The difficulties of being a backpacker

One day, as I was staring at an overcooked bowl of unseasoned tomato pasta, rain dripping on me from a multitude of directions, I laughed a little to myself remembering how often I hear phrases like “Oh, travelling must be so awesome! You’re like, always on holiday, I’m so jealous!” For anybody who has ever gone properly exploring, you know just as well as I do that this is absolutely not the reality. Here are a few simple tasks that become incredibly difficult and tedious when you’re on the road.

1 – Cooking – As mentioned above, when you’re camping and trying to save money, it’s very difficult to conjure up something delicious in a single pan over a tiny bunsen burner. When we cook at home, at our fingertips we have a whole plethora of spices and herbs, and even having something as essential as salt in a backpack can be a burden. As humans, we have the requirement to put stuff into our pie holes, and when you’re staring at your bowl of tomato pasta in the rain for the fourth consecutive day of eating two meals of tomato pasta in the rain, it’s a little depressing. Saving money requires sacrifice to flavour and quality, and going wild requires an even larger sacrifice to both of these. I think there’s a lot of money to be made if somebody wants to make a gourmet cookbook of meals you can prepare in a single pan over a camping stove.

A wild Tim sucessfully feeding himself in his natural habitat. 

2 – Catching the bus – Ever been crammed onto the bus to the point that you can’t get off again at the right stop? Imagine that with a fifty-litre backpack and a guitar. Not only is there the additional worry of security when you have your life on your back and obviously something valuable with you, but if you don’t have time to take it off (which, let me tell you, is funny for everybody BUT you when you have to do this on a moving platform), trying to stand up on rough roads with 15 kilos on your back and nothing to hold onto is a rather interesting thing to attempt, and not only do you risk falling over and looking like a muppet crushed under the weight of your own lifestyle choice, you risk falling onto everybody else as well. Once I got stuck in some train doors as they were closing because I forgot to compensate for the blue canvas tumour on my back.

3 – Relationships – I don’t just mean the travelling romance, although that too, but when you fall in love with somebody (in any sense of the word) it is very likely they don’t come from the same town as you. They probably don’t come from the same country. Long distance is a difficult strain for friendship and trust, and when you travel you can be in and out of wifi and connection on a regular basis which makes staying in contact difficult. You also have to learn to live without your family and local friendship circle that most people rely on having in their proximity. A quick trip to the pub requires a plane. It’s tedious.

4 – Shelter – Ever tried a multi-day hike in the rain? Ever just been camping in the rain? While most of the world sits and looks distantly through double glazed windows, pondering the seemingly infinite number of raindrops there are in air, you are exposed to that seemingly infinite number of raindrops, as are all of your belongings, and keeping yourself and everything you own dry is not just impossible, it can be a hindrance to your health and sanity. Trees and caves just don’t keep out the damp. Furthermore, tents take approximately two millenniums to dry.


5 – Showering – When you turn up at the only public shower in the area after four days of hiking and realise you have to pay $2 to use it, it’s a pain in the ass. When you hesitantly depart with those $2 dollars and stand stark naked, waiting for the heavens to open and to wash away four days of grime and dirt, only to be greeted with water roughly the temperature of the Arctic sea, it is also a pain in the ass. When this water doesn’t heat up at all, even after a minute or so of your diminished two-minute slot, it’s something more than a pain in the ass. When you then have to walk back outside again into the wind and rain knowing that you won’t dry off again for the rest of the year, you start thinking of ways you can create a noose out of the belongings in your backpack and start looking for a sturdy and supportive tree to hang it from.

6 – Sleeping – I’ll never forget this bus ride I had in Canada which lasted for 22 hours between Calgary and Vancouver. The guy who was forced to sit next to me (I try to make myself look as antisocial and horrible to be sat next to on public transport as possible to ensure a little bit of space) decided to tell me all about how some guy on a Greyhound bus had his head sawn off by a fellow passenger. Now, when one is sitting on a Greyhound bus, next to somebody with a strange fascination about how somebody had their head sawn off on a Greyhound bus, not unlike the bus that one is currently located inside, it is quite difficult to get your recommended 7-8 hours of sleep. Furthermore, when you’re sleeping in hostels you have to contend with all the snorers and dorm room romances. When you’re camping you have to compete with a cold hard ground and the grizzly bears in orbit around your tent, as well as the intents romance happening a few meters away, pun intended. With such sporadic and spontaneous timetables, your sleeping pattern is in jeopardy before you’ve even set foot off the plane.

7 – Ordering a coffee – Trying to do normal everyday tasks in places where they don’t understand your language is always fun. Have you ever tried getting a haircut in Spanish as an English speaker with the intention of not looking like one of The Beatles? Have you ever tried to explain to a rural Chinese chef that you are in fact vegetarian and don’t eat adorable dogs? Do you feel confident asking for directions in Russian and not ending up replacing your blood with vodka? Have you ever had to complete a health insurance form in German? I’m pretty sure I actually signed up for the circus instead, who knows…


8 – Finding wifi – Okay, admit it, you rely on the internet. We all do, we’re all addicts, and we’re all awful about it. When you have your foundations set, chances are that you have wifi in the home, at the office, and even your local cafe’s password saved into your phone. When you’re stuck in the middle of the Amazon Rainforest, it’s hard to tell your father that your leg has been eaten by an anaconda. As travellers, we rely on an internet connection for not only socialising and staying in contact with all the wonderful faces we meet, but also hostel booking, bus transfers, finding directions, finding information about towns and activities, discovering reservoirs deep enough to hide the bodies, and well, pretty much everything.

9 – Having an identity – “Hi, where are you from?”
(Embarrassingly) “Germany…”
“Oh right, like beer and bread and Hitler right? Didn’t we beat you guys in the war?”
“You Germans are funny people. Das ist gut ja! Run along now, put a pretzel in your pretzel hole.”
Whether we like it or not, we immediately judge each other to a certain degree based on where that person comes from. Germans drink beer. Dutchies smoke weed. The English drink tea. Australians are criminals. Venezuelans are cocaine traffickers. The thing is, quite often you know somebody’s nationality but not their name, and referring to somebody as “The Swiss” is not only judgemental, pigeon-holing and a little racist, it’s also rude. We cannot define each other purely on our origins, yet find ourselves on the receiving end of presumptuous national stereotypes on a daily basis, and quite often we are trying to escape the culture which we are being pigeon-holed under. Luckily, for me, not many people know very much about Kiwis.

10 – Feeling home – “Home” is a horrible word that looms everywhere to the traveller. After some time, it becomes a concept and not a place. When you do return to your family and your friends, you find this burning feeling on the soles of your feet and this restlessness whenever you have to stay still. We abandon our safety nets to sample the extraordinary, and when the extraordinary consumes us, safety just seems boring to return to.

The thing is, it’s not all slowly roasting your pale flesh on postcard perfect beaches, and there are times when you will feel completely and utterly hopeless as you fail to accomplish something as simple as feeding yourself, but there’s a reason we do endure the tribulations. Successfully eating, showering yourself and catching the bus in impossible situations make hilarious and wonderful stories. Learning to order your coffee in another language develops skills and teaches you tiny pockets of exotic and foreign cultures. There will always be time to sleep later, but right now, watching the sunrise is more important. While your clothes may be wet and you’re dying from hypothermia, you’re witnessing remote locations that seldom anybody sets their eyes upon. Over time, those judgemental thoughts disappear and you learn to appreciate everybody as an individual. My friends may be far away, but our relationships are so important and so strong that we will cross oceans and climb mountains, just for a beer down the pub.

And that, dear readers, is why I will always choose the tomato pasta.

– Tom @ indieroad

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