What does the backpacker lifestyle look like? How is it different from life back home? What should you expect, and is it worth it? All great questions, and we're going to go through all of them.
Backpacking around the world is a very unique way to travel. Instead of secluding yourself in hotels and taking pictures of very popular attractions, you find yourself opting for more social settings and going off the beaten path.
There are many pros and cons to backpacking, with many aspects that are very different to life back home. So we're going to go through what it looks like to socialize, travel, and live as a backpacker - then we're going to compare it to what's it like at home. Starting with friends 😎
Social Life & Friends
Backpacking is going to be one of the most social experiences you'll ever have in your life.
Meeting people from all over the world, sleeping in dorm rooms, having new experiences together in foreign countries, week long romantic relationships, and day old friendships that'll be strong for a decade - it's really special.
What to Expect
The majority of the people you meet will be from socializing, partying, talking, and organizing what you're gong to do next, mainly in a hostel environment - but that's not the only place you'll meet other travelers.
Expect to meet people by attending big events like the Thai Full Moon Party, during activities like hiking/surfing, visiting popular attractions, or even at a hot spot during a night out.
Backpacking gives you opportunities to socialize that you just don't get back home. At home, you're usually with your close knit group of friends, which is of course great, but opportunities for meeting other people are limited unless you're still in college.
With backpacking, socializing in endless.
However, as social as it is, and keeping in mind that you will be meeting a lot of people - these people will be transient friends. What do I mean by that?
The vast majority of them are traveling. They won't be at your hostel forever, and they aren't like your friends back home. They aren't in your long term social circle.
You'll find yourself going through the same introductions, same stories, and same type of conversations over and over again. Because, as one new set of friends come, another set go. This can be extremely emotionally taxing. Something I talk about in the article below.
You're meeting people, getting attached to people, and then having to let them go - with the potential of never seeing them again. It's the harsh reality. But, the silver lining here is that if you truly do have a connection, both of you will make the effort to stay in contact!
Besides all of that, you will make connections that will last a life time. You'll have conversations that you never have with your friends back home. And you'll feel a level of comradery and openness that you've never felt before 💯
Summary | Pros & Cons
|Social Life While Backpacking||Social Life at Home|
|Making friends is easy||Weaker bonds||Close knit friends||Difficult to meet people|
|Can have deep level friendships||Short lived||Stable social circle||Can get stale|
|Wide range of activities|
|Wide range of people|
You'll be meeting a lot of people and consistently doing fun activities with them. You'll make a lot of connections really quickly, connections you couldn't otherwise make back home.
But the downside is that these friends won't be around forever, the conversations might feel repetitive at times, and it's difficult saying goodbye.
Dorm Life & Hostels
As a backpacker you'll sooner or later get acquainted with the hostel/dorm life, where you'll be greeted with a mix of a college dorm lifestyle and an adventurous group of backpackers that want to have new experiences.
Of course AirBnbs and hotels are an option too, but you'll see a lot of backpackers opt for hostels, as these days hostels go above and beyond in terms of facilities, comfort, social life, and location.
What to Expect
When backpacking you're most likely going to be staying in a dorm room within a hostel. There will be around 8 beds in a dorm, some more, some less. With options to book private rooms if you're looking for privacy but still want the social aspect.
There will be common rooms for socializing. And basic facilities liked shared bathrooms, kitchens, laundry rooms, outdoors area etc.
We've done a deep dive on this with all questions answered relating to privacy and more, in the article below.
Why is it likely that you'll stay in a hostel? Why should you stay in a hostel?
- It's the cheapest option
- It's super social
- There's a variety of different hostels depending on your wants/needs
- There's plenty of activities you'll only have access to if you're staying there
Staying in a hostel feels like you're relaxing and living your life with a bunch of friends that are doing the same thing. Because you're all traveling, there's no work to do, or obligations, so your day to day is all about how you're going to exercise your freedom.
No housework, no cooking, no cleaning; maybe once a week you'll do laundry and some admin travel planning, but all in all, you're focused on whatever experiences you can get in the place you're currently traveling.
You can expect hostel hosted parties, tours, and other activities. Note that the type of activities will heavily depend on the type of hostel you're staying in. The most ludicrous, and crazy activities will be at party hostels. Details below.
Summary | Pros & Cons
|STAYING IN HOSTELS||STAYING AT HOME|
|Making friends is easy||Very little privacy||Privacy||Fewer opportunities to socializ|
|Super cheap||Smaller beds / Bunk beds|
|Many activities on offer|
Initially, if you haven't been in a hostel before, you may feel uncomfortable due to the lack of privacy. After all, you will have most likely gone from having a single room with your own bed, to being in a dorm with dozens of people.
Luckily it's not as bad as you think. Everyone has a similar mindset with wanting some peace and quiet, people are generally respectful, hostels include little curtains for each bed these days, and you can always change hostels/rooms if you're uncomfortable.
This feeling will quickly go away as you'll start to grow accustom to the dorm lifestyle. You'll opt for meeting people, rather than having privacy. You'll realize that hostels will have all the facilities you want, comfortable beds, and an atmosphere that you won't find in a hotel.
This, along with the fact that there will be plenty of activities and experiences to be had in these environments, will allow you to see that the pros definitely outweigh the cons.
Daily Life | Traveling & Experiences
Your day to day back home might look something like work, classes, house chores, exercise, friends/family, and down time. With backpacking it's all about new experiences, exploration, people, and fun.
What to Expect
Your day will revolve around having excess freedom and wondering what you should do to pass the time, and of course there will be a lot to do. The usual suspects for the daily life of a backpacker will include;
- Trying the different types of food
- Exploring markets, streets, cultural customs
- Meeting travelers and locals
- Hitting the main attractions in a particular place
- Trying out the activities available like hiking, tours, nightlife
- Doing some digging to find the hidden gems
- Relaxing and doing nothing
And you'll be doing all of this either by yourself (by choice) or with the people you've met at your hostel, met throughout your trip, or bumped into at the last place!
All the great things aside, there's also some work involved, it isn't always sunshine and rainbows, but that's what makes the experience worthwhile. It's discomfort, problem solving, being open to new experiences that might not be up your alley - but will be a part of the day to day.
You might struggle with the public transport sometimes, have no internet while trying to navigate, get food poisoning, have issues with your accommodation, feel lonely or agitated, be in unfamiliar/uncomfortable settings, feel unproductive - it's all expected.
You'll grow as a person every time you encounter these situations, and it'll get easier as you gain more experience. You'll deal with them in your own way, and in your own time. But as a tip, you should try having rest days, calling people back home, and not being afraid to ask for help in these situations.
The article below covers these difficulties. Highly recommend it.
Summary | Pros & Cons
|Daily Life While Traveling||Daily Life at Home|
|Daily new experiences||Lack of routine||Solid routine||Can be mundane|
|Much more downtime||Can feel unproductive||Familiar setting||Comfort zone|
|Wide range of activities||Can be tiring||Creature comforts|
|New experiences||Can be uncomfortable|
When you start traveling, you're going to be in complete bliss exploring everywhere you go, trying different foods, and making a whole lot of friends. The daily new experiences are going to add highlight over highlight to your trip.
After doing this for a while though, you will definitely feel travel fatigue come on and you'll find that you're feeling the need of a routine, time spent relaxing, or even some productivity.
When this happens, don't be afraid to take the downtime and stay in a place for longer to really immerse yourself in the culture to combat the fatigue. The article below delves into this.
This should have given you a great introduction to the backpacker lifestyle and how it's different from home. We'll keep this updated and add a section on working, as there are many backpackers who also work while traveling.
But until then, this should cover everything you need!