About A Backpacker: What It Is To Be Backpacker

Although I am a traveller, I don’t like being called a backpacker because there are certain images that people get of backpackers that I don’t exactly feel I fit.  I don’t like to call myself a budget traveller either because everyone travels on a budget.  Some people have high budgets while others have low budgets.  I like to call myself an independent traveller.  Occasionally when I’ve been travelling, I have had people join me who are on holidays and I have felt clashes in the style of travelling that I have never felt when I link up with random travellers on my travels.  It has made me realize that I am a backpacker.  Being a backpacker is not about the type of luggage you use, the clothes you wear or how unkempt your hair is; it’s a state of mind.  The following are some points that define backpackers.

1. The journey is as important as the destination. It’s like being a treasure hunt. At the end of the hunt, you may not find the treasure but you enjoy the hunt.  In the literal sense, it can be likened to choosing independent travel over tours. It is much easier to have someone else organize your travels for you but we actually prefer to do it ourselves.  It’s part of the adventure.  Figuring out local transit, sitting on old rickety buses, being packed into buses beyond capacity, and dealing with awkward schedules is all part of the fun of travel.  In other instances, you may not have the ideal situation for visiting your destination but you can still have an amazing time because you enjoy the moment. Sihanoukville beach, Cambodia 2003, with two other travellers, raining and yet we still had an amazing time in the sea and crashing someone’s beach party.

2.  We form intimate connections with strangers very quickly.  It’s amazing how quickly travellers seek each other out and how quickly in a short amount of time we will divulge intimate details of our lives that normally would take time to reveal.  I think about the man I just recently sat beside on a plane who shared with me his disappointment that he had never been able to have children.  He even challenged me in some of my thoughts toward my future.  After this 1 hour and 20 minute plane ride, we both bid each other farewell and said good bye.  Amazing, how we do this.

3. We relish the hardships of travelling.  Being taking advantage of by a taxi driver, getting lost on your travels, losing your money- all horrible things that can go wrong, but somehow or other, these are the stories we thrive on.  These are the stories that get swapped among travellers.  When we encounter hardships, our emotions may get the better of us, but these are the memories that we take with us and the stories that we repeat to everyone.

4. We sometimes feel a bit superior.  We feel that we are better than tourists because we get to know the locals better.  The truth is that most backpackers stick together and seldom go off the beaten track.  We usually travel along networks and stick to touristy areas.

5. Probably the most defining feature, backpackers don’t convert money.  We may come off as cheap to many tourists, but we simply don’t convert prices back to our home currency.  We are aware of the conversion rate when we exchange money or make a big purchase but once we work out our limit for accommodation and food, we learn to function in that currency.  So yes, we will haggle over what converts to be 50cents.  We will bargain for better rates at hostels, and market stalls even if it’s only a dollar we are saving.  Once we know the basic price of certain things, we feel taken advantage of if a vendor is trying to take more money off of us, we are not walking ATMs!  We will spend precious time shopping around to get the best rates even if it converts to be an insignificant amount.  We are aware and okay with the fact that there are two pricing systems, one for locals and one for foreigners, but we don’t buy into the philosophy that locals have so little and we have so much- it’s not just about the material things. It’s not that we are cheap, by no means are we cheap.  We are enigmas because we somehow have money to travel forever, and when there is something meaningful to us, we cough up the money to spend.  We are just selective on what we spend our money on.

I embrace the fact that I’m a backpacker, the good and the bad of it. I wouldn’t do it any other way.

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Bali Impressions

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Here I am now in Bali. While traveling through South East Asia, I’ve only heard the most amazing things about Bali. So I had high expectations when coming here. But I have to admit that once I got here, I thought what’s the big deal with Bali? The following are some of my impressions of Bali.

1. My first destination was Kuta Beach and the beach was absolutely filthy. The beach is a dumping beach and known for good surfing.  However, there was so much garbage in the water that you couldn’t enjoy a swim without a plastic bag getting caught on you legs with every wave.  I was told that since this is rainy season, the wind blows the garbage in from Java. In the summer months, the beach is clean and the water blue and it’s actually a really stunning beach. But for now when you go in the water, it’s not the fish nibbling at you that you worry about, but the garbage that gets tangled around your legs. Disgusting..

2. Walking down Legian St, the main thoroughfare, can be an exhausting mission even when only going 100 meters. “Massage,” “nails done,” “braid hair,” “transport,” “money change,” “taxi,” “tattoo,” “mushrooms,” “cocaine,” and “marijuana” are the things whispered or called out to you as you pass many of the locals who spend their day sitting on the side-walk trying to make a buck.

3. Changing money can be even more exhausting until you know exactly where to go.  Authorized money changers are advertised everywhere, but be careful because most of them are trying to rip you off. They will use slight of hand tricks to skim off some of the money after you’ve counted it. If you don’t allow them to touch the money again, then suddenly there are new taxes and fees that need to be applied or the rate was yesterday’s and surprise surprise, today’s rate is significantly lower. All a bunch of crooks!

4. There are nice beaches even in rainy season, but it seems that the nice beaches tend to be home to 5 star resorts. I went to Nusa Day, which is 30 minutes away by taxi from Kuta, and the water was shades of blue. There was calm water for swimmers and surf for surfers and no garbage.

5. Bali felt more like a holiday island than anything else. Independent travel was not at all promoted. Tours were expensive. If traveling on your own, you almost felt discriminated against because you’d have to pay extra money as there was always a two person minimum.

6. But not all my impressions were falling short of my expectations. When I went 1 hour north to Ubud, a different world awaited me. This town oozed with culture. You could see villagers in cultural dress. Everyday, women would go out with their woven baskets of flower petals, rice, incense and other objects and place them in front of store fronts and shrines. Every night you can take in some form of cultural dance. All over the town, there were Hindu temples and shrines, it was a bit unreal. The natural beauty of the area was stunning. Tropical forests with ravines and rice fields all over the place. I could’ve given up the beaches of Bali for this paradise.

7. If you continue further outside of Ubud, more nature and culture abounds. There are splendid views of terraced rice fields, volcanoes to climb, mountains, lakes, adventure sports and temples. I finally was able to see what it is that people must be referring to about Bali. The interior of the island is just gorgeous and breathtakingly beautiful.

8. Massages. Being a message junkie, I had only had 2 in the Philippines because I was still tainted by my Vietnam experience. Here, in Bali, I succumbed to the massages. Being trained in anatomy and possessing some basis massage techniques, I’m very particular about my massages. I prefer it when someone works out my knots. If I feel like someone doesn’t know what they are doing, then I stop going. So the massages in Bali have been alright, some better than others, and so far professional. Even  had a guy massage me and it wasn’t awkward. I’ve been pretty much going everyday for one. Why not, they are only 5 bucks.

9. Monkey Sanctuary: in the town off Ubud, there is a little area where monkeys live and you can go in and see them. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to this shameless exploitation of monkeys but I’d read that the forest was worth the money, 20000 IDR (less than 2 USD). When you get to the gate, there is a sign that says please help keep the monkey sanctuary functioning. Buy bananas. These ladies sit at the front gate with a stick to keep away the monkeys. The monkeys have learned to fear the stick. But once someone has bought bananas, they attack. They will grab from your hand, jump on you and even bite. Somehow people find this entertaining. These monkeys are well fed. They have potatoes to keep them satisfied, yet they still feel the need to be teased by tourists waving bananas at their face to then move it away quickly at the last second. This was the only thing with Ubud that I didn’t like. They shouldn’t be encouraging wild animals to rely on humans for food.

So Bali was an okay experience. Ubud was where I enjoyed myself the most. If I ever came back I’d try to do it in the dry season and see if Kuta Beach is any better and explore more of the islands beaches.

Sanur Beach

Sanur Beach

Statues everywhere

Statues everywhere

Balinese Cultural Dance

Balinese Cultural Dance

Terraced Rice Fields

Terraced Rice Fields

Full Moon Party Balinese Style

Full Moon Party Balinese Style

Sacrificial Offerings

Sacrificial Offerings

Monkey being head butted after it jumped on this man's head for a banana

Monkey being head butted after it jumped on this man’s head for a banana