COLUMN — The term backpacking has different connotations to different people. Some people think of hippies hitch-hiking around, living on next to nothing; others think of trekking for several days in the wilderness.
My perception of a backpacker is someone who consciously chooses to travel to interesting places, looks for local experiences, is sensitive to the customs and cultures of the places they visit, adaptable and easy going. To a backpacker, authentic experiences and social connections are more important than quality amenities.
Budget can be a factor while backpacking. Being frugal by saving money on accommodations, making your own meals rather than eating in expensive restaurants, and choosing local transportation options allows you to travel longer or have enough money to splurge on something really cool like a helicopter flight or white water rafting trip.
When I first backpacked around Europe, I bought an unlimited train pass and brought a tent and sleeping bag so I had complete freedom and flexibility. I had many affordable options for places to stay, camping cost very little and many campsites have amazing amenities and a great atmosphere.
In Peru I stepped it up and did some multi-day hikes including the Inca Trail and a remote area of the Andes. In Africa, I traveled like a local in the back of a pick-up truck with about 20 other people and some goats. Around the world, even when I am not travelling on a budget, one of my favourite places to stay is in a hostel.
The word hostel is another term that has multiple meanings. Some people think of shelters for homeless people or drug addicts, but in the world of travel it is something completely different. A more descriptive term for this type of accommodation is a Backpacker Lodge.
Hostels usually have a great vibe. You will find other backpackers looking for genuine experiences and social connections. Hostels, like hotels and B&B’s, can vary greatly. Some, in Jasper for example, are rustic cabins with no running water or electricity, but an abundance of charm; others, like one I stayed at on the island of Corfu in Greece, are almost like an all-inclusive resort complete with meals, beach and swimming pools.
There are many unique hostels: Castles, Tree Houses, and Trains like the cabooses in Squilax. The common theme among hostels is the social atmosphere and an opportunity to save money by sharing a room with other travelers. Many hostels offer dormitory accommodation ranging in size from four beds per room to 20 or more. Dorm rooms of course have shared bathroom facilities. If you are travelling as a couple, or just like your privacy, most hostels offer private rooms that may have their own ensuite facilities.
In South Africa, I stayed at a hostel that had a private beach with surfboards available to guests. It also had a pool table and a stocked fridge with an honour system. I remember spending a buck per beer while chatting with other travelers. I met someone who had a rental car and was heading to my next destination and offered to give me a ride.
In New Zealand my wife and I stayed at a hostel with our four-year-old son where we had our own suite with private bathroom and kitchen. What made it amazing was hanging out in the common area playing games with people from around the world, talking about where we’ve been and asking questions about places that we were planning to go.
Here are some ideas for your next backpacking experience:
1-Month unlimited Eurail Global Pass $895 — Unlimited train travel on the national rail networks of: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland (includes Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland), Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Romania, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Turkey.
Trans-Siberian & Mongolia (16-Days) $3,366 — Travel across continents and time zones on one of the world’s greatest train journeys. Start in Beijing before heading to Mongolia, then into Siberia and to Moscow.
Inca Discovery (8-Days) $1,449 — Hike to Machu Picchu on the Inca Trail with mountainscapes, cloud forests, and jungles. Travel around some of Peru’s highlights by plane, train and van.
Mt. Kilimanjaro Trek – Machame 8-Day Route $1,895 — Machame has different paths to the summit and back. Emerge onto high alpine deserts en route to Uhuru, peak of Mt. Kilimanjaro. Known as the “Whiskey Route,” this path offers great scenery beneath the glaciated precipices of the Southern Icefields before summiting from the higher Barafu Camp.
James Gjaltema is a founding member of the Kamloops Travel Club and a Flight Centre Associate who works from his home office. He can be reached at 250-879-0873 or through his web-site: http://www.flightcentreassociates.com/jamesgjaltema.