Thought Catalog
July 31, 2014

What Exactly Is A Backpacker?

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image - Flickr / Garry Knight
image – Flickr / Garry Knight

Throughout my first travel experience, this word, this idea, this image of a certain type of person has become a natural part of my vocabulary and I have begun to find characteristics of this romantic image in myself. The backpacker travels from place to place, from weeks to months to years at a time, never thinking in his or her head that this is the final destination. The next city may not yet be determined, but the idea that there is a next city is always in the back of the mind.

The backpacker sheds layers each time he or she moves to a new destination – both tangible and intangible layers. We leave behind layers of material things we surround ourselves with – clothes, shoes, brands of shampoos and cosmetics that we once deemed essential to the everyday routine. But as you keep moving and your daily routine keeps changing, these material things become exhausting, weighing and slowing you down. You learn to leave these things behind because you can always find a new version of them in the next place.

The immaterial things, however, are harder to shed. Emotional baggage, such as leaving friends behind, missing family members, saying goodbye to lovers – those are the layers that cling to you the hardest. But as the backpacker travels, he or she learns to look ahead instead of look behind. That’s one of the most important things about traveling – learning to look ahead instead of behind you. Knowing that something amazing is ahead and you haven’t already experienced the best of what is to come. This belief digs you out of every hole you get yourself in and every dire situation you encounter. The backpacker embraces this ideal and moves forward with the confidence of an adult who can take care of him or herself and the passion of a child who is excited to see what amazing things the next day will bring.

And finally, the backpacker I hope I’ve become exists in this gap of adulthood many 20-somethings find themselves in. We are no longer teenagers or students, but we aren’t adults quite yet. We don’t have the rigors of school guiding us but we have yet to desire the predictability of a full-time job, marriage, children, a mortgage, etc. etc. etc. Until then, we will keep sprinting ahead as fast as we can; looking for answers to questions we have yet to ask ourselves. And this is all motivated by this fantastic fantasy to traveling that occurs once you accept the normalcy of not knowing where you’re going next. Instead of contemplating all the things that could go wrong and how you will end up homeless and broke, you instead imagine the millions of different paths you could go down in this next part of your journey. Every person you meet and every new idea that is presented to you becomes a possibility and an opportunity for what you’re going to do next.

After seeing how many people I’ve met and doors I’ve opened through my first taste of travel, the addictive daydreaming of my next path is another enticement to keep living my gypsy life. For the first time in my life, I don’t care where I’m going next. I’m not stressed about it. I’m excited. And if this mentality and confidence in myself is what I take away from traveling, then it’s worth a million bucks because I like this reality way more than what I was living before. TC mark