In today’s post, we’re happy to introduce you to Erika from Tall Travels Blog. She is a kinesiologist from Canada, currently based in Siem Reap, Cambodia. She is always up for exploring and adventure, in both her beautiful home country and abroad. Erika is finding ways to make her ambitious travels goals fit with her slim post-uni student budget and as she confesses in this blog post, she is one of the world’s worst backpackers!
I spent many a university study session procrastinating, staring longly at Instagram travel blogger’s archives of adventure, longing for my turn to spread my wings and see the world. But, when my time finally came, I realised there was a whole lot less glamour and a whole lot more challenges than I expected. Here is a collection of lessons I have learned along the way, and some behind the scenes spoilers to the life of a full-time traveller.
Before I transitioned to a budget backpacking traveller, my international experiences had been more of a vacationing tourist. Though I definitely had experience visiting destinations far from the beaten path, I was always comfortable enough when I was in another country, and it was always short-term if I wasn’t. I was a bit naive in thinking backpacking would be the same travel experience, just cheaper- no way! When the budget changes, the whole experience does. My lesson began on day one when I checked into my first hostel.
I pictured a hang out of like-minded young adults, eager to dive into new surroundings and cultures, to discuss global issues, and to plan great itineraries together. What I got was a mysteriously damp top bunk in the corner of a dingy room with the distinct odour of stale beer. Any ideas of conversation were quickly erased as, at 1 pm, my roommates were snoring loudly in attempts to ease their hangovers, minus the couple sharing a bed that were definitely unhappy to have a new, and awake, roommate. It was a flashback to living in the university residence, but somehow, so much worse. I spent my days in that city solo, letting my ideas of finding kindred spirits travelling die. Of course, this moping was short lived. I made friends at a local job fair who loved eating out at unique restaurants as much as I did, I met girls at a workout class in the park to join in with daily runs, and I eventually met some great people at the hostel (just not my roommates). But none of this changed the fact that I quickly realised I was a budget backpacker who hated hostels. So did I give up, blow my budget, and go home early? No way! Hating hostels taught me how to stretch that budget to the max, and while hostels are not always avoidable, I have managed to find sweet Air BnB stays, done some house sitting, and chosen cheaper destinations where I can stay like royalty for the same dollar. I’m a backpacker, but I’m not a vagabond or a carefree hippy. I like being clean, safe, and comfortable.
Backpackers are notorious for having a terrible diet, and I’ve met travellers budgeting an instant coffee for breakfast, half a pack of ramen noodles for lunch and supper, and otherwise depending on freebies left by others passing through. One guy had made it ten days spending only $8.00 on rice and apples! To choose to live that way is so intense, but I’m not here to judge, I’m impressed. It works for him and lets him travel longer. Inspired by my budget savvy co-travellers, I was determined to write the cost of every food I bought. I dedicated a little notebook to the cause and planned my weekly budget to the cent. By my second week, I had deviated so much from my budget there was no coming back, and by the third week, I gave up on my notebook entirely. It’s not that I spend as much as I want, it’s just that food is not an area I am willing to skimp on.
I like fresh fruit and vegetables, and going for a good cup of coffee in the morning. I enjoy eating too much to live off of cheap carbs and powdered beverages. I find ways to make it possible to have a great food by working at gourmet cake shops and cafes, so I can save and eat well while doing it. When I pass through major cities, I have a list of recommended restaurants I plan on hitting while I’m there.
My bucket list isn’t just sightseeing destinations and adrenaline junkie experiences, it’s also ethnic dishes and famous restaurants I want to try. I am a backpacker that dedicates a significant part of my budget for food. It’s a huge part of the travel experience, and for me, it is worth it.
Anyone dedicated to backpacking has the travel bug, and it definitely just gets worse the more you go. Each place you see is just a little bit closer to another country, another famous location, or another must-see piece of history. I absolutely love learning about new places and planning to see them- but when I’m on the road, I also love planning to go home. This concept is insane to a lot of backpackers out here. Going home is the ultimate failure, it means you ran out of money or worse, lost your sense of wonder.
You will meet backpackers who haven’t been home in years, and travellers looking for any countries that will give then extended visas to stay anywhere that isn’t their home. For me, it’s just the opposite! I’m not backpacking to be a backpacker forever (though I’ll be a traveller forever, it is in my DNA). Regularly visiting family and my hometown is a part of my travels, and I get excited looking forward to it as an adventure comes to a close. When you are in new surroundings every few days or weeks, it’s like a sensory overload that never ends. And of course, I love it. That’s why I currently live on the road. But it makes the familiarness of home all the sweeter. You’ll never catch me whining of the miseries of my small town. Each time I go home, I have so much to share with my family and friends, and there is nothing better as a traveller than seeing others get inspired by your adventures. I am a backpacker who loves going home.
Becoming a traveller is a big transition from a stable, home-based lifestyle. So many people dream of becoming a backpacker because it is the ultimate escape, the endless wanderer with no ties to property, possessions, or employment. For many, backpacking means budget hostels, rice diets, and never booking a flight back home. By those standards, I am the worst backpacker, staying in apartments and houses, eating at incredible restaurants, and deliberately saving for the purpose of going back to my hometown. But I have to confess- if that makes me the world’s worst backpacker, I’m okay with it. I’m not here to copy anyone else’s travel style, I am doing it my own way. And so far, it has been an incredible journey.