Chapter 28 of our Short Travel Stories series is about ending a long, long trip, about going back home, about reality hitting hard.
If you’ve felt something similar, please let us know in the comments below. This is a serious topic, and we’d love to know other points of view about it.
Chapter 28: My Life As A Backpacker Is Over. New Realities Hit Hard
Finished in Wellington I had to leave New Zealand. My working/holiday visas were over. My life as a backpacker in the lower right corner of the map was done.
No more life Down-Under, no more kangaroos, koalas, volcanoes, fjords and breathtaking landscapes. No more crossing deserts in a van, driving next to perfect beaches, or through snowy mountains and beautiful lakes. No more physically demanding jobs in construction sites or farms, no more nights of drinking and spontaneously going to bars with other people I had just met. No more making a lot of money just to spend it traveling.
It was all over.
And there I was, standing in front of the mirror, looking at myself wearing this massive backpack, which had all the clothes I had worn for two years. Two years of my life in a 75-liter backpack.
I saw my reflection, long messy hair. How long ago was the last time I had a haircut? I didn’t think about stuff like that anymore, spending money on myself. My jeans were worn down, and my shoes. My shoes man! They weren’t shoes anymore; they were a hybrid between shoes and flip-flops, but who cared.
I had to leave, that was going to be the last time I stood in that land as a true backpacker, one of the hardcore ones, of the serious and tough ones that decided to move there without a return ticket to live in the moment, making money by doing absurd jobs that would have been unimaginable back home.
Although I was planning on backpacking Asia, deep down I knew it wasn’t going to be the same. I was excited, but still it wasn’t the same the same. I wasn’t going to have the same possibilities of working anywhere for good money, the environment, the vibe in the hostels was going to be different, and my trip was overall going to be another thing.
In Australia and New Zealand I felt at home each and every day, in any city, hostel, couch, or backseat of a van. Each and every place had backpacker full of life, energy, motivation, and an insatiable desire to live. There were people who wanted to drive around the whole country, others wanted to surf in every beach, hike every national park, live in every big city, work in different things, or simply stay long term in a hostel and meet new people as time went by.
It doesn’t matter where or who, there is a contagious happiness all around those places. There is something else though, an x-factor that differentiates especially Australia, from the other places: time.
The working/holiday visas give us time, a lot of time. We have a year, or two or even three, to find what we went looking for, or run away from what we were tired of back home. We have a whole year to work and travel, to discover every single corner with patience, almost as if we are locals. If I like Byron Bay then I stay. I liked Perth? Fuck it, I’ll stay two more weeks, or three, or a month. It doesn’t matter, I’ll find a cool job and work for a bit, there’s time anyways.
Not only that, but on top of the time we have well paid jobs, good money. You work and you earn. In other countries there is also time, but maybe not as much money, and not all the backpackers are on the same vibe, the same wavelength of traveling with patience for a long spell, of staying in a random place for a while just to see what it has to offer.
In Asia or South America you also see people on long journeys, that also stay and work in hostels or local shops, but they don’t get paid the same, and especially, there aren’t as many other backpackers doing the same thing. There is a backpacker community, of course, but not as big and stable as Down Under.
Asia and South America have a higher turnover of backpackers in every city, the community changes, fluctuates much more, and it’s more seasonal. The people have less time in their hands and they all seem in a hurry to see this or that, or everything! They end up staying just one or two nights in every place…
You might tell me: “Hey, but you can stop and stay if you want”. Yeah, I did. I came to Asia and ended up staying, but it’s still different, I still miss the lifestyle, the community from Oz and NZ. I’m happy, satisfied and chilled over here, but the sense of community, of being part of a family in a hostel, it’s scarce.
So, as I was saying, I did leave. That afternoon in New Zealand, Wellington to be precise, I left the hostel and said goodbye to my friends in a hurry, I didn’t want to think much about it. Got to the airport and a day later I was in Cambodia.
Six months later I’m sitting in a café in Chiang Mai writing this. I stayed here, set up shop, and I can say I’ve honestly had some of the most adventurous, spontaneous months of my life, full of absurd situations, with awesome people that have become my family.
I started freelancing and became a fake backpacker: a Digital Nomad. Life is good; money not as much, and people are great. However, I still haven’t felt that vibe of unlimited time, of living in the moment forever, because here it’s a two or three month journey, whilst in Oz and NZ it was one, two or three years.
And so I look at myself in the mirror, aware that all that is now over, the bottom right corner of the map has been left behind. I still carry it with me in my mind and in my heart, but it’s gone, long gone. Now it’s different, I see how people come and go quickly, because now there’s not as much time.