The Cleo Guide to Backpacking

The familiar has begun to frustrate, breeding a contempt for your day-to-day that’ll only sweeten with a tray table bearing overpackaged food, as you sail high above the Earth’s surface en route to Anywhere But Here. You’re the star of your own foreign film, but will it be a quirky coming-of-age or a depressing three hour marathon about the death of the soul? Your back is packed with the bare essentials, but before you charm Customs, let Georgia Clark talk the talk of all things travel to ensure your biopic is a feel-good box office success.

Reach for the Stars

… But do you need a Chewbacca or should you fly (Han) Solo?

For first time travelers, the idea of a travel buddy can make setting off with your nap/ ruck/ backpack all the more easier. It’s cheaper to split rooms and meals, you only have to butcher the language half the time when asking for directions, and you’ve always got someone sample local nightlife with. But whether you’re traveling with your best friend or boyfriend, coupling up does mean some compromise, plus it can keep you in a comfort zone flying solo necessarily breaks you out of. You’re pretty social and can dive headfirst into new situations, right? Travelling on your own isn’t as scary as it sounds, especially because the rules of engagement change dramatically when you cease being a local and start being a backpacker. Whereas a night out on the town or a trip to an art gallery may take a week to organize Back Home, in Traveller Land, it takes five seconds. There are always other travelers looking to hang with peeps while their paths cross, and doing random things with a guest cast of international stars makes for some ubercool anecdotes. It will make you more resilient, resourceful and put simply, it’s recipe for adventure. Will you share your next meal with a cute doctor from France or a couple of boy crazy Spanish chicas? With an open mind and agenda, everything is possible!

The World is your Oyster

…. Which part will you be sucking up with lemon and salt?

To begin with, you’ll be deciding between the developed and the developing nations – people richer than you or people poorer than you. A lean budget or the need for clean towels in your hotel room may make this decision for you instantly – traveling in the third world is cheaper but tougher, and only those with lax attitudes to toilets will survive. That said, your travel budget will stretch far into the future, and those looking for real adventure, an eye-opening look into poverty and seriously good street food should head straight to South America or South East Asia. Here there are plenty of rewarding volunteer programs set up by NGOs (non government organisations), so you can see the world and give something back to the community you’re visiting. If you’ve got more cash up your sleeve, Europe offers a delectable all-you-can-eat buffet for the world traveller in you. It’s criminal how close drawcards like Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague (etc) are to each other – but unless hypothermia is your idea of a sweet time, try to avoid the winter months.

Everything You Need To Survive A Long Haul Flight.

  1. A window seat
  2. A pillow (you can leave it on the plane)
  3. Valium.

Do

  • Contact everyone you know who lives in the places you’re visiting. At the very least they can take you for a drink somewhere rad, or who knows, maybe there’s a couch with your name on it.
  • Learn to say ‘please’, ‘thank you’ and something ridiculous that’ll endear the locals to you in every country you’re in (it’s amazing how far mastering oddball local slang will get you!)
  • Pump yourself up before you go by watching films and reading books set in your travel destinations. Playlists such as ‘On the Train in Tokyo’ or ‘Post Punk in Poland’ are also on the savvy traveler’s iPod.
  • Pay to carbon offset your flight. You don’t want to be reincarnated as a cockroach, do you?

Don’t

  • Live your holiday through your lens. Photographic evidence is fantastic, but make sure you’re experiencing where you are, not just taking snaps of it.
  • Hang out with peeps you don’t dig, just for the company. Ditch them and you’ll find your Fonzie – life’s too short for boring conversation.
  • Freak out if you realize you’ve forgotten your travel plug adapter – amazingly, you can buy things in other countries.
  • Get ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ by John Denver stuck in your head before you set off. It’ll never leave. (Damn that’s a catchy song!)

The Hostel Sitch

Unless you don’t want to meet other travelers (sometimes, we don’t blame you), you’ll be meeting the people of the world in hostels. Every big city has their fair share, and the best way to find a good one is word-of-mouth. In fact, that’s how you’ll be finding a LOT of cool things to do, see and drink on you travels. Dorms are cheap, but what you save on money, you lose on sleep. Do everyone a favour – if you’re planning a big one, set up your sleeping arrangements before you head out. There’s no quicker way to be the girl everyone resents than by performing a plastic bag sonata at 3am (yes, everyone can hear you).

Love In A Bunkbed

If it’s a little rumble in the jungle you’re after, you’ve come to right subculture! Backpackers are a horny breed, routinely up for it, with the majority single and ready to mingle. After all, what’s more conducive to flirt-filled fun times than you, on holidays!? Locationships – short-term relationships existing mostly due to both parties being in the same place at the same time – are Samantha Jones fabulous for the modern day single gal. Not only will they drive your friends wild with envy, but your expectations are lower than a shock jock’s morality. It’s like an inverse value system to something new starting Back Home – both parties party with the assumption it can only be a short-lived fling. Sure, sharing a sleeping bag may blossom into something else, but in the meantime, just enjoy that sexy accent whispering sweet nothings – oh la la!

Shocking But True!

* You don’t need to get drunk every night to have a good time (six nights a week is really enough)

* Cultural clichés exist for a reason – the Brits are all characters from The Bill, and Americans will refer to English as ‘American’.

* There is such a thing as too many museums.

* You won’t write in your travel diary every day (you’ll be living it, baby)

* Your parents will assume you’re dead in a gutter if you haven’t called in a week.

Fantasy Packing

Beware the fantasy pack! A common occurrence amongst ladies who speak the international language of cool, fantasy packing is when one packs for one’s fantasy holiday, irrespective of practicalities such as weather, comfort and versatility. This often results in a suitcase full of unworn frothy cocktail dresses and sparkly beaded headpieces proving no use in far flung mountain villages. Sure, you want to look good in your Facebook photos, but the sensible traveler will ensure every item packed can be mixed and matched at least three times while proving comfortable on long bus trips. And remember – if you don’t wear it at home, you won’t wear it on the road. Be gone, oscure silk chiffon wrap.

Don’t underestimate:

Heavy-duty mountain-climbing socks. You’ll be doing so much walking, it’s worth investing in some serious camping store players. Those guys are with you till the day you die, seriously.

You can live without:

Make-up. Discover your inner hippy and leave most of (if not all) the make-up bag at home. Applying your face every day will become a little ridiculous when you’ve been wearing the same outfit three days straight. Besides, you’re kinda beautiful just the way you are, kiddo.

When the going gets tough, the tough cry like little girls

While backpacking means you’ll have do stuff that’ll instantly make the your ‘Best Day EVER!’ files, it also means:

* Getting ripped off. If you haven’t paid five times more than everyone else for something, you’re not really traveling.

* Queues. Lots of queues.

* Being reduced to tears due to lack of sleep, insane bureaucracy that makes no sense whatsoever, or missing a form of transport.

* Boring conversations with lame-asses who are trying to find a personality through have no fixed address.

* Discovering your own internalized racism.

Comedy is tragedy plus time. Everything shit that happens will end up being the dinner party anecdote you’ll be dining out on for months.

Check it: Couchsurfing.com. An international initiative for safe stays in exotic lands, for nix.

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About Georgia

I'm a young adult novelist with a weakness for hot nerds and cheese platters, not necessarily in that order. I am currently working on my third novel. I'm pretty excited about having just turned 30 because it means I can justify spending a lot of time thinking about homewares.
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