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On the Subject of Backpacking

As the sun doesn't set at all now, I can't sleep; most nights it takes me ages to fall asleep, but last night was especially trying- so I got up, started flicking through my travel photos (I keep my very favourites in a separate folder) and started thinking about all the backpackers I've met along the way, some fantastic, some who shouldn't be allowed passport, some just very strange. The ones I met in Africa were distinctly different- in fact, everywhere I've been has had a very particular set of travellers roaming their internet cafes and Irish pubs. Take the Indian subcontinent, for example.

India is great, mind-blowing and exotic- at least to the heards of Americans and Brits who think of themselves in the highest cast of backpackers, the coolest, most open-minded, because India is, of course, the coolest. Every stockbroker turns into a hippie, before going back home to their portfolios and cocktail parties, where they tell about their life-altering spiritual journey through India whilst stroking a small Ganesha statue with a dreamy look in their eyes. Backpackers in India are the ones most likely to wear local clothes and sneer at tourists who choose another destination.

South East Asia is a starter continent, like a starter home, or a graduate job. The most likely destination for someone who's never travelled alone, South East Asia is compact, cheap and easily accessed. It was my first destination too, my first dorm room, my first eating-alone-in-a-restaurant, taking a train to nowhere -experience. It is relatively safe for the hundreds of backpackers who follow a trail of islands off the coast of Thailand, partying away at full-moon, half-moon and no-moon parties. The only problem with such backpackers is that after a few weeks of eating burgers in Koh Samui, they know everything about the world and I just want to punch them.

Backpackers in Australia and New Zealand are great. Eighteen- nineteen, they don't give a toss about anything; they just want to drink till their livers burst, and sleep around more than whoever they are travelling with. A British girl once told me proudly that she'd slept with fourteen guys already, and that was only between Cairns and Brisbane- she still had all the way to Sydney to go to! Every backpacker has, it seems, a check-list of things to do. Airlie Beach? Been there. Done. Hervey Bay? Going tomorrow, so done. Check. Errr....what was there, in Hervey Bay, again? I don't know, but everyone's going. And the cultural scene? Who cares, now lets go to Bondi Beach where everyone else hangs out. No one really remembers what they did or saw in Australia, but then again, who cares since it was sooooo much fun!

South America is full of my very favourite travellers- a bit older, a bit more professional, bit more organised. In a non-boring way. These are the people who've already established themselves in life, and don't feel the need to prove anything. Rarely a first-time destination, you're likely to meet teachers, business consultants and nurses on a sabbatical, wearing practical sandals and water-proofs, and carrying a complicated set of backpacking equipment which can only be bought in specialist stores in Germany, and need a set of instructions in fourteen languages to work. These are the people who feel liberated enough to party away the night, but are still up at 6am for that 4-day hike through the jungle to find a lost city. (Note: there will surely be a curio seller at the lost city. That, and an Irish pub.)

Europe sucks for a European backpacker. Full of mainly Aussies and Americans, who get excited about anything built before 1950, Europe is expensive, crowded, and full of the same cathedrals as your home town, albeit slightly grander. These are the check-list people; They spend 3 days hanging out in Budapest, and therefore "do" Hungary (sorry, but I have a specific hatred for people who say the "do" countries. Shouldn't "doing" a country be illegal, at least in Western Europe?), they go on a weekend break to Paris and have therefore ticked off France from their list; a very distinct group who I also feel like punching from time to time. The backpackers in Europe are also the most likely to travel on Daddy's visa.

Although I have lived in North America for 9 months, I've never actually backpacked there, nor do I know anyone who's done so (although I have "done" some of the bigger cities). The three occasions I've entered the country, I got treated like I was Osama's long lost daughter, with a suitcase full of nerve gas and several kilos of cocaine shoved up some very delicate areas. Too traumatic. I'll have to gather my strenght properly before I try it again.

But Africa, Africa. Africa is full of broken, haunted people. Peter Moore once listed the top ten reason to go travelling, and the number one was escaping something. Seems everyone's escaped to Africa. Backpackers of all ages and nationalities, who all have two things in common; being strapped for cash, and being emotional wrecks. Perhaps such a conflict-torn continent attracts similar people, people with small rucksacks and big emotional baggage. I've heard so many stories of lost or unrequited love that I could write a book. But in a way it's fascinating. At least people there have stories, unlike the party animals in Sydney or Singapore. And maybe one day soon I'll write about all of that, too.

Posted by Ofelia 06:48 Tagged backpacking

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