Saturday marked four years since I returned from my very first backpacking trip. I only know this because I returned to my home in Chiang Mai on Loi Krathong, which also happened to be the night I first met Dan.
No, this post isn’t going to be about that romantic story, gross. It’s going to be about what happened after returning from four months on the road, and what continues to happen every time I return home from a backpacking trip.
I don’t think I really knew what I was getting myself into when I set off with Danielle on the journey that would take us through Southeast Asia, China, and the Stans.
You see, way back in 2013 travel blogs were barely a thing – or rather, they were a thing, but I didn’t know about them yet. And I certainly hadn’t seen any of those “The hardest part of traveling is coming home” posts that now dominate my Newsfeed.
These days we’re much more prepared for backpacking adventures – we have apps to help us navigate and communicate, Facebook groups dedicated to travel in different regions (I even help run one!), and travel blogs to assure us that all those feels are totally normal.
But I feel like there are still a few aspects of life after backpacking that people rarely talk about:
You become really good with money
Sure, people always say travel teaches you important life skills, like flexibility and communication, but I’d say one of the most useful lessons comes from learning how to live on $5 a day, while traveling. Because when you’re backpacking on limited savings and spending more money means having to go home sooner, you realize how little you can actual get by with.
And while I’m of course much less strict with my spending these days, the budgeting skills I learned backpacking do seem to have stuck around, helping me move to Norway and run a business without like, losing all of my money.
Discomfort makes you feel nostalgic
When I first got to the Comoros I needed a shower, but the manager of my Airbnb told me that there was something wrong with the water pump, so I’d have to take a bucket shower, and since it was nighttime the water in the bucket would be cold.
And I left my shower with the biggest grin on my face – not because I was happy to be clean, but because I felt like I had just poured my youth back over myself in that bucket.
Later that day I squeezed into the back seat of a taxi with three strangers and I nearly died of happiness.
You return home with really weird social skills
Like you’ll get giddy with excitement when you have to squeeze into the back seat of a car with three other people.
Just kidding (except I’m not actually kidding).
I’ve already written about the 19 awkward things that happen when you return home from backpacking, so right now all I’ll say is, you’re going to have a lot of awkward moments back home. But who cares that you can no longer function normally in society when you’ve got all those great stories from Tajikistan?
Everyone cares, you will have no friends.
You’ve become more extraverted
Okay, we’ve probably all read enough articles about traveling as an introvert to know that travel can help us overcome shyness and break out of our shell. But it’s also actually changed my social needs.
I used to be perfectly happy spending long periods of time on my own, but now if I go a few days without seeing my friends I begin to feel really restless and weird. Like, where are my 17 dorm-mates?!
But what’s worse, whereas I used to want to die of embarrassment whenever my dad would approach random Asian-looking people and try to speak to them in Japanese, I NOW DO THE SAME THING! I mean, I do check to make sure they’re actually Japanese first, but if I hear a sou desu ne you better believe I’ll be breaking out the four phrases I still remember in Japanese – sorry for embarrassing you, friends.
… or more introverted
The weird thing is, I have so many extravert friends who swear travel has actually made them more introverted.
And I guess it makes sense in a way.
When traveling through new countries where you don’t know the customs or even speak the language, you’re going to have to become more of an observer at times. And my friend said that it wasn’t until spending months hostel hopping along the banana pancake trail that she began actively seeking alone time.
Your sense of self is a little broken, but maybe in a good way
People always talk about traveling to find themselves, but in the process you’ll likely lose a lot of what you thought you knew about yourself. When we travel we see so many different ways of living, which can challenge any ideas we mightpreviously have had about how we wanted to live our lives.
So if you plan a backpacking trip as a minor detour on your carefully paved life path, don’t be surprised if you return home to find that path a bit more bumpy, overgrown, or split in twelve.
You’ll continue planning future backpacking trips, probably forever
These days I pretty much always stay in hotels instead of dorms, and depending where I’m headed, there’s a good chance I’ll be packing a suitcase instead of backpack. In other words, I am no longer a backpacker.
Except! I’m constantly planning future backpacking adventures. And I think I’ll always be planning them, forever.
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