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.


The Story of Two Greek Restaurant Hosts

The Background: Traveling around Europe has taught me how to avoid people selling items. Matt and I have honed our skills so well that we rarely have to deal with anything. Steel faced and determined, we walk past seating hostesses, souvenir sellers, and people who give out items for “free.” Beware of people who like to tie “free” bracelets on your wrists or those who give you a rose “just because you’re beautiful.” They want money either from you or your significant other; how could a guy say no to paying for a rose after their girlfriend is so happy that someone gave her a flower just because she’s pretty? We started to learn about four years ago when one of those guys kept pushing a rose on me no matter how much I would nicely refuse. He kept assuring me it was for free. I eventually took the flower. Unfortunately for him, I saw him ask for money by rubbing his fingers together in the direction of Matt. I hate it when people lie to me. I turned to him and forcefully stated, “I told you no.” Then threw the rose back at his chest. I was not impressed with that annoying tactic. You have to be strong willed. I’ve developed that over time. I can easily feel bad about turning people down so I’ve learned how to avoid it and/or stand strong. I go into situations with intention.

The Story:
Athens was a completely different restaurant culture than I had experienced up to this point in Europe. You still have the hosts and hostesses attempting to get you to come to their restaurant but it is very laid back and not pushy at all. If you refuse, they’ll hand you a card and tell you to check them out on Tripadvisor. I think it works to their advantage by making visitors comfortable in Athens. I want to go back to Greece anyway but I definitely want to visit Athens again during my trip. The people were warm and welcoming. Matt and I had a number of discussions with shop owners and restaurant workers. Granted, they are doing their jobs by talking with us but I hadn’t experienced this level of friendliness before during my trip through Europe. One of my best memories of this trip has been two Greek restaurant hosts that we talked to. It was a quick exchange but it made me laugh and puts a smile on my face whenever I think about it. Matt and I had just finished shopping; I needed new pants because I managed to wear holes in mine from all the walking we have done. As we hurried back to our hostel to drop our purchases off before heading over to the Acropolis, Matt and I were stopped by a host for a restaurant that was somewhere in the labyrinth of side streets. He asked us if we wanted to stop for lunch. We told him that we had already eaten. He said, “Here’s my card. Check us out on Tripadvisor.” He then asked us where we were from. Matt has taken to saying Boston to make things easier for us to explain; no one seems to known where New Hampshire is. The owner said, “Really? Where in Boston?” He immediately knew he caught us in a white lie so I told him we were really from New Hampshire. He happened to work in a Greek restaurant in Boston in the past and wanted to know if we ever had heard of it. Unfortunately we hadn’t. We told him we had to get going so he said, “You should come back for dinner. We have traditional Greek food and wine.” He turns to Matt and says in an even more charismatic voice, “Bring your baby back tonight. You can buy her some wine.” I started laughing. It was just a funny sale. It was genuine, humorous, and effective all at once. As we start to walk away, the restaurant host from across the street comes running over to us. He starts quickly and jovially saying, “Don’t listen to him. Take my card. Come back here for dinner. That other place is no good. You can even check on Tripadvisor. Our rating is much better.” Then I started laughing even harder. You could tell that the two were good friends simply competing with each other. Although Matt and I never ended up going back to those restaurants as we often cook our own food, I will never forget that exchange. It was so much more effective and refreshing than our other experiences which felt like they bordered on harassment. At the end of that experience, I immediately said to Matt, “Greeks are awesome people.” They’re just cool. And that makes me want to visit their country again. No one should ever underestimate the power of being kind, friendly, and funny even if it is just for a moment to some random person on the street.