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.

10 Things I’m Thankful For As I Travel

I’m quite used to missing Thanksgiving due to schooling or work. I always find my own way to celebrate Thanksgiving while I’m gone. Usually my celebration involves a large box of Annie’s macaroni and cheese because I can. This year I thought I would honor the holiday a bit more thoughtfully by creating a list of things that I’ve been thankful for during my trip. This list ranges from the material objects to the intangible but it’s all something that I’ve found myself being grateful for while I’ve been backpacking. Happy Thanksgiving to everyone!

A Nice Hostel: Choosing a hostel always feels like a crap shoot. No matter how  much research you do, you still feel like you might end up with bad lodging. Matt and I take the risk of not staying at perfect hostels in order for our trip to be more affordable. We’re thankful every time we end up with a good, safe place to rest our heads.

Support of Loved Ones: Matt and I have incredibly supportive family and friends. It would be hard to do this trip without knowing we have people back home to help us out if we got stuck and, at the simplest level, accept that we’ve decided to take this journey. This is a dream fulfilled for me. I am so thankful that those important people in my life understand why I wanted to do this and are happy for me. It gives me something to come home to because I know those people understand me as a person and accept who I am rather than scold me for taking a risk and following my dreams.

Cheap Food: Finding good cheap food can sometimes be difficult. Occasionally eating pasta is the only way to keep costs down. From time to time we’ll find ourselves in a country where good, cheap, quality food is the norm. That’s always a happy location that we’re grateful to have stumbled upon. It means not having to compromise the healthfulness of our meal for keeping money in our pockets.

Freedom of Travel: Backpacking around Europe has revealed to Matt and I how lucky we are to be able to travel. Matt and I were able to get on a plane and just go because of the good relationship between the US and EU. No visas required. No hassles. It has been a freeing experience that not everyone we met were able to say they also enjoyed so we’re thankful for the freedom we’ve experience.

Quiet, Nice, Friendly Roommates: Part of staying in a hostel is sharing close quarters with strangers. My best experiences have always been with friendly, respectful roommates. They keep their space clean and are quiet so everyone can sleep. You don’t always get good roommates as a backpacker so it’s a relief every time you learn that you’ve lucked out and the hostel gods have answered your prayers. It makes the journey that much better.

First Hand Experience with Other Cultures: It’s a great opportunity to be in another culture and experience it first hand. You can read books but it’s not quite the same. I recognize that not everyone is in a situation that would allow them to have this experience. I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn about other cultures in this way.

Inexpensive Flights at Reasonable Times: Very early morning flights are doable but they are rough. Matt and I have had our share of experiences in which we must catch a 7am flight in order to be able to even afford it at all. A 7am flight often means a 3am wake up. Those days can be tough and test your sanity. When we can find a cheap flight at a reasonable hour, we are so thankful.

An Awesome Travel Buddy: When I’m down, he reminds me of the good parts of our day. When I’m sick, he makes sure that I get everything I need to feel better. By coming on this trip with me, Matt has helped me fulfill one of my dreams. While I could have done this without him, I wouldn’t have ever wanted to. Matt’s made my experience infinitely more fun and multi-faceted. He makes me think of things in ways I never have or suggests experiences I never would have considered. I’m thankful that my boyfriend and awesome travel buddy helped me create positive memories that will last a lifetime.

Good Weather: The sun doesn’t always shine but it also doesn’t always rain. We hope for sunny days. When we’ve had a few days where the rains is so bad that it soaks through our clothes while we visit the city, we are infinitely more grateful for the sun.

The Kindness of Humanity: Traveling has restored my faith in humanity. Don’t get me wrong, I see some sad, horrible things when I travel. There’s still plenty that humans need to work on. But for the most part, people are good. To be honest, Matt and I haven’t had one bad experience with people while we’ve traveled. Everyone has been helpful, courteous, and, the vast majority of the time, friendly. The world can be a scary place; it is easy to become cynical and disappointed when you hear about all the things that are happening, especially when you feel like you can’t do anything about it. But I try to remind myself of all the good people I meet. I’m thankful that I’ve been given the enlightenment that humans are generally good. It’s something I might have to work to remember from time to time but it is something worth not forgetting. It makes the world seem a bit brighter.