Lessons from the Backpacker Trail

On my first trip to Thailand, I traveled with my friend Alison. We rented a hut on a white corral beach with a pristine ocean view. The accommodations were humble...perhaps only a step above camping, but the beach was amazing. We paid the grand sum of $3 a night, total.

Back in Seattle, I'd stare into my latte cup and think, for the same price as my coffee...I could be staying in paradise.

Traveling never really finds me flush with cash. With a meager budget, often I'll stay in cheaper accommodations so I can take advantage of other things. Guest houses and hostels are inexpensive places to stay, and there you'll find other travelers who have a wealth of information to share.

Every morning, I'd stumble down for breakfast. Inevitably, this is where networking is at its best. Where have you been? Who has the good tours? What did you see? What would you recommend? Where are you from...and where are you going?

I'd meet all kinds of travelers. Most had been on the road for months traveling South East Asia and Australia/New Zealand. Occasionally I'd meet someone who was on an around the world trip--customized tickets to circle the globe. One girl had been in South Africa, Venezuela, Australia, Thailand, then on to India before returning to London.

No doubt, most of my fellow travelers were on the trip of a lifetime.

Immersing yourself in other cultures challenges commonly held beliefs. It begins to wear away the division between "I'm right, you're wrong." At some point you just begin to accept that things are done differently. That's all.

No right.

No wrong.

Just different.

Through multiple border crossings, busses, trains, rickshaws, overland, waiting in endless lines, heat, rain, dust, and sweat...stripped of comforts and often your dignity, you learn what to appreciate what really matters.

On the backpacker trail, there's a common bond. I find an openness and a sense of welcome that is readily shared. No matter how long you've been on the road, we've all been disoriented--bewildered by another culture or custom. Inevitably we've all had some seemingly prized possession stolen...and then were grateful it was gone. We've sacrificed and lived without...and discovered how easy it is to live without the burden of stuff. Down to the barest essentials, you find things are much more enjoyable when you have only what's necessary.

After dragging my pack from one place to another, I'd open my bag and examine each item. Do I really need this?

Now that I'm home, I'm doing the same thing. I'm living the life expected in the Western World, but the backpacker imprint has made its mark.

Each item I touch, I examine and wonder...do I really need this?