We are not that couple. Y’know, the ones who capture perfect sunset-selfies, who get away with the most heinous crimes against fashion (think alpaca jumpers and socks with flip flops) and above all ‘do’ backpacking well. No. We are definitely not that couple.
Before becoming backpackers, we had a comfortable life. Well-paid corporate jobs. Fun friends and busy social lives. More than four pairs of underwear…
In the lead-up to our departure, we’d often muse (from our sofa, two bottles of wine later) how we would cope with backpacking. Sure, we’d have to forgo certain luxuries. Of course, we’d be sharing our personal space with a multitude of strangers. And nope, no way would we be drinking everyday. It all seemed perfectly logical, from the comfort of our own home.
I, in particular, felt ahead of the game since I’d already dabbled with traveller life back in 2004. A year of solo-travel around Australia at the young age of 18 was sure to be good preparation for the year ahead. Right?
Wrong. Travelling in your 30’s (and 40’s!) is a whole different kettle of fish.
My eighteen-year old backpacking self lived off bread and butter and cheap boxed wine. I shared rooms with more people than I could count, slept on the beach on more than one occasion to save money (sorry mum), and never ever considered eating in a restaurant. I can’t even remember doing my laundry all that often.
Twelve years on, and with a significant older – I mean other – in tow, backpacking life is very different. Credit where it’s due, we have thrown ourselves in to travelling good and proper. There’s been adventure and calamity, mess and hilarity. It’s been a blast. But, truth be told, we are not all that good at it…
We hear stories of backpacking couples travelling on a shoestring. Finding the best deals. Living continuously out of their comfort zone. We witness said couples sleeping in bus stations to save money, packing their own lunches for day-trips and gazing wistfully into coffee shops as others (us) sip on flat whites and graze on over-priced muffins. Try as we might, and we do try, we just cannot compete with these frugal, savvy backpackers.
Time and again, we feel the urge to ‘treat ourselves’. More often than not, we end up paying more, where others have bagged a bargain. Almost daily we say ‘but it’s only a few pesos/soles more to upgrade to a private room’. Our experience so far has taught us many things. Never judge an Australian by their cover. Always carry toilet paper. Don’t have ‘one more for the road’ the night before a long bus journey. Our biggest learning, however – one that we are not ashamed to admit – is that we are shit backpackers.
After six challenging, yet rewarding, months of travelling we feel more than qualified to offer advice on being a better backpacker. Take heed, learn from our mistakes. Enjoy the journey. And above all, treat yo’ self.
Trains, planes and automobiles
Bus travel is by far the cheapest way to get around South America. While shelling out for the luxurious Cama option with fully-reclining seats is worth every extra penny for a night bus, make sure you shop around for prices. Buying a ticket from the bus company right next door to your hostel may seem convenient, but on more than one occasion we have found ourselves paying more than necessary. Ask to see pictures of the Cama and Semi-Cama options as sometimes the cheaper options are just as comfortable. Don’t do as we did and get stuck paying almost double for the same journey as our friends, only to all end up on the same bus. #shitbackpackers
Wining and dining
Every once in a while it’s nice to treat yourself to a proper meal in a proper restaurant. Just make sure you do your research. All too often we ended up in the most expensive restaurants where a bottle of wine set us back almost triple the cost of a bed for the night. With eyes bigger than our bellies (and livers), we continue to fall off the backpacker wagon. Backpacking shame is a real thing, and splurging twice your daily budget on one meal that you end up too drunk to remember brings it on in torrents. #shitbackpackers
Wining and wining
Before we came travelling, we vowed that we would not be drinking every day. We can’t afford it, we said. It’s not that type of trip, we claimed. Hmmmm.
According to our budget thus far, more money has been spent on booze than on accommodation. *Hangs head in shame*
That’s not to say we’ve been boozing it up until the early hours every night. Far from it. But, when we do go out, we go out-out. Sometimes even out-out-out. Our biggest weakness however has been the quiet yet deadly nights of ‘just a quick one’. You know how it is. Six negronis later and we are back to broke, the grim-reaper of backpacking shame creeping over us the morning after. Drink responsibly, kids. #shitbackpackers
Just. Say. No.
South America is overwhelmingly beautiful. Breathtaking, inspiring and rich in culture from top to bottom. Sadly, beyond the beauty, extreme poverty still exists. From creative buskers on the metro, to local craftspeople selling their wares, many locals still struggle to make ends meet. Whether in a big, bustling city or on the outskirts of civilisation it’s not uncommon to be approached multiple times a day by strangers seeking a few extra bob. We absolutely encourage you to give what you can to help those in need, but with caution. Scammers and rip-off merchants are in abundance, and giving them money just encourages them. Note: a ‘free’ massage is not a thing. Have the right change, negotiate (fairly) and know what you are buying before you say ‘si’ to avoid being #shitbackpackers
Despite our frequent fails, we are having the time of our lives. Happily, we’ve met many a shit backpacker along the way who have made us feel better about ourselves (you know who you are). Travelling is more gruesome, gruelling and grotty than most instagrammers portray. We can’t always win at backpacker life, but trust us, failing is all part of the fun.
Are you a shit backpacker? We would love to hear your stories. Post your comments here or tag us on Instagram to share.
Now, back to my flat white…