What Instagram Doesn't Tell You About Backpacking
Ah, backpackers. The lucky ones. The trust fund babies and the gleefully unemployed that fill our feeds with perfectly edited #wanderlust photos. Seeing as how I don’t fit either of those descriptions, obviously I’m kidding. The truth is, if you’re using the word backpacker, you’re probably traveling on a budget. And just like anything you do on a budget, things don’t always go as planned. So while backpackers do tend to cultivate perfect digital personas of adventure and exploration, don’t let all the carefully cropped photos and clever captions fool you. Behind the scenes, a lot of things can go awry.
Packing in the Dark
Sometimes, traveling on a budget means flying from far-away airports in the middle of nowhere at hours so early you’re not sure if it counts as morning or night. And sometimes, that means you’re packing your last few items in the middle of the night. In a hostel. Where other people are sleeping, and turning on a light will get you mauled by an angry pack of groggy travelers.
So you do your best, and awkwardly shine your phone light into your locker, under your covers, and wherever else a stray sock might be escaping. But despite your best efforts, along the way, you still might litter the world with personal belongings. Like a cozy pair of running shorts you’ve had since high school, or a quick drying microfiber towel. Pfft, who needs to bathe?
The towel ended up being a pretty expensive fuck up for me. Much to my surprise, I was able to find one in my next city, but to the tune of $40. Ouch. The original one was only $12 on Amazon.
Bathrooms are War Zones
By no fault of their own, hostels tend to be the homes of some pretty gnarly bathrooms. Most do their best to keep up, but between cleanings, some can get really horrifying. Let me be clear: I love backpackers. They’re ambitious, tenacious, and inspiring. But also, a lot of them are lazy, gross, and less-than-considerate when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness.
Shaving in a shared bathroom is hard to pull off without making a mess. I get that. But the thing about messes is that usually, they can be cleaned up. But walking into a co-ed hostel bathroom would have you doubting the truth in that statement. It also might have you doubting the fact that toilets do in fact have the ability to flush. As someone who gets pretty squeamish around stray hairs and bodily fluids, it’s easily my least favorite part of staying in hostels.
Whose Body is This?
There are people that manage to work out while they travel. Those people are not usually backpackers. In all my hours of scouring the internet for hostel bookings, I’ve only ever seen one that has a gym. And I’d bet all my dry detergent leaves that it’s hardly ever used.
When you’re already stressed about how to spend the limited time you have in a destination, warily removing must-see monuments from your list to make room for a trip to that temple everyone swears will change your life, you’re not about to blow precious hours at an empty gym. And sure, you could maintain whatever dietary decisions you normally make at home, but who really wants to go all the way to Rome and skip the Carbonara?
All-in-all, ditching the diets and gym time really is for the best, but for some of us, it still can feel pretty weird to quit our health regiments cold turkey. As someone with body image issues, the insecurities I feel after all the Parisian pastries or bowls of pork-fat filled ramen can really suck.
Traveling alone is almost perfect. You meet incredible people along the way, and learn to rely on yourself. I’d say one of the only bad parts of traveling alone is not having someone you can force to take a thousand pictures of you for your next ten profile pics. Being at the mercy of random fellow tourists who don’t know jack about taking a decent photo can lead to a lot crooked photos with your eyes closed and random old people wandering into the frame.
"Sometimes the curveballs make for the best stories"
That’s all I’ll share for now on the behind the scenes reality of backpacking, but there are plenty more mishaps, and every backpacker has some stories of their own. I hope this was satisfying to the cynics, and reminded the dreamers that nothing is ever perfect, and that’s a-okay. Sometimes the curveballs make for the best stories, and if nothing else, a chance to learn and grow. Traveling on a budget is a great experience, and I recommend it a thousand percent.
Now, back to your regularly scheduled programming of scenic shots and ancient ruins reduced to nothing more than 97 likes.