Before starting university, or after completing a degree, hordes of 18 and 21-year-olds overpack a backpack, buy a round-the-world ticket and set off on a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
But while you’re caught up in ‘living your best life’, as far from an office job as possible, there are several backpacking clichés you might want to avoid – some more serious than others.
1. Expect to “find yourself”
Taking yourself out of your comfort zone and experiencing different cultures is an important learning curve for any traveller, and it can open your eyes to ways of life you might not have known even existed. Travel can change you, but any problems or identity crises aren’t going to be magically solved because you’re nowhere near home – and you won’t have a holistic awakening while you’re dancing at a full moon party. The best you can hope for is a tan, stories you’ll tell forever, friends you’ll have the time of your life with and never see again (but that’s OK), and a new found perspective.
2. Pose with a tiger
Posting a picture in one of Thailand or India’s tiger ‘sanctuaries’ seemed to be a rite of passage for backpackers on their round-the-world trip at one point. It must seem pretty cool to be so up close and personal with such amazing creatures, but an investigation by Care for the Wild International (CWI) revealed the sickening trade tigers are subject to. They’re often taken from the wild, trafficked to these centres and kept in squalid conditions. Don’t be one of those people who has a sedated tiger in their dating profile.
3. Only speak to other tourists
If you’re exploring a new city, don’t head straight to the obligatory Irish bar. Having meaningful conversations and making an effort to learn about the history and culture of a place through its people will deepen your experience, and help tourism have a better impact on the country. Arrange homestays with local families where you can share meals and spend some time in the real world, rather than staying exclusively in party hostels.
4. Haggle too hard
In many countries haggling on prices is widespread and part of the shopping experience, locals included, but when you’re arguing hard over the equivalent of 50p, it’s important to have a bit of perspective. Try not to take it personally if you feel like you’re being overcharged because you’re a tourist, and remember, it’s probably a much more important amount of money to someone else, no matter how broke a traveller you think you are.
5. Ride an elephant
In Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia and Nepal, thousands of elephants live in captivity and last year World Animal Protection found the scale of suffering experienced by these animals is “severe”. Animal rights groups say the majority of the elephants are taken from the wild, and often baby elephants are taken from their mothers and mistreated at a young age. The WAP report found that 77% of 3,000 elephants assessed were chained day and night when not being used for entertainment purposes and experienced little interaction with other elephants. So yeah, if you’re lucky enough, appreciate them in the wild from a distance.
6. Live exclusively in ethnic print trousers or hemp harem pants
Nothing says, “I’m on my gap year,” more than baggy green elephant print trousers. They may be comfortable and cheap, but you’ll look the same as everyone else and they will fall apart the moment you do a too-enthusiastic dancefloor lunge. Plus, they’ll sit in your wardrobe for years to come without another look-in.
7. Take exactly the same photos as everyone else
There are certain photos you’ll see time and time again, taken by people travelling to certain places – with a plastic dinosaur toy depicting scale on the Uyuni salt flats in Bolivia, on a swing over a rice paddy in Bali, or doing the #FollowMeTo pose, well, just about anywhere. In some backpacker hotspots there are actual queues to take that one partcular photo. Use your imagination instead – you might even rack up more Instagram likes.
8. Start calling food “inauthentic” when you’re home
Yes, you had an incredible time, you ate the cheapest, most delicious food from a street cart and bought a pad Thai from a floating market in Bangkok, but your friends and family back home will only have so much patience for you regaling them with stories of better meals you had abroad, and how your local Indian takeaway now just doesn’t compare.
- Press Association