Planning your big backpacking trip (part 2)

When you’re planning a long-term trip on the road, it’s really important that you make sure the people you go on the trip with are the right ones. Nothing is worse than being several weeks in to an even longer trip, and realizing you’re struck with the wrong crowd. There’s three groups of travelers I see on the road, and each has their pluses and minuses.

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Traveling with Friends: Often, I will see a group of three or four friends backpacking together for months at a time. They always seem like they’re having a fantastic time and are the life of the party of the hostels I’m staying at. When I’ve traveled with friends, especially in Europe, I’ve had a fantastic time. We stayed out all night in Dublin and incurred our worst-ever hangovers in Amsterdam. In Morocco, we explored an entirely different culture together, keeping the party to a minimum and spending most of our days sightseeing and nights on the roof of our riyad, smoking a water pipe. All of these trips were incredible and memorable for different reasons. Traveling with your friends means there’s always something going on and you’re guaranteed to have a massive amount of fun. However, long term travel with friends has its downsides. As an introvert, I enjoy being social, but require alone time to recharge my social batteries. Being around my friends 24-7 for weeks or months at a time would get exhausting, especially because hostel accommodations don’t generally leave room for much privacy. I’d recommend that introverts stick to shorter trips with groups of friends to maximize their enjoyment of the trip.  An additional problem of traveling with a group is that inevitably, your interests clash. In perhaps the most obvious statement of the year, different people are interested in different things. While this might work on a trip in the same city where you could split up for a day (for example, the day I went on the Alternative Berlin tour, my friends visited a concentration camp outside of the city), this gets harder when compromising on itineraries. Be prepared for compromise, or to part ways for at least a little while.

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Traveling solo: If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I’m a huge fan of traveling alone. I feel that traveling alone long term has lots of positives. You get to set your own agenda, focus on what you want to do and when you want to do it, and control the exact amount of money you spend. You also have the opportunity to meet really cool people. I find that making friends is so much easier as a solo travel, and count people I’ve met on adventures from around the world as friends. However, there are some downsides to traveling solo long-term. Believe it or not, sometimes I get lonely, even though I generally have no problem being by myself. I felt it very intensely in Ollantaytambo, a small town I was staying in while visiting Machu Picchu. I had booked a hostel that unbeknownst to me didn’t have electricity. After schlepping around town to find a decent place to stay, I was exhausted, but still had to find something to eat. I went to the highly recommended Hearts Café, which was delicious…but filled with couples on romantic trips. Ugh. Also, if you’re looking to party hard, traveling solo isn’t necessarily the best idea. While I’ve had some crazy nights out traveling alone, when you’re not with people you know very well, it’s always good to stay at least somewhat sober and alert. But that just depends on the kind of trip you want.

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Traveling as a couple: When I speak of traveling as a couple, I don’t mean a two week vacation to Europe or South America, or moving overseas to teach English or volunteer together, both of which would be dreams come true for me. No, I mean long-term backpacking, staying in hostels or cramped hotels, and not having a home base for a while. Some people I know have done this and it has worked out splendidly. They’ve had an amazing time being together for 6 or 12 months and it cemented the strength of their relationship. However, a trip like this shouldn’t be undertaken by every couple. Know your relationship and what it needs. A trip like this requires spending lots of time solely with your significant other, potentially with little space or time alone. Some people need their physical or mental space, and for those people, this could be a recipe for disaster. If you’re considering doing a trip with your significant other that’s longer than a month or two and you don’t plan on renting an apartment anywhere to give yourself a home base, perhaps do a shorter trip first to test the waters.

Long story short: Make sure you think carefully before you choose who to go with–or better yet, combine them all! Do a leg with friends, a leg by yourself, and a leg with your significant other!

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