25 chapters, 100,000 words, 120 illustrations
Table of Contents
HOW TO SEE THE WORLD
Art of Travel - European and World Backpacking
Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage. Anaïs Nin, USA and France
Traveling Solo Types Safety Bombs Courage Women Alone Conditions and Disabilities Obstacles Tour Groups Dining Language Surprises Health Age Transportation Money Quotations
I want to travel, but I don't like the idea of going alone.
This is the biggest hurdle for many would-be-travelers. The hard reality for many is if we don't go backpacking alone, we aren't going backpacking. You have to be lucky to have a travel partner with similar goals, time, and money as yourself. Plus, can you realistically expect to have a travel partner with whom you want to spend almost every hour of every day? Traveling alone will force you to meet other people, and will probably expose you much more to the real experiences of travel.
If you feel you must travel with someone, there's a good chance you will meet another person in similar circumstances as you travel. I have traveled with dozens of backpackers for periods long and short--from a few months to a few weeks, a few days, even a few hours. It's fun, and you can go off on your own again whenever you must. Photo: Sometimes it's hard to find your way. (Maps like this dot many European cities.)
I don't think I'm the backpacker type.
Most Americans don't think they're the backpacker type, but perhaps you aren't sure what the backpacker type is. We Americans really don't do much traveling compared to Germans, English, French, Italians, Danes, Australians, etc. We take brief vacations, sign up for tours and cruises, but as a nation we aren't very adventurous. The reason for this, I believe, is that our country is so gigantic we aren't much exposed to travel in other lands. Many people in Germany, Britain, France, Italy, Denmark, and Australia--including teachers, architects, engineers, secretaries, mechanics, farmers, and students--consider themselves backpacker types, and travel on their own all over the world. They have an intellectual interest in other cultures, and it is the greatest fun for them to make their own way through.
The purpose of this book is to expose more people to the concept of backpacker travel, and to give them a good start on how to do it. Americans especially need to travel more. It would do our national outlook good, and it might do you good. You might be more the backpacker type than you realize.
Is it safe to travel?
The last thing I want is for someone to read this book and then naïvely get hurt traveling. There are risks to travel, as there are in everything you do.
The first determinant of risk is largely geographical. For example, pickpockets are currently a greater plague in Managua than London. Backpackers in Central America, however, are a self-selected group who are overall more worldly than average backpackers in Europe or Australia. They know to keep money in a hidden money belt, and are wary with wallets and packs. These travelers mostly navigate Managua without great incident.
But there are plenty of pickpockets in London, and backpackers can be just as run-over there as in any developing world city. Indeed I consider myself at a greater risk in left-side-driving Great Britain than proper-side-driving Nicaragua--it's easy to forget where you are when you're having so much fun.
The other determinant is you. Your risks skyrocket if you don't wear a seat belt, if you don't take proper health precautions, or if you walk alone at night in dangerous areas of medieval countries in a miniskirt. If you are sensible, like most backpackers, your risks are reduced wherever you travel.
As with everything, you must weigh benefits against risks.
I'm afraid I'll be blown up by an infantile God conceptualizer.
Fear is useful for an initial brief period: to expedite movement to safety or to cause a reevaluation. Soon thereafter rationality must come to the fore. Those who would reduce the fullness of life want to engender fear, limit intellectual and physical activity, ultimately roboticize humanity for their own idiotic ends. Nowhere is it preordained that brutality and appalling conservatism will lose. Reasonable people must fight to preserve and enhance freedom for themselves and others.
Regarding rationality, intoxicated vehicle operators kill five of my fellow Texans every day of every year, maim many more. In Germany and France fatalities per kilometer of travel are fifty percent higher than in the United States--in developing countries the rate is twenty times more disastrous. With this in mind I'll make my next backpacking journey with all possible care (using my alert and flexible superpowerful1 brain to daily make scores of mostly right decisions), and for the first time I may even suggest political meaning to dancing with new friends on Saturday night.
Regarding the terminology at the end of your question, it is shameful how so much human resource is wasted on repression, militancy, dogma, conformity, obedience, and ritual in the name of religion, instead of the obvious one (and only one) thing God would find significant. I clearly foresee, however, a glorious future when everyone will be educated and free to live to their potential. Low budget travelers hasten that day by buying goods and services from poor people and by being beautiful, sincere, individuals.
That makes sense, but I'm still fearful.
Is it safe for women to travel alone?
There are a great many women all over the world backpacking alone. Of course many join up with other women backpackers some time during their journey. Everyone knows there's safety in numbers, and it's fun to share experiences. Nevertheless, any lone backpacker will spend time alone, so she should know how to defend herself.
Some countries are more threatening than others. While Italy is far from northern Europe in terms of whistles, pinches, strange men pounding on your door and sweetly requesting a few-minutes visit--it's probably only slightly more dangerous in terms of rape. Most women travelers love Italy and get along well.
Morocco, on the other hand, is hundreds of years behind Italy. Women traveling in developing countries must understand western status does not make them immune to the sexual time-warp. Indeed, in some countries the woman traveler is a prized sexual target for local men. This usually means nothing more than an uninvited man sitting at your table and asking pointed questions while you're trying to eat.
But be aware that rape is sadly common in some parts of the world--notably certain macho areas of Latin America. While this affects local women far more than western travelers, it indicates prevailing attitudes. Women can travel safer in these areas by wearing clothing that hides curves and covers skin. They should also avoid going out alone at night in seedy areas. And, unless it's recommended by your guidebook or there are other backpackers there, it may not be the smartest move to stay in the absolutely cheapest accommodation.
Women backpackers say aloofness is one of their best defenses. You may want to avoid eye contact with some individuals by wearing dark sunglasses. Good defenses for a man who sits at your table and won't take no for answer include pretending to read something, saying something to the waiter, and slamming your fist down and angrily exclaiming for all to hear, "Get out!"
For every backpacker there could come a time when she needs to aggressively defend herself. Usually this takes the form of sharp words and a hostile manner as above, but she may also need to become physical, and do so effectively by using sharp and surprising force. Every woman can do this. See Chapter 8 Pickpockets, Thieves, and Self-Defense.
My own estimate is there are more female than male travel backpackers. And I have not seen any statistics indicating travel is more dangerous for women. Indeed I think it's probable that women are able to avoid trouble better than men due to greater reliance on intuition and brainpower.
Photo: Mom says to eat lots of fruits and vegetables!
I have three conditions and a disability. Can I travel?
How's your will? See the bibliography for Allison Walsh's Able to Travel: True Stories by and for People with Disabilities.
What about my obstacles?
Feint left, run right. Charge like a hipposaurus. Blast with lasers. Drag along. Pretend not there. Surmount.
I'm such a weenie, shouldn't I go with a tour group my first time?
First, stop thinking negatively about yourself. You simply have the natural fear everyone has before their first trip. Now, for old campaigners who are unsure of their ability to get by in an unfamiliar situation; for those who have just a short amount of time; and for you who really are weenies--following is a step-by-step plan for two weeks in Europe that will impart far greater satisfaction than being canned into a speeding bus tour.
1. Visit a bookstore and purchase a backpacker guidebook as recommended in Chapter 11 Guidebooks, Other Information Sources, and Emergency Thinking, then select a city to begin your adventure. London, Edinburgh, and Dublin are fantastic capital cities that speak English, and are easy to navigate for even the weeniest American. (I began there, too.)
2. Read Chapter 4 How to Get Cheap Airline Tickets and get a cheap ticket.
3. Select a hotel from your guidebook that sounds reasonable, then give them a ring and make a reservation for, let's say, four nights in London.
4. Select a hotel in Paris that your guidebook indicates has an English speaking desk, and then make a reservation for four nights. This reservation is optional if traveling outside the busy summer season, as you could wait until your arrival by train. There is a tourist office in, or very near, the main train station in every major city in Europe. You just wait in line and an English speaking clerk will find a room for you. Do try to arrive earlier in the day rather than later, though.
5. Select a hotel in Amsterdam, or wherever, and make a booking there. Or again, in the off-season you could wait until the morning of your arrival.
6. When you decide to leave London you walk to the train station, join a queue, and buy a ticket to Paris. In Paris you buy a ticket to Amsterdam. In Amsterdam you buy a ticket back to London, where you could have a reservation at your familiar hotel. (On return you may see it quite differently. Travelers often talk about this phenomena.)
7. Your train will either go through the chunnel or into the hold of a large ferry boat. You don't have to perform special tricks. Simply board the train and in a few hours you will be where you want to be. It's so easy anyone can do it!
8. Pack very light. Three suits of clothes is all you need. Four is extravagant, and the absolute upper limit. Don't bring anything you are only going to wear once. "Three suits" means the one you have on and two in your bag.
9. Someday when you are feeling satisfied and free, generate positive action!
Won't I look funny dining alone?
Depends on how you eat. Lone diners are more common in Europe than the States, but you will probably meet dining companions at some point.
Who do I talk to when I'm alone?
To yourself, of course. Write letters and keep a journal. Think about what you've experienced. Study the language. Observe people. Play with children. Make friends. Hit on German backpacker gals/guys. If you're an American you may already be world class at talking to strangers.
But I don't speak their language.
You do speak the most international language there has ever been. Indeed, many backpackers from all over the world mostly speak English while traveling. Of course not everyone speaks English--and in some places hardly anyone does--but you can still get along. You know what a hotel looks like. You know what food looks like. You know what airports and train stations and taxis look like. You can always make sounds like a train, hold out your arms and swoosh like a plane, point to your mouth, or go to McDonald's.
Europe is easy for monolingual Americans. China, on the other hand, is difficult for independent travelers who don't speak Chinese. You can stare forever at characters in your guidebook and on a neon sign and still not know if you're looking at a hotel or a laundry. Until you go inside and make your hands into a pillow--and they try to press your shirt.
What if something unexpected happens?
When something unplanned happens--which must be expected and even desired in backpacker travel--you are the one to deal with it and reap the benefits. Being thrown into new, accidental situations is what backpacker travel is all about, and one reason why it is much more interesting than group travel.
When the chicken train inexplicably rumbles by leaving you and twenty others with tickets to turn in, you can either sulk or begin thinking about alternative transport like everyone else. Something will come up, there will be a way around your predicament. The fellow you've been chatting with may say, "Hey gringo, my brother has a truck. You want to ride?"
Don't people in other countries all hate Americans?
Bite your tongue! An amazing number of people have uncles, brothers, sisters, or cousins in the States; have themselves visited or worked here; or have seen and heard about us through books, music, television, or The Wizard of Oz. If they have a problem with the U.S. Government or foreign policy, they usually separate this from individual Americans. Of course, if you are rude, obnoxious, or loud you may not be well received.
What if I become sick or injured?
You could also crack your skull in the bathtub tomorrow. But take good health recommendations, and before venturing into the developing world seek professional advice and immunizations from a travel clinic. In Western Europe and other developed countries medical care is excellent, and in the developing world you should be able to afford the best doctor in town. Some travel insurance policies include emergency transport back home. See Chapter 9 Effects of the Sun, Maladies, etc.
I wish I had traveled when I was younger, but I'm so old now I don't think I'll fit in.
Ridiculous. There are many backpackers over 30, 40, 50, and 60, and I even met an 81-year-old American lady on her first hostelling tour of Europe. She got discounts. So visit your doctor, strap on a backpack, and see some of the world before...
I've never been without a car before. Won't using public transportation be terrible?
In most of the world public transportation is more convenient than in most of the U.S. For many travelers it's a highlight of their journeys.
Photo: Riding the bus you'll meet more people more intimately than you ever thought humanly possible.
How will I know which bus to get on?
True, it's not always easy to get on the right bus. But hey, at least you're on a bus, heading somewhere, presumably.
The basis for this fear, like most others, is fear of the unknown. The mind invents rationales and worries to accommodate fear of the unknown. You conquer it by boarding your bus or train or airplane and seeing what happens. You can read all you want about the unknown, make all kinds of plans, but eventually you have to march into it. Every journey is a series of steps taken one at a time.
But how will I know when to get off the bus?
Also not always easy. Fortunately, bus drivers all over the world have the uncanny ability to know where you want off if you ask them. If possible sit near the front, perhaps at some point reminding the driver of your destination. Ask someone near you if this is your stop. Point to a map or say, "Plaza de Paz?" quizzically and with a smile. They will understand and either shake their heads or say "Si!" and shoo you off. When you reach your stop it's not unusual for two or three people to let you know at the same time. The good people of the world really do look out for you.2
What will I have after spending all this money on travel?
Good travel is matchless liberal education.
How will I know what the funny money is worth?
You'll figure it out. It probably won't take more than one or two transactions. It's not a big whoop.
How to Get Your Confidence Up
It was then that the idea of visiting Lhasa really became implanted in my mind. Before the frontier post to which I had been escorted I took an oath that in spite of all obstacles I would reach Lhasa and show what the will of a woman could achieve. But I did not think only of avenging my own defeats. I wanted the right to exhort others to pull down the barriers which surround, in the center of Asia, a vast area extending approximately 79 to 99 degrees longitude. Alexandra David-Neel, France, My Journey to Lhasa, 1927
Few places in this world are more dangerous than home. Fear not, therefore, to try the mountain passes. They will kill care, save you from deadly apathy, set you free, and call forth every faculty into vigorous, enthusiastic action. John Muir, USA and Scotland, The Mountains of California, 1894
Man must have just enough faith in himself to have adventures, and just enough doubt to enjoy them. G.K. Chesterton, England
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