There’s something about challenging yourself that’s within us all. We do it on a daily basis, whether we are aware of it or not. It could be simply playing a mobile game or putting together a puzzle at home, to more serious situations like working harder for that well deserved pay raise or asking yourself how you can be a better partner in your relationship.
Basically, without pushing ourselves, we CAN NOT know what we’re made of. We need to test our resolve and grow as a person. This goes to the heart of backpacking and why it’s so beneficial.
So if you’ve asked yourself “What is backpacking exactly, and is this something I should look into?”, then this article is definitely for you. In it, I’ll explain why it perfectly embodies the crossroads of adventure and self-discovery. How going on a transformative journey can transcend the ordinary and teach you some incredible things about the world and yourself. Interested? I hope so!
In this easy-to-follow guide, I’ll give my take on what the essence of backpacking is, why it’s important, the incredible benefits it offers, and a whole lot more. After you’ve finished with my article, you should have clear expectations of this exhilarating venture into the great wilderness of life. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it!
What is Backpacking?
First and foremost, how can we define Backpacking? It certainly involves traveling, but that doesn’t just mean purchasing a backpack, getting on a plane, and staying in cheap hostels in a faraway land, it’s much more than that. It’s a way of being. A challenge that forces you to look at the world from a different perspective.
It encourages you to step out of your comfort zone, meet new people, try new foods, confront your fears, and develop exciting interests. It is a complete transformation of oneself and an opportunity to break free of your limitations.
Backpacking is a unique way of exploring the world that involves self-discovery, connection, and self-reliance. It goes beyond the comfort of a hotel and the limits of a big city. It presents a life-changing approach to travel and attitude. Though it may seem exaggerated, those who embrace the backpacking lifestyle understand its priceless value.
Why is Backpacking Important?
Ok so now that we understand it’s more than just a way of getting around from place to place, let’s go a bit deeper into the potential benefits backpackers experience. Some of which will forever change you. It’s hard to express in words, but I can personally say that I am a completely different person because of my travels, and more importantly, backpacking.
1. Connect with Nature: We, as busy humans, tend to forget that we used to live under the sun and stars. Before we had high rises, we had caves and huts made of sticks. We’ve come a great long way. It’s quite amazing when you think about it. The problem is we’ve lost sight of why spending time outdoors is important.
Unsurprisingly, there are countless benefits to your mental and physical health when you spend a good amount of time outdoors. Ranging from improved mental clarity, reduced stress, and even a boost to your immune system! It can even sharpen your mind. Simply put, going and staying outside for longer periods does wonders for every single part of you.
2. Personal Growth: The saying goes, “If we were meant to stay in the same spot, we would have roots instead of feet.” You have to keep pushing yourself and when you go backpacking, you are constantly solving problems, using your head in all types of situations that are unable to be foreseen. It forces you to be creative.
From navigating trails to setting up camp, finding transportation, or communicating with people who don’t speak your language, you’re constantly pushed outside of your comfort zone. All of this and more promotes resilience, adaptability, and self-dependence.
3. Mindfulness: This is one of my favorite advantages of going backpacking. When you immerse yourself in a foreign land, it encourages mindfulness, or better put, living in the present moment. When you’re off exploring the world on foot, you tend to let go of the trivial things that completely lose their significance.
All of your problems that you think are problems, slip away. Issues at work? Not anymore. Neighbor getting on your nerves for their overhanging trees? Nope. Besides worrying about food, shelter, and warmth, there’s nothing that will distract you from enjoying your meaningful journey.
4. Unplugging from Technology: Nowadays we are hooked on our devices. It’s unavoidable for the most part even though there are plenty of studies showing the harmful effects of such addition. Our economy is built around it but sometimes you need a break.
When you step into the wilderness, hop from foreign city to city, or board a ship to voyage across the ocean, it allows you to unplug from all digital distractions. It’s hard to get cell service when you’re in the Himalayas. This in turn fosters genuine connections with fellow backpackers, the environment, and of course the friendly local faces. It’s like a hidden weight off of your shoulders!
5. Physical Fitness: As you can imagine, hiking with a loaded backpack provides an excellent full-body workout and is a great way to firm up your muscle tone, lose a few pounds (or kgs), and enhance your cardiovascular health, strength, and endurance. I suggest you start training before you go but either way, you’ll get into shape in no time. It doesn’t take much.
For instance, when I went on my 6-day hike across Iceland back in 2016 I lost 8 pounds carrying my pack across about 50 miles. I was wrecked and my legs and back felt ran over, but the feeling of accomplishment and the changes in my body was unmatched by anything I had ever really done before that.
6. Camaraderie: Another one of my favs. I love meeting new people and learning about their lives. You will without a doubt bump into some of the most amazing people in your life. From retirees to those just out of school, each new acquaintance you collect can and will shape you in some amazing ways.
These shared experiences, the campfire conversations, the picturesque sunsets/rises, the crazy weird foods you’ll dare each other to eat, getting lost together, or simply resting and telling each other about your life back home are unparalleled. Sometimes a lasting connection will remain for the rest of your life. How cool is that?!?!
7. Minimalism and Simplicity: One of the most useful traits you’ll polish in carrying everything you need with you at all times is necessity. What do you actually need? People tend to accumulate unnecessary things in their lives that sometimes muddle the waters of importance. We love to have “stuff”, but in doing so it can be a source of distraction for us.
Living on the road for a decent amount of time encourages, by proxy, a minimalist lifestyle. Any added weight and you’re going to feel it. You learn to appreciate the essentials and shed unnecessary baggage. This overflows into your personal life and teaches you to declutter your physical and metal space.
8. Environmental Considerations: One of the tenets of being a good Backpacker is adopting a Leave No Trace ethic. The last thing you want to see on a beautiful backcountry trail is a piece of garbage. It’s quite infuriating actually. It’s disrespectful to nature and your fellow humans.
As you dip deeper into the backpacking way, the more you notice environmental impact and how it can negatively influence a great number of things. You understand why instilling a sense of responsibility for the preservation of natural spaces is so key to a wonderful life, for you and others.
Save Money Backpacking:
Traveling is expensive, no doubt about it. The great thing about backpacking however is how much money you can save if you do it right. Actually, you can be a complete beginner and do a lot of things wrong, but still save a ton of money as long as you do a wee bit of research. Here are some areas where you will save some cash.
9. Accommodation Costs: Depending on the type of backpacking you’re doing, you’ll save a bunch of money each night by camping outdoors, under the gorgeous night sky. All you need is a lightweight tent and you can sleep anywhere. Pro tip – Invest in an inflatable sleeping pillow and pad. You’ll definitely thank me for this one.
If you’re traveling in a more urban environment you can usually find budget-friendly accommodations, such as hostels or campgrounds, as well. These options are generally more affordable than traditional hotels or resorts and they are full of like-minded folks like yourself. A great hidden plus is you’ll never be bored!
10. Transportation Costs: Besides where you’re staying, the second most expensive line item on traveling is usually how you’ll be getting around. Flights, taxis, and ride-hailing services are expensive. When you don a rucksack on your back and step out into the unknown, you usually find more interesting ways of moving from place to place.
Backpacking is all about the journey, not the destination so speed isn’t usually too important. This often leads to cheap bus or train tickets or sharing an inclusive excursion among fellow travelers (I spent two weeks with a group of Germans across the Bolivian and Chilean deserts and it was awesome!). Some backpackers even hitchhike! Compared to renting a car or booking flights from city to city, you’ll save a ton!
11. Food Expenses: And now my favorite cost savings, the grub! Even self-proclaimed “foodies” will appreciate this tasteful perk to the lifestyle. From street food to inexpensive local mom-and-pop shops, you’re sure to spend pennies on the dollar when traveling abroad.
If you’ll be mostly backpacking in the boonies and backwoods, you’ll probably be preparing your meals using camping stoves or portable cooking equipment. So that means all of your food will be gotten from grocery stores which is normally a lot less expensive than fine dining, or even fast food. It’s shocking how much money we spend on food!
12. Minimalist Lifestyle: Every single purchase you make has an impact when you’re on the road. Each souvenir adds a little bit of weight and takes up a little bit of space. At first, this isn’t a big deal, but after a few weeks in you’ll start second-guessing that bobblehead dancing penguin you just had to have. Be sure to create a proper backpacking checklist before you depart.
Backpacking by default encourages a minimalist lifestyle. This means avoiding buying useless junk because well, you can’t carry it all. What you will do is focus on the basics and only spend your hard-earned money on the things that matter, effectively avoiding those hidden costs that normally pop up out of nowhere.
13. Outdoor Activities: There’s always something to do when you’re backpacking. You can of course choose to do nothing, and sometimes you need to recharge your batteries, but there are constant adventures just around the corner, usually either very cheap or free!
You can go for a swim, rent a bike/scooter, go to a museum, jump in a natural hot spring, visit ancient ruins, dive off of cliffs and so much more! The money you’ll be saving from expensive hotels or car rentals can go toward more extreme escapades like paragliding or zip lining. You’ll be satisfied no matter what you decide to do. It’s all part of the thrill!
14. Budget-Friendly Gear: It’s all about what you take with you when you amble around town or the countryside. Putting together the correct kit is, and should be, your main focus before venturing forth. The idea though is finding the best of what you need and buying it once.
There are some early costs, I’m not going to sugarcoat it, but if you purchase equipment that’s meant to last you’ll save a bundle down the road. High-quality tents, hiking shoes, trekking poles, sleeping bags, and of course backpacks are an investment and should be treated as such. Remember you get what you pay for and backpacking gear is no different.
15. Flexible Travel Plans: A lot of backpackers like to keep their schedules loose. They do this because you never know what you’re going to get yourself into. I like to call them side quests myself. Instances pop up that you can’t say no to all the time on the road and if you are set to a rigid schedule, you’ll miss out on all the fun.
This is why backpacking is great! You can simply adjust your itinerary based on what’s going on around you. No expensive tickets are paid for 2-4 weeks in advance. No non-refundable hotel suites. If you want to take that overnight train to Chiang Mai, go ahead! $50 for first class. Not bad I say.
16. Shared Expenses: Even as a solo traveler you can share expenses here and there. I’ve met strangers at my hostel that were going to the same place as I was and we just all piled into a shuttle and split the fee, which is usually cheap to begin with.
Most people like to travel with friends, family, or fellow adventurers though so most of the time you’ll be splitting everything. Accommodations, transportation, meals, excursions, equipment rentals, and so on. All of which can significantly reduce your costs and make backpacking more affordable for everyone involved. Go team!
Witness Captivating Moments:
There’s no telling what or who you’ll run into while you’re touring the globe. Expect the unexpected! I’ve seen incredible landscapes, wild animals, interesting people, and crazy situations. I could go on and on about what I’ve encountered but the point of it all is you’ll observe some of the most entertaining things you can imagine. Here are but a few.
17. Breathtaking Scenery: Backpacking often takes you to remote and stunning landscapes that are inaccessible by conventional means. From panoramic mountain vistas to serene alpine lakes and lush forests, the scenery you’ll encounter while backpacking is bound to take your breath away.
18. Historical and Cultural Sites: Many backpacking routes pass through areas rich in history and culture, offering opportunities to visit ancient ruins, historical landmarks, and cultural sites. Learning about the human history of the land you’re traversing adds depth and meaning to your backpacking journey.
19. Natural Phenomena: Backpacking exposes you to a range of natural phenomena that are both awe-inspiring and humbling. From thunderstorms rolling across the horizon to vibrant rainbows arching over waterfalls, these moments remind us of the power and beauty of nature. Who doesn’t want to see the Northern Light am I right?
20. Wildlife Encounters: One of the joys of backpacking is the opportunity to witness wildlife in their natural habitats. You may encounter majestic animals such as deer, elk, or bears, as well as smaller critters like squirrels, birds, and chipmunks. One piece of advice though, always be careful of the monkeys!
Create Lasting Memories:
Some of the most amazing moments of my life have been on the road. I’ll never forget how I felt standing in the middle of the Salt Flats of Bolivia and gazing upon a world-sized mirror or drinking out of a frozen shot glass with travel buddies in New Zealand and laughing about how we all took a picture with our butts hanging out in front of Lake Tekapo (take-a-poo).
In essence, you’ll never forget your first, last, or any backpacking trips in between. Here are some other things I’m sure you’ll appreciate.
21. Sense of Accomplishment: Completing a challenging backpacking route, reaching a remote backcountry campsite, or conquering a rugged trail instills a sense of accomplishment and pride that stays with you long after the journey ends.
22. Trail Magic: No I don’t mean pulling a rabbit out of a hat in the Grand Canyon, I mean the acts of kindness and generosity you’ll see from fellow hikers and adventurers while in the middle of nowhere. A shared meal, a word of encouragement, or a helping hand, all leave a profound impression and restore your faith in the goodness of humanity.
23. Bonding Moments: Partaking the challenges and triumphs of the trail with friends or family creates deep bonds and lasting memories. Overcoming obstacles together, celebrating milestones, or purely singing by a campfire forges connections that endure long after the backpacking trip is over. Many a lifelong friend has been made this way.
24. Community and interconnection: Just like any hobby or passion, backpacking fosters a sense of community for all who experience it. The shared experiences and the opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals give you a real feeling of purpose and joy. You never know, it might alter the trajectory of your life forever.
25. Moments of Serenity and Reflection: There’s going to be a lot of empty time for you to think about what’s important to you. These ideas might change from before to after your trip and that’s a good thing. Be prepared for introspective moments you won’t see coming. The simplicity of life on the trail opens the door to self-discovery. It’s supremely eye opening.
In the world of backpacking, each step is a journey of self-discovery, a testament to resilience, and an opportunity to forge connections—with nature, with others, and with oneself. While backpacking may present challenges and costs, the rewards are immeasurable.
As you traverse trails, pitch your tent under starlit skies, and awaken to the beauty of untouched landscapes, you embark on a transformative adventure—one that leaves an indelible mark on the heart and soul. So, pack your essentials, lace up your boots, and embrace the call of the wild; the trail awaits, and the journey is yours to savor. Happy backpacking!