The Ugly Side of Backpacking

Backpacking is not always a vacation. In fact, it can be a lot of work. Draining and emotionally exhausting work. A lot of people romanticize long-term travel (and there are certainly many, many glorious things to talk about) but some travelers get home from their trips and don’t share the negative aspects.

I love travel. I love meeting new people, being able to see new places, and having something interesting to do every day. But travel does have its challenges.

Here are some of them:

The Redundant Questions

It’s always the same questions. Every guesthouse. Every hostel. Every new person you meet. “Where are you from?” “Where have you been?” “Where are you going?” It’s like the standard dinner party dialogue of “What do you do for work? Where are going to school?” has simply been replaced.

The Packing

Packing has always been one of my least favorite chores, and it’s made worse when you have to do it every day.  Rolling your things up as tight as possible, folding and pushing and trying to get that one last shirt in there without having to redo the whole thing.

The Sickness

I’ve had food poisoning at least 10 times during my travels, and been to the hospital for it twice. There is nothing worse than going to a foreign hospital and feeling awful and having the nurses speak limited English. It’s one of the times that I have truly just wanted to catch the next flight home.

Dorm Room Life

Sometimes I am just not in the mood to make pleasant small talk. Or listen to the loud Aussie guy snoring above me. I always notice when I need to take a break or recharge my batteries by how well I doing with staying in dorms. When it get’s too much, I always try to take a break and have some solo time.

Dealing With The Language Barrier

Sometimes something as simple as finding a certain food item or a medicine can be an all day affair. Even if you know the basics of the language in the country you are visiting, it can still be extremely hard to translate what you are looking for.

It Can Be Unhealthy

If you let yourself get sucked into the drinking culture of some popular backpacking spots, it can be very hard to disengage from that. Since you have virtually no set routine it can be very easy to slip into bad eating habits as well.

You Constantly Feel Dirty

When I’m backpacking through hot countries, I never feel 100 percent clean. After stepping out of the hostel shower and into my flip-flops, I am almost immediately covered with a layer of dust or sweat the second I step outside.

That being said- the benefits outweigh the negatives. Even the times when I was most miserable I look back on fondly because at least I was experiencing and learning and living. And even if it sucks at the time- it’ll probably make a good story, right?


12 thoughts

  1. I agree. You can seriously burn out if you are doing only one or two nights in a place constantly. And the packing… beyond hate it! I have never had food poisoning but have had malaria and dengue and neither are much fun at all. But the good still outweighs the bad if you are travel obsessed like I am. Cheryl

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is great. We travelers are part of the problem too though– I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come home and romanticized the worst parts of a trip just to go back and realize, ‘wait, this SUCKS.’


  3. Nice blog, I don’t backpack and never have. 1. I think I am too old anyways. 2. Drinking. As you state getting mixed up in the culture can and will interfere with the real reason you are backpacking and that is to see the world. 3.stomach problems. Thanks for the blog

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Some of these go for living abroad as well. As a [Chinese-speaking] foreigner in China (for five years) I was constantly asked for the same details about my life over…and over… and over again. At first it was great fun for language practice; then it just became tiring, and riding trains (where there were a hundred people who might ask you the same question) became a nightmare ))

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I got too tension when I had to share a dorm with others.. I mean, I like meeting new friends, but after coming back from sight-seeing, I need my own private space… So, budget or not, the spirit of backpacking or not, I have to settle for a private single room. Not a cheap alternative to dorm rooms but I end up happier nowadays on my trip. Of course I shop for cheaper single rooms and not 5-stars-worthy.

    Love your thoughts.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great points! It’s overall rewarding, and I think the challenges are part of the experience, but sometimes you just need to re-assess and treat yo-self. I made a backpacking stop in Paris last summer and my originally booked flat had sewage issues (I’ll spare you the details). It was the end of a long trip and I was exhausted and so I booked myself a room at a clean, cozy hotel that I wouldn’t have normally “splurged” for (it still wasn’t fancy or expensive). It’s amazing how rejuvenating a hot shower and a cozy bed can be, and I was right back to loving the frugal backpack life the next day.

    Liked by 1 person

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