In a time when the life of a "digital nomad" has never been more envious, it's easy for social media to omit many of the realities--both good and bad--of traveling out of a backpack. Traveling may look like effortless paradise and crystal clear waters from behind your phone screen. But like most things on the internet, it's not as perfect as it seems. Here are some of the realities no one ever tells you when it comes to backpacking:
1. More than anything else, you need to have good common sense.
You need to have a half-decent sense of direction, the ability to make choices to keep yourself safe, and relatively sound judgment. Are there complications with your hostel arrangements? Is it dark outside and you're considering walking somewhere alone? When you're lost and need directions, who would be the best person to ask for help? More than anything, you need to have a good head on your shoulders not only for easier navigation of unfamiliar places, but also to keep yourself out of dangerous situations.
2. It will test your patience, over and over again.
Backpacking will test your patience. Whenever you're traveling without some luxurious travel agency that ensures everything goes seamlessly for you, a lot can go wrong: your flight got delayed, a local gave you wrong directions, bad weather ruined your plans. The best advice is to stay open- hearted and remain flexible. Never plan too much in advance and remember that even when things don't go exactly as planned, it may actually lead to something better.
3. If you're traveling alone, it can get lonely.
Backpacking is a great way to meet new people. When I was traveling in Thailand, I met at least a dozen people at various hostels and ended up exploring with them. But there are plenty of times, especially when I was traveling alone, when I didn't have a companion, felt the sting of loneliness, and wanted nothing more than to go home to my boyfriend and my family. But rather than giving up, you should use loneliness as an opportunity to learn how to be your own friend and enjoy your own company.
4. If you're backpacking with a friend or significant other, it will test the strength of your relationship.
Navigating a foreign country is already stressful (see #2), but traveling with another person may add to your frustration because their own wants and needs will at some point conflict with your own. Sometimes, you've just been hanging around the same person for too long and you both start getting grumpy. It's all about choosing someone who you can handle in large doses, remaining flexible, and be always willing to compromise. But if you pick the right travel buddy, sharing your backpacking experiences with them can make those moments all the more memorable.
5. You don't need to pack nearly as much as you think you do (especially if you're going somewhere warm):
You will never wear as much as you think you will. Once you start backpacking, you realize what is truly essential and what is truly not (think underwire bras, ladies). Chances are, the other backpackers you encounter are down-to-earth nomads who probably haven't showered in a couple of days and will 100% not judge if you wore the same shirt two (or several) days in a row. Literally no one cares what you look like and that it is the most liberating feeling in the world. Bring deodorant, feminine hygiene products, and make sure to take the occasional shower, but other than that, you won't find need for much else.
6. You learn that people are inherently good.
Someone will always help you when you're lost. People on the street will smile and total strangers will make you feel right at home. You'll make friends with unexpected people in surprising places and discover that you share the most striking similarities with them. Fear will be replaced by awe and you'll start to see that as human beings, we have always been so much more alike than we are different.
Backpacking is more than just a good photo-op. It's an opportunity to get back to the fundamental basics of what it means to be human. It's a chance to live simply, to escape societal pressure and expectations, to test your abilities, and to grow as a person. So next time you see a glorified trip on Instagram, just remember that backpacking isn't always easy or even always pleasant—the reality is messier. But it's so much more meaningful.