There is a lot of romance associated with backpacking. Tons of stories of young adults who either just are in or just finished university, making their first backpacking trips across Europe. It’s become a right of passage and when joining the workforce, it gives those who’ve travelled, extra confidence that they know a bit of the world, since they had their 2 week “Contiki” experience, complete with drinking adventures with strangers who speak different languages and some pictures of the experience.
Europe, is of course the easiest and least challenging place to travel
- Reliable rail/bus service
- Porous borders once you’re actually in the EU
- Interconnected routes
- Cheap flights between destinations
- Safe and good hostel network
- Information booths at every airport, train station and city center
That being said, I have zero issues with “easy traveling”; I like the fact that I expect zero issues when travelling through Western Europe. It’s almost like travelling through Canada or the US, except with different languages. The more one travels, the more one realizes that we are inherently the same people. The food in different regions can be all very similar. For instance, if someone can prove to me that “Pelau” from Trinidad, “Rice Pilaf” in North America, “Paella” in Spain or “Biryani” in India/Pakistan are fundamentally different dishes, then I’ll become a vegetarian.
As one matures as a person and as a traveller, it is in our nature to increase the difficulty of the challenge, because natural habituation occurs. We seek to wander to more remote places, abandon the creature comforts we know, try truly exotic cuisine (Spicy fried crickets, or Hakarl – Rotting Shark.. anyone?) or some even go to the extreme of vagabonding or “Slow travel”.
Backpacking for extended periods of time, is challenging to the psyche and to the body, especially if you’re someone who doesn’t adapt well to unnatural/unfamiliar surroundings. Personally, when travelling to places where English is not the mother tongue, in a couple days/weeks one can become quite isolated in a sea of foreign tongues and customs. You find yourself gravitating to semi-familiar surroundings, hence why in Southern Spain, I prefer having Arabic food. I know the cuisine well (I know which items have dairy or not), I know enough Arabic words (not just “Sharmut/Sharmuta”) and customs to order and be friendly with the shop owners and I know it will be good. Arabs/Middle Easterners are always impressed when they find out I am from Trinidad, since I’m usually the first person from Trinidad, they’ve ever met. I’m peppered with questions about the geography, the race of the people, the language and what we actually do there for money. Invariably, they are always surprised that we have so much racial and cultural diversity in Trinidad. When I explain that we have our own version of Falafel (there is little difference between a “Kachorie or Saheena” and a Falafel … although the Syrian mafia in Trinidad, would have you believe differently).
Travelling can become costly and time consuming, which is why most people in North America give it up when they become part of the “rat race” because of a multitude of factors ranging from having only 2 or 3 weeks vacation, project deadlines, fear of traveling and just everyday life issues. Backpacking in hostels and “Couchsurfing” can easily remove a lot of costs associated with travel, but then that also means giving up our creature comfort of personal space, sharing with strangers and necessarily interacting at close quarters with unknown elements. All that being said, I feel better inside, when the pains in my shins and legs are from hiking up Tibidabo or Montjucic rather than sitting at a desk all day and waiting for 5pm to arrive.