10 Interesting People I Met While Backpacking

A big part of travel is the people you meet. And it’s not just the locals. Travelers in general seem to be a really interesting group. There are so many different types of travelers all with different styles of backpacking and reasons for their journeys. The people I met while traveling definitely colored my trip. They were windows into different worlds while also being individuals that I typically connected to very easily because they share the same passion for travel as I do. Each is unique in their own way and they certainly give lessons to reflect on. Here are ten instances of interesting individuals I met on my backpacking trip in 2014. Spoiler alert: there was only one that was a bad experience. What does this mean? Travelers are awesome the vast majority of the time. In my opinion at least.

That Guy from Tennessee – This guy was a real treat. He used to be a carpenter and sold the house that he bought pre-recession and fixed up. He’s probably in his mid-twenties. He bought a second house and then his girlfriend broke up with him…. which spurred his trip. His friends currently rent his second house while he travels the world. Matt and I met him after he woke up from a long night of drinking in Brussels (he went to Delirium). While tipsy, he decided to climb a construction crane and take pictures of the city. This guy left town pretty quickly as he prefers hiking to the cities. According to him, all cities smell like piss.

That Guy from South Africa – Matt and I also met this guy while we were in Brussels. He hung around the hostel for about as long as we did (probably longer). This guy was most likely in his mid-thirties. I won’t forget him for a long time because of the way he reacted when I asked him what he did for work. (Just so we’re clear, he was drinking a bit at the time so his emotions were probably running differently.) He told me that he works in the printing industry. The he got really sad and quiet. He said he hated his job but he was taking a ten week vacation from it. I just remembered how sad it was that he hadn’t found what he wanted to do yet and I hoped I wouldn’t find myself in that situation.

That Ballet Dancer – This kid was cool. I met him in Brussels as well. He moved to Paris for a month to start his dancing career but he couldn’t find an affordable apartment so he decided to move to Brussels with his boyfriend. This guy says he has to dance to keep from getting depressed. He also started a study abroad program for dancers from his old university to go to Argentina. His program allows students to dance fifty hours a week while they usually only get to do twenty at their home university.

That Yoga Instructor – This lady was traveling around Europe for twelve days and was exhausted. I met her in Amsterdam while I was at a laundromat. She said she was on a quick vacation but would return home to a white water rafting trip and yoga instructor workshop. She sure was busy!

That Guy from New Zealand – I met this guy in Amsterdam. He matched the age of Matt and I. He was also traveling with his girlfriend… and his fishing rod. This guy fishes whenever he can. When he came up to the room to get his fishing gear, it was later at night. He was going to fish on the canal. I was impressed with his dedication to what he loved no matter how far from home he was.

That Cute Kid on the Bus – On my way from Munich to Berlin, I had a nine-hour hellish bus ride plagued by motion sickness and constant overheating. This kid made all the difference though. Let me paint a picture for you: four year old boy, moppy brown hair, red t-shirt that says “Single and Lovin’ It.” And he counted all the buses we saw from the moment we left Berlin. Maybe that would annoy some people but I couldn’t help but smile. My favorite of the day: “Double Decker Flix Bus” (in excited kids voice with German accent). The kid just found so much joy in counting buses and detailing all their important aspects. Talk about appreciating the little things.

The Old Guy Who Lives in a Krakow Hostel – I don’t know the circumstances that brought this man to live in the hostel for the past two years but he seems to be enjoying his life. He reads and walks around a lot. This guy is also the guardian of the hostel. He put a dad in his place for leaving his young daughter alone in one of the dorm rooms. And he protected our breakfast from getting eaten by a pesky newcomer who hadn’t checked in yet (sometimes he is overprotective). You could always hear this guy’s voice when he told stories so I didn’t even have to actually meet the guy to get to know him. And he also played really awesome music, really loud at dinner time which I enjoyed.

That Douche- On our way back to Krakow from the Wieliczka Salt Mine, Matt and I happened to sit in front of this guy who was talking to a few people he had just met. I love when you get to know somebody by eavesdropping. Especially when they are trying to look really cool but they just come off as a douche. The group was talking about Auschwitz. My ears perked up because Matt and I planned to go in a couple of days. The Douche informed the group that he was disappointed with his visit because it was so “repetitive” compared to the two other concentration camps he visited previously. Really?! REALLY?! Genocide is just too repetitive? Auschwitz wasn’t impressive enough? Thank goodness one of the guys he was talking to gently put that guy in his place. It was ridiculous.

That Brazilian Guy- This guy goes on multiple trips each year. If you live in the USA, you probably aren’t aware of the fact that people around the world actually have vacation time. I’m not talking one or two weeks. I’m talking up to six weeks! Amazing, right?! Now why can’t we get on board with that? But I digress. This guy knew so much about so many places because his vacation time is always spent traveling. He was basically a walking compendium of travel knowledge. It was great to have an actual person to ask if we should stay in a certain place for a certain amount of time or what have you. He held his travel books with such a gentle hand and stooped over them like a reverant scholar. He loved travel and only wished he could do it more.

Those Marathon Runners- I give props to these guys. While Matt and I stayed in Athens, we happened upon the Athens Marathon. Two of the runners were staying in our room. Staying in a hostel can be rough. But staying in a hostel and then having to run in a marathon the next day can potentially be hellacious. Fortunately everyone in our room was quite quiet for them. One of the runners had been training for a while. The other hadn’t done much physical activity for a month. They both finished with good times and then we watched them hobble around for the next day.

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6 Things I Learned While Backpacking

Minimalism: You don’t need as much stuff as you think you need. Backpacking teaches you that. I had everything I needed but nothing extra. It’s a really liberating experience because you aren’t weighed down literally or metaphorically by extra stuff. It has inspired me to minimize that amount of material things that I have in my non-traveling life. Admittedly, it has been a bit hard to cut back on items that I have but everyday I am closer to letting go of things that I don’t really need. I believe it will bring me closer to how I felt when I traveled. I’ll be more focused on living and have more money for experiences rather than items.

Give Yourself a Rest:I believe that in the USA people are extremely focused on working. This, in my opinion, can lead to people not caring for themselves on lots of levels: physically, spiritually, intellectually. And I get that because that’s what I did. It’s very easy to get caught up in work and sometimes you need to (thanks college debt). It’s also very important to make sure that you take time for yourself. Going on this trip I took time for myself and I was the happiest and healthiest I have ever been emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. The world just felt so much better.

The Person You’re With Impacts Your Journey: I’m very much a go-it-alone type of person. So this was a lesson that I needed to be reinforced. If you have a great friend by your side, you’re good to go. Matt was a great travel buddy and he’s a great person to have with me in normal life too. Life is just one big journey. This trip really taught me that who you surround yourself with has a direct impact on how pleasant and fulfilling that journey is. It’s important to nurture good relationships in life.

People are Good: It’s pretty easy to be cynical. Overall on this trip, the good enormously outweighed the bad. I saw so many amazing creations, ate awesome food, met interesting people, and visited cities all with their own unique people and cultures. You’ve got to love the human race and what it’s capable of. So when something bad happens in this world, I try to think of all the positives. It makes life feel better and less hopeless.

You Can Be Who You Want: This trip allowed me to really figure out who I am, who I want to be, and how I hope to grow. I feel like I really want to work towards these goals because truly being who I am on an everyday basis and focusing more on my goals makes me happier. Part of that means letting go of others’ expectations for me and also making sure that I stay on track to achieving my goals when I am so easily distracted by unnecessary things. Like TV. Or Facebook. They have place but they shouldn’t consume as much of my time as they normally do. And the reward for cutting down on that instant gratification will allow for me to build a more profound and extended happiness upon the goals of who I truly am and want to be.

Exuberant Contentedness Is Possible: I can’t tell you how happy I felt on this trip. At some point everyday I would have an overwhelming feeling of joy. And everyday I had a consistent feeling of complete contentedness. Knowing that a feeling of being truly content actually exists makes me want to work towards continuing whatever it was that brought me to that state. I’d never felt anything like that before, at least not for an extended period of time. Well, except for when I studied abroad in Ireland. But it was even more profound than before. Maybe because I found myself where I wanted to be completely on my own terms rather than placed there by certain circumstances. It’s so nice to know that being completely content is a thing that can actually happen. I’d lost hope until I took this trip.

Health Tips for Extended Travel

Health can be a big issue when you’re abroad. It can stop your trip right in its tracks. In order to make the most of your time, take some precautions while you travel. Here are my top health tips for extended travel:

Go to All Your Appointments: Physician, eye doctor, dentist, you name it. If you go to them for an annual, make sure you have gone in the year before your trip. It helps to give you peace of mind that you know there isn’t anything too crazy going on.

Get Your Prescriptions All Lined Up: This one can be tricky. Insurance companies don’t like to give out medicine at the reduced rates even if you swear up and down that you are leaving the country, won’t have access to the pharmacy you need to go to, and have written proof of your trip. I had this happen to me when I studied abroad in Ireland and for my backpacking trip. Get ready to cough up some extra cash to get your meds. If you’re only going to be out of the country for a few months, it’s worth it to get your medicine in advance. I haven’t ventured into what happens when you’re gone for longer.

Get Extra Prescriptions: Hopefully your doctor will understand your situation like mine did. When I went for my annual physical, I told the doctor that I wanted to bring some antibiotics along with me just in case. She completely agreed and wrote up a prescription for them. I didn’t use them but knowing I had them at the ready gave me peace of mind.

Stock Up on Medicine You Typically Use: Bringing your medicine is a good way to ensure your health. I brought cold medicine that I typically use and was so happy to have it on hand. You shouldn’t bring a whole store with you but bring what you know you’ll need and use. I knew I would need cold medicine, Motrin, Pepto Bismol tablets, and Vitamin C packets so in my bag they went. I used them all.

Know What You’re Getting Into with Medicine Abroad: It’s good to know that you might not be able to easily obtain medicine abroad. It won’t be too difficult but it is different than the USA. Sometimes you can’t just walk up to a shelf and get the cold medicine you need without asking. (On my most recent trip, I asked for them to get contact lens solution for me twice.) In Europe, you’re going to need to go to a pharmacy to get medicine. It’s not like in the states where you can grab something at a supermarket or a gas station. Be prepared that you might have to search. This is where having your medicine already with you comes in handy. The more you travel, the more you’ll pick up on patterns on where you can find things you need.

Stay Hydrated: I would always feel worse when I didn’t have enough water in my system. It definitely is hard to stay hydrated when you travel. You constantly move around and are distracted by other things. Plus, I would drink less on travel days just so I wouldn’t have to use the bathrooms as much. But I found that to be silly after the first few times I did that. I would feel horrible and cranky. I would also occasionally get terrible headaches from it. Keep yourself hydrated. I brought a water bottle with me the whole time. It was a plastic pouch so I could roll it up and save space in my bag. It also had a clip on it so I could save room in my bags even when it was full. You can also just buy water bottles along the way and reuse them which is what my boyfriend did.

Get Exercise: This tip isn’t that difficult. If you walk everywhere like Matt and I did, you’re basically golden. When I’m active I feel much more awake, refreshed, and ready for anything. Plus, I get sick less frequently when I exercise. I did occasionally run while we traveled. I hope to add more exercise into my routine on future trips.

Get a Flu Shot: If you are into getting the flu shot and you’re leaving for a trip during flu season, consider getting this done before you leave. I asked the pharmacist if the strain anticipated in the US would be the same as in Europe. He said he was unsure but suspected not. Then he said it ultimately couldn’t hurt to get it anyway. So I did just in case. I’d rather not have the flu while traveling.

Take Time Off When You’re Sick: When you get sick during your journey, it is really, really easy to just keep going and attempt to ignore your illness. There’s so much to do and see that you just don’t want to miss anything. Don’t do this to yourself. I attempted this in Budapest. I took a day and a half off when I got a cold and then went out the next. I ended up really sick and feverish by the end of that day and had to take about another day and a half off. It wasn’t worth it. I should have just killed the cold in two days and then been able to spend more time in the city rather than effectively wasting a whole day.

Take Preventative Measures: Vitamin C helps me so much. When I feel a cold coming on, I take some. It is particularly useful when you are staying in hostel rooms where there are many other people. Ultimately someone will be sick at some point and you will be exposed to those germs. When I start to feel a tickle in my throat or feel I’ve been exposed to too much to not take preventive measures, I use my Vitamin C packets and it sets me straight. Use your typical preventative routine while you travel.

 

Be Good: Going Through Airport Security as a Woman

Airports usually aren’t that horrible. Typically, I go through a moderate amount of stress packing and getting to the airport but then it is smooth sailing. Cruising through check-in and security, I mainly think about whether or not there will be good food and lattes on the other side of the line. Rarely do I have experiences that are even remotely bad but they occasionally happen. Over the course of backpacking through Europe, I didn’t really reflect on my interactions with security until my final border crossing in Dublin. They have a great system set up where you can go through customs before boarding a plane to the US. This allows you to walk off the plane in the US and not have to wait in any lines. You just grab your bag and go home. It’s genius really considering so many people show up at airports early anyway. It maximizes time and I appreciate that. Needless to say, I was pumped about using the system. Until I walked up to the man who examined my documents and questioned me. Matt and I typically go through passport control together as we travel in tandem. You can’t go through customs together unless you live in the same household and we didn’t at the time. I walked up to the man with a smile on my face, documents in perfect order, and my hope that if I was positive with this man, he would be positive with me. This is my general strategy when interacting with literally anyone in my life. No such luck this time.

 

(Here’s an approximation of our conversation with some commentary. I really wish I had written it down immediately after it happened. I left out stuff that I couldn’t remember perfectly because I didn’t want there to be any embellishment.)

Security: “Are you traveling alone?”

Me: “No. I’m with my boyfriend.”

Security: “Did you check a bag?”

Me: “Yes.”

Security: (Accusingly) “It doesn’t look like you did. I guess he checked it for you.” (Pulls up picture of our bags.) “Which one is yours?”

Me: (I didn’t lie so don’t act like an asshole to me.) “The burnt orange.”

Security: “Do you have any [list of long things like produce and food] with you?”

Me: (Happily.) “No. Unless you count the sandwich I bought after the first security line.”

Security: (Look of annoyance with equally annoyed tone following.) “Just put it in your bag.”

Me: (At this point I’m wondering if he wanted me to lie or something.)

Security: “I guess I’ll clear you. Go stand at that corner and wait for your boyfriend. (And here’s the kicker, folks.) Be good.”

 

Sure, mister! Let me just skip over there in my school girl outfit and braids carrying my brown paper bag filled with lunch.  I promise I’ll be really good. Don’t worry, I’ll wait for my boyfriend. Then he’ll walk me to our gate and buckle me into my seat because I can’t figure out where to go or what to do without him. Now pat me on my head and send me on my way.


I’m sure you can read the sarcasm in the above paragraph but just in case you can’t, I was being sarcastic. You best believe I walked over to that friggin corner. And then I pushed that frowny face survey button immediately and with indignation. What I really wanted to say to that man was, “How dare you tell me to “be good”? I have given you zero reasons to believe that I’ve caused trouble abroad or will cause problems in the USA. I am a grown-ass woman who takes care of herself. Sure, I travel with my boyfriend but I am perfectly capable on my own. And for the record, I don’t appreciate you being unnecessarily abrasive towards me when I’m being kind to you and answering your questions honestly. Now put a smile on your face and treat me properly as I’m sure you would want to be treated.” But really I think, “I’m sorry I don’t have a penis,” might have been more effective. I say this because the only time I ended up being treated poorly by security during this trip was when I didn’t have Matt standing by my side. But I’ll give this man the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he was having a bad day. Maybe it was just a coincidence that this man treated me poorly when the other male security officers treated me properly. Maybe the person in front of me gave him a hard time.  But I ultimately finished the process feeling that he said those things to me because I’m a woman. I didn’t like the juxtaposition of being told to wait for my boyfriend and to be good. Once again, maybe it was just an unfortunate coincidence but the whole exchange didn’t make it feel that way. After all, you should treat people (all people) like you would want to be treated. Maybe I should have told him to be good.