It’s been three months since I hit the road back in Thailand. I packed a much-too-big-but-not-actually-that-heavy 90L backpack with all my clothes rolled up into Ziploc bags. I had to decide what I wanted to bring, and what to leave behind for an unknown number of years. Placing beloved belongings aside was like disowning my children against my will. Although I greatly lack a sense of fashion, a girl still works very hard to build a wardrobe she inevitably learns to hate. When packing, clothes are like gold you personally mined for yourself. “You can buy more clothes when you’re traveling,” my mother would say to me, as if that fixed everything. ‘But what about the countless hours I invested running my fingers over fabrics in malls?’ I wanted to say. It mattered not. I chose solid-colored clothes, a select few gym accessories, and got on with my life.
While I’ve been on the road I have learned that everything is gold, not just clothes. A bottle of water, for example, is priceless. I mean, even if the price sticker is THB35, it feels like an irreplaceable necessity. If I found an unopened bottle of water in the back of a tuk-tuk in Chiang Mai, I would kiss the seat I lifted it from. Water is insanely valuable. It’s the essence of life, a miracle down to its atomic makeup and characteristics – and it costs money.
Food is the Elixir, along with water. The day I had my first meal that someone else paid for, I almost lost my sanity. Is this really happening? Am I eating a meal, and not having to pay for it or cook it from scratch? I started pinching myself to see if I was dreaming. Nope, I was actually being HOSTED for dinner! Now, if you’ve been hostel-hopping through different countries you can relate: It starts out when you begin traveling. You’re trying new things – new restaurants and cuisine, namely. You soak it in and eat it up. The food is amazing. But after a couple of weeks you realize that the food is running up charges you didn’t expect. That’s when it dawns on you: THERE’S A REASON ALL HOSTELS HAVE KITCHENS. Backpackers are Brokepackers. We aren’t loaded. That’s why we’re walking everywhere, or taking a bus with our oversized luggage and creating huge inconveniences for locals. We aren’t staying in ritzy hotels and basking in the ambience of luxury. We are camping in the dirt, cooking over stoves from presumably the early 1900s, and going just a few days too long without hitting up a laundromat. So you start keeping groceries in the fridge, praying at night that they won’t be stolen by dawn, and cooking. Survival at its finest is cooking in a hostel. Sometimes there aren’t any forks or knives left. Sometimes you forgot to buy cooking oil and have to A. beg someone to use theirs, or B. sneakily use the one you’ve noticed nobody’s touched in days. You prep your food and then have to wait twenty minutes for a stovetop while your stomach growls angrily at you like a deprived lion. Oh, it’s an adventure alright. The real Hunger Games.
I think the biggest and hardest lesson of all that I’ve grasped while backpacking is saying goodbye to some incredible people along the way. In life, when you’re living in one place for a long time and working at the same job and going to the same gym, you meet people here and there. But when you’re traveling, you meet people almost daily – people that share your interests, passions, and lifestyle. 99% of the time, you part ways at one point or another. I’ve been so lucky to meet the people that I have and was seriously heartbroken to say goodbye… But a “goodbye” in a backpacker’s world is “maybe I’ll see you in Europe or Africa or something, someday” and it really lightens the heart. You never know what the future will bring. You only know that it will be awesome.