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Monkey (Emma Spires)

The ugly truth about backpacking


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15th July 2013

Our Blogger of the Week, Emma Spires, reveals the dark side of grabbing a bag and hitting the road. Do you agree with her?

Can you put up with your guest house crawling with cockroaches? Being ripped off five times in one day? Twentyfour-hour journeys on cramped rickety old buses? If the answer is no, then backpacking isn’t for you. 

A lot of people picture backpacking as glamorous, exciting and one non-stop adventure but the ugly truth about travelling is that it’s hard work. Travelling takes one hell of a lot of perseverance and there will be times when your patience is really, really tested, not to mention the times when you feel like packing up and going home.

A lot of travel websites out there will sell you into a life of travel without giving any mention to the negatives. But what will make you a better traveller is hitting the road with your eyes wide open. This article is here to do just that – open your eyes to some of the not-so-great aspects of travel so that when you come across those inevitable bumps in the road (and yes, they will happen), it won’t be as much of a surprise...

Are you ready? Here goes...

You will get ripped off

Locals can spot a traveller a mile off, and unfortunately for you, many will view you as a walking ATM, despite being a backpacker with a rapidly dwindling bank account. The best way to avoid being ripped off is by keeping street smart: read up on common scams in the areas that you’re heading to so you know what to look out for. Make sure that you keep small denominations of cash with you to avoid the classic “no change!” response, and always negotiate up front with taxi drivers.

You will worry about money 

Worrying about your cash is inevitable when you’re a backpacker; when you’re not earning it’s surprising how quickly your funds will dwindle away, so be smart with your cash from day one! Create a budget and stick to it – no exceptions! If you don’t you might find that you have to cut your trip short because you haven’t enough cash to last the long haul…

You will be bored sometimes  

Travelling isn’t one thrill after another. Sometimes you will hit up a new town and you’ll find there won’t be anything to do. Sometimes you’ll be in a crazy busy city, and you’re funds will be so low that you have no choice but to stay in. Understanding that travelling has its downtime will help you to accept this when it happens.

You will get sick

I have yet to meet a traveller who hasn’t had a bout of illness on the road – whether that be a cold, sickness, diarrhoea or something else. Travellers’ diarrhoea is practically inevitable. The best way to protect yourself is by stocking up on adequate medication before you leave.

You will miss your creature comforts

Hot showers, baths, toilet roll (a toilet at all for that matter!), a comfy bed and clean sheets. You’ll be surprised by the little things that you will miss when you’re on the road.

You will miss home

Everyone gets home sick, it’s just that not everyone admits it. Don’t be ashamed of feeling this way – it’s not weak or pathetic – it’s natural! Don’t be scared to confide in other backpackers about how you feel, chances are that they will know exactly what you’re going through. Keeping in touch with friends and family will help – let them know what you’re up to and keep up to date with what’s happening at home; this way you won’t feel quite so far away.

You will feel lonely

Whether you’re travelling solo, with friends or as a couple there will be times when you feel lonely. And why wouldn’t you?! You are thousands of miles from home without your support network, in a country that isn’t familiar to you. It’s natural to feel lonely – don’t beat yourself up about it.

You will get sick of travelling

What?!?! Yes, I said it. If you’re a long-term traveller then you will have those times on the road when you just don’t want to travel anymore. If you have been moving from place to place to place for months on end of course you are going to feel like this! Travelling is exhausting, and sometimes you just need to spend a longer period of time in one place to recuperate and just s-l-o-w down!

You will face some hard realities

Poverty is hard to face. If you are heading to a third world country then be prepared to see how the other half live – this is not always easy to witness. When a legless child comes to you begging in the street you will realise just how lucky you are.

You will never want to stop

OK, so I am the first one to hold my hands up and admit that there are some not-so-great things about travelling, but you know what? It’s all worth it. The times when you have so little money that you’re eating pot noodles in your dorm room and swigging cheap wine from the bottle; the times when you realise that you just paid five times what a taxi journey should have cost; the times when you can’t face another 20-hour bus ride. These are the things that you will look back on and laugh about. The difficult times on the road are what will make you come home a better and stronger person – and isn’t this the reason that you wanted to travel in the first place?

Do you agree with Emma? Have your say in the comments below.

Emma SpiresEmma Spires | Backpacking Spirit

Hey! I'm Emma, a backpacker with a serious case of itchy feet! I've been on the road for nine years and counting; journey with me as I cover every continent in the world and report the highs, the lows, and everything in between. Here's to living a life less ordinary...

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 Your Comments (7)

  • 15th July by JodyFWall

    Back packing is a character definer. it shows people what they are made of. Not bad, or good. Just what they are capable of, and what they do not want to put up with.


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  • 15th July by satkinson

    You forgot to mention that you will meet jerks! You'll hopefully meet some great people too, but don't expect to like everyone you come across.


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  • 18th July by charlotteischarlotte

    Greetings from Kent!

    Thank you Emma <3 Loved the post and your blogg, very enjoyable. You sound like you have many interesting stories and are a fantastic person to know. 


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  • 19th July by Leeanne

    Have to agree with the never wanting to stop! Last went proper back packing in 2004 - since then it's just been 2-3 weeks at a time and it's never ever long enough. All the bad stuff,  which luckily has never been that bad, does become the things you remember and laugh about later in life. It's probably not for everyone - we have friends who have definitely had enough after 3 weeks and want to go home, but if you do enjoy you'll never be able to get enough!


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  • 19th July by Leeanne

    Have to agree with the never wanting to stop! Last went proper back packing in 2004 - since then it's just been 2-3 weeks at a time and it's never ever long enough. All the bad stuff,  which luckily has never been that bad, does become the things you remember and laugh about later in life. It's probably not for everyone - we have friends who have definitely had enough after 3 weeks and want to go home, but if you do enjoy you'll never be able to get enough!


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  • 21st July by mattyboy876

    I don't generally meet jerks, I've met some obviously, but it's quite rare. I find that different places attract different people. In my opinion, the more popular the place you travel to, the more jerks you meet.



    Thailand, i've met quite a few jerks, the more popular the place, the more people come, and with that I find you get the more non-traveler types who don't seem to have the spirit of your typical traveler.



    India is a mixed bag of tricks, a lot of nice, genuine tourists, but also some people that come across very pretentious in my opinion.



    I like meeting the eccentrics, I did find in my younger years, I used to meet more of the eccentrics, but now as travel has become more popular, they become few and far between.



    My theory, anyway, is to go for the more obscure places, and then you will meet the more genuine, real characters which is one of the things I love about travel.


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  • 22nd July by graham askey

    Well said Emma. I would also add that its a "no pain no gain" occupation: the downsides you mention are a vital part of the process which allow you into other lives and cultures and give you those great highs only travel can offer. There's nothing wrong with two weeks lying on a beach but its not going to change your life. Graham   insideotherplaces.com


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