworld.com all provide access to hostel reviews by travelers just like you. These sites are valuable tools for finding where you will rest your head next. Ratings for individual hostels include a score for cleanliness so aim high when booking your bed. These reviews and ratings have weeded out the less desirable accommodations over the last decade or so and have forced ones that are less desirable to make improvements. There are plenty of amazingly comfortable and clean hostels out there. Don’t get me wrong, there are still filthy hostels and hotels but they are easy to pick out. I am saying to avoid them.

Myth 6) I need to know every language in the world

IMG_0879For English speaking travelers this is less of an issue. You can get by just fine with learning a few phrases and using body language. Remember to be respectful. Learn to say simple things like “Hello,” “please,” and “Thank you” Don’t forget to use them. We also live in the age of Smartphone’s which can aid in translating when in a pinch. This is especially helpful for non-English travelers.  Also note that many countries are setup for tourism and want your travel dollars. Tourism booths are setup in most major cities and are there to help.

Myth 7) It is unsafe

The world is full of wonder, beauty, and kind people. Don’t forget this. Sure there are those that do not have pure intentions everywhere, including your hometown. It is important to recognize that they are the few, not the many. The fact that these people exist should not deter you from backpacking around the world. Experiencing all that is great outweighs the risks. The key to staying safe while backpacking around the world is to educate yourself. Know the areas of towns and cities to avoid, especially at night.  Also avoid walking alone in these areas. Minimize your risk by avoiding negative attention to yourself.  Do not carry large amounts of cash or valuables on you or flaunt it. Be aware of your surroundings. Most importantly, do all this without letting it ruin your experience. This may be hard to get across but remember that not everyone is out to get you. While chaperoning a school trip to Europe I was presented with a great example of how being overcautious can ruin your fun.  While herding 50 people through the busy Paris subway system our tour guide Sonya made it more interesting by putting fear into the kids about pick pocketers. While I appreciated the message she was trying to deliver, she took it too far and frightened these kids into thinking that EVERYONE wanted their shit. One girl spent a day with her jacket on over her backpack. I swear people thought she was Quasimodo when we toured Notre Dame. Relax and be safe. It is easier that you think.

Myth 8) You have to have a traveling partner 

There is no doubt that having someone to travel with can make things easier. During the planning stage it provides someone to motivate you and bounce ideas off of. It can be someone that will keep you excited about travel and someone that will keep you company while away. It is also someone that may have a different opinion than you on what to eat, what to do, where to stay, and where to go next. It can end up being someone you often disagree or argue with. It can even end up being someone that becomes a burden whether it is physically, mentally, or financially. Heading out on your own can provide ultimate freedom. Don’t feel like seeing another 100 churches/museums/castles? Then don’t. Want to sleep in late? No problem. Feel like pizza for breakfast…again? Sweet. Traveling on your own will also force you to interact with others which can lead to great things. The first time I went backpacking around the world I traveled with a friend for the first 3 months. This was a great way to get my feet wet. When we parted ways I instantly found that I was more open to others around me, which lead to some of the most memorable experiences of my life. The point is you definitely do not need a travel partner; you can to backpack around the world alone.

Backpacking around the world...solo
Backpacking around the world…solo

Don’t let these myths deter you

In the end, these myths are just excuses. They are only a few examples of the many that may try to hold you back. Stereotypes and misconceptions can put up mental roadblocks that make us feel like its OK not to change or take a risk. They entrap us and keep us within our personal bubbles. They are crutches we often use that slow us from growing. It is easy to find justification not to do something. It takes little to no effort not to change, but in the end where does that get you? How about the same vacations, experiences, and overall outlook on life? If any of those things have gotten you down know that your excuses won’t bring you back up. They will hinder and they will prolong. Dismiss the stereotypes, clear the misconceptions, dispel the myths, and stop making excuses.


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  • Sarah Hoover

    Great points Shaun!

  • Jim Peters

    Totally agree Shaun! I backpacked Europe in the 70’s and still “backpack” today. Back then it was much more budget but now I go on the more comfortable side…but I still use the same backpack!

  • Vera

    I have never gone backpacking, but it is an experience I would really like to try someday. Of course, I have heard some of this myths before, and it is wonderful to now know how to beat them.
    With love,
    Vera
    http://theflashwindow.weebly.com/

  • Katie McGrain

    I really love this post! I think the biggest myth that was busted for me when I ventured out on a backpacking trip was the ages of travelers. I truly assumed the majority of the people I would meet were going to be 18 year old kids looking to party. Totally not the case, like at all! Almost everyone I interacted with was my age or older! I met a lot of families and older couples traveling as well. So cool!

    • Thanks Katie! And so true! Backpacking and world travel is not reserved for the young, the nomads, and the hippies!

  • Hey Shaun, great article – particularly loved the bits about finances and safety. You’re right, Its all about priorities when it comes to finding the cash for travel – you can go as cheap or as flashback as you like! Also agree that safety while backpacking is generally about common sense and “luck” too – danger occurs everywhere in the world, including your hometown!

  • I had actually done some travelling before – a couple of summers in the states, and an entire month already in Spain. But about this time back in 2003, on the week of my 21st birthday, I left Ireland for good. I had graduated university a few days before, and knew that I’d only be coming back “home” for visits (I’ve never once missed the family Christmas dinner). But it’s not really my home any more. Since then, “wherever I lay my hat, that’s my home”.
    http://www.montanitavacationrentals.com/

    • Good on you! Especially for making it home for Christmas. Haven’t been able to master that yet!