The Way of the Backpacker

Some folks were wondering how I am able to move around so much yet travel so light while working in a variety of jobs. In this post, I hope to answer some of those questions and give you an idea of how to work and travel.

Being a backpacker is based on the premise of a nomad, and nowadays nomads aren’t just seasonal workers, but online workers, too. They are called digital nomads. That is, I have chosen not to live in any one place for very long before moving on. Further, I often choose to rent a bed in a dorm or an apartment abroad instead of a hotel room. I select our countries based on our interests (seeing something different, living somewhere for a while, etc.) and how far our dollar will go. Let’s face it, if a place doesn’t have an internet connection, I wouldn’t be able to work as much. That’s not to say I can’t work, after all, you don’t need an internet connection to write, pump gas or even teach English, but you do need it if you intend to work online and tell others what you’re doing.

I carry a few devices with me: a Macbook, an android phone and an iPod touch. The iPod is really for music, podcasts and ebooks from time to time, but I do a lot of writing with the android phone since it’s easy to copy and paste from the phone. Further, I don’t often buy phone cards so, in essence, I have no phone number. However, I keep some important numbers written down just in case. The Macbook, however, is my primary work machine. The one I have is getting old but it still works so I don’t complain too loudly. I also keep digital copies and backups of my important information and documents. A service like Dropbox is helpful for backup purposes, and it’s free. If the image of sitting on the beach or in a cafe lightly tapping away comes to mind, well, it’s almost true. I do sit on beaches, minibuses or in pubs and cafes to write. That’s why it’s helpful to have a smartphone since I can write wherever and whenever the inspiration strikes. But I don’t like taking the laptop to the beach cause then sand gets everywhere and that’s not good.

Next, many places have installed wifi in their hotels, hostels, cafes, etc. As a rule, I don’t check any of my accounts over unsecured networks. Private networks are usually fine but using a VPN is the best option for security purposes. I also don’t disclose my passwords or accounts to anyone.

Like many long term travellers, I work and travel. Teaching ESL and working on farms primarily, but I’m open to other jobs if and when necessary. I’ve had to develop an “immigrant’s attitude” to work and travel. Ie, be willing to do whatever it takes to make it work and keep going.

Like many other backpackers, I try to travel light. If travelling has taught me anything it’s simplicity and frugality. I don’t need much to survive, food, clothes, a bed to sleep in, pen, paper, and an internet connection to manage our site. Yes, some of us like to drink, but it’s much cheaper in SE Asia than other places. Further, I often socialize over a few drinks in the evening so it helps get us out and away from our work and discover or discuss new ideas with people from around the world.

I don’t eat in fancy restaurants and restrict eating in any restaurant to maybe once a day, though I do so primarily to enjoy western-style food which helps keep me grounded. Same with chocolate. Other than that, it’s street stalls and local markets. Oh, but I do appreciate cafes with a plug and an internet connection.

My clothes are simple, you’d probably mistake me for a beach bum or a university student on their gap year most of the time, but I’m not completely untidy. Travelling has humbled me and the advent of the internet has all but removed judgments based on skin colour, gender or other discriminatory ways. That’s not to say, of course, that they don’t still exist.

I do keep track of my travels by way of this site and blog, my own journal, a date book and, of course, my pictures, videos and receipts (which prove to be more helpful than you can possibly imagine in remembering where I’ve been).

I don’t travel first class, never have, but I would consider the offer. It seems like a waste of money for a trip that is same same but different. The extra leg room is nice, I suppose, especially since I’ve had my fare share of economy class travel. Maybe one day.

For entertainment, I’ll head to the pub for a drink or two or simply sit in the hostel lobby where there is no shortage of folks with whom to talk. Other than that, I still enjoy the regular travel entertainment such as museums, galleries, tours, hiking, riding elephants and other such activities. But I also enjoy the comforts of home such as a cafe, cinema, local music bar, bookstores and, of all things, libraries. The more you travel the more things are same same but different.

I don’t do hard drugs, but I’ve enjoyed the occasional spliff a la hippie style and drink fairly regularly. It’s the hard drugs I stay away from and I don’t trust anybody who even offers us anything. I’ve heard stories of people who’ve bought from one guy only to get stopped by the cops down the street, or of backpackers who unwittingly become smugglers because some guy drops a bag of something something in his pocket. In my line of work, whatever it is at the time, a clear brain and mind is the most precious asset I have and drugs do nothing to help me.

My exercise program consists of walking, some might say strolling, through the city streets or a nearby park. It helps clear the mind and this way I am able to think over ideas away from the “work station” Macbook. Other than that, Muay Thai, swimming or hiking also provide a good workout from time to time.

So why do I travel? By visiting other places and meeting all sorts of people I’ve found it really does open my mind to how other people act, how I myself act, and the different cultural, religious and financial viewpoints around the world. Opinions can vary greatly and it’s one of the most admirable yet frustrating things of backpacking: being nice and accepting to all, or at least to most. Some folks like to express their opinions quite loudly, others don’t. Further, I’ve found that by travelling to different cities, even to different hostels, I am able to “reset ourselves” almost to the point of re-invention. It’s an interesting travel phenomenon that helps keep the travel experience fresh but, after a while, can become a rather tedious exercise in diplomacy. That being the case, some of the best times I’ve had have started with “I’m going to have a quiet night in tonight” or “I’ll just go for one drink”. Worst of all, “I’m don’t want to talk to anybody right now” usually leads to some interesting conversations.

I hope that helps clarify the way of the backpacker.