Before I embarked on my very first backpacking trip at the age of 19, none of my close friends could understand quite why I was going. Questions such as ‘are you sure?’ and ‘you’re really not taking a suitcase?’ were fired at me for months before my departure, and even now there are those that still cannot believe how much I enjoy living out of a singular bag, with just 7 pairs of pants and some travel detergent to last me my time away.
The truth is I can see where these people are coming from. In the Western world I am about as high-maintenance as you can get. I love handbags, clothes and makeup, I’m a freak when it comes to cleanliness and I love to splurge on luxury (even if my bank balance tells me no). Therefore I can totally see why the image of me bare-foot backpacking through various climates is somewhat jarring to the mind.
If I’m totally honest, before I experienced backpacking I was just as unsure as my critics. Having only ever been to the nearest European cities on school trips and beach holidays, how an earth was I to cope with minimum belongings, no hair dryer and a bag that seemed to weigh a tonne? I was excited to go on my first adventure but I had no idea whether I would enjoy it, or whether after a week I would be on the phone to my mum begging her to put me on the next flight home.
When I first exited BKK however any shred of doubt I had disappeared. How could I not love this? The freedom to go where you please, exploring a different culture at your own pace and not having to worry about what your hair or makeup looks like (because let’s face it in humidity like Thailand there’s no way you’re about to look remotely attractive) was so refreshing I can’t even explain it. No longer being tied to anything but the here and now and embracing a new way of life; no matter how temporarily is such an extraordinary feeling.
The day I arrived back in Heathrow from that first trip I was a changed person. Wearing baggy trousers and a charity t-shirt, with dirt on my feet and my hair shoved up into a messy bun I knew that this freedom was something I would do again and again. However cliche, my gap year changed my life and way of thinking. And yes maybe I did ‘find myself’ and people can laugh at that statement all they want. But I am so glad I found my inner travel bug, backpacking and carefree self, than listening to those who didn’t understand and who are yet to leave their own backyard.
To anyone who is unsure whether backpacking is for them – try it. You will never understand how challenging but amazing it can be until you experience it through your own eyes. If you hate it great, you know that it’s beach getaways all the way from now on. But until you really get out there I don’t think anyone can truly say that travelling isn’t for them.