Still backpacking at 39 – why I’ll never stop travelling

As my regular readers know I’m an avid backpacker. I work summer seasons and travel every winter. This has pretty much been my life since graduating from university when I was twenty-one, when I went off to New Zealand on a twelve month working holiday visa, via California and Fiji.

Rhossili Bay, Gower, Wales
Enjoying a weekend camping trip on the Gower

Instead of returning home afterwards, I went straight on to Australia for another twelve months. On the same trip I backpacked around South East Asia, stopped in Japan on the way home and in total spent two and a half years away from the UK and didn’t miss it once.

I always get asked why I travel so much and why it’s so important to me. I’m not sure I really made a conscious decision to spend my life this way. I just love travelling and here are the reasons why…

I get a thrill when people sigh and say ‘I wish I had your life’ 
I can’t deny that I get a little smug about my life. I love everything about my life even though it wasn’t a deliberate choice to live like this.  In fact, when I was at university all I wanted to do was work for a successful company, wear nice clothes and go to as many music concerts as possible. After spending a year in New Zealand though, I turned into more of an outdoors person and became less motivated about buying things and earning a lot. Living out of a backpack for two years changes you.

It’s better than working
I often say it’s not travelling I love so much, it’s that I don’t like working! Now that’s not strictly true. I enjoy my job, I like having responsibility, solving problems and being busy. I just don’t want to do this for twelve months of the year, every year, for the next fifty odd years.

Festival bell tents, glamping
I put up festival bell tents for a living

As my working season draws to an end I always start looking forward to my travels but as my backpacking trip finishes I’m always excited to get back to work. I feel like I appreciate work and work-related achievements more when I have an end in sight. I have lots of projects I’m desperately trying to get completed before I finish for the summer season, then start looking forward to new ones for the following year. Having the break in-between rejuvenates me.

The freedom of waking up and being able to do anything
I’m not lazy in the least but I do love relaxed mornings, with a nice breakfast, a good book and the time to plan the rest of my day.

Sri Lankan breakfast, Sigiriya
A delicious breakfast just for me! Perfect before climbing Lion Rock in Sri Lanka.

I enjoy feeling completely free – that I can go anywhere and do anything. If I’m bored of a place I can move on the next day. If I love a place I might stay for a week. I suppose as well that the lack of responsibility is quite nice. My work is quite demanding with a lot of challenges, so it’s lovely to feel no obligation to anyone or anything and just drift around enjoying wonderful scenery, delicious food and new activities.

Volunteering as I travel
Several years ago I discovered Workaway. It’s a great idea, similar to woofing (volunteering on organic farms) which more people may have heard of. There’s also another version of Workaway called HelpX. Workaway hosts offer a chance for travellers to volunteer in different countries around the world. You usually volunteer for two weeks to a month, working five hours a day in exchange for food and accommodation. It’s aimed at being a cultural exchange, so many hosts welcome you as part of their family, taking you to local places and sharing their life with you.

 

I’ve had wonderful experiences, from making jam in Tasmania to sell at Hobart market, to planting vegetables in Portugal at an eco-lodge, to learning about butterfly farming at an Earthship in Belize. Workaway has really changed travelling for me, giving me more focus as I travel, helping me to understand more local culture and also reducing the strain on my bank balance!

Trying local dishes and street food
I couldn’t not include street food on this list! I even wrote a whole blog post on street food in Central America earlier this year.  When I travel sometimes it seems all I do is loiter at bus stations, sit on buses and eat. I’ve definitely got more into trying local food and I usually read lots of blogs to find the best local dishes to try. In the Yucatan in Mexcio, I spent a lot of time trying to find papadzules, tasty sounding egg-filled tortillas smothered in a pumpkin seed and epazote sauce.

Papadzules, Izamal, Mexico
Papadzules in the ‘yellow city, Mexico

Sometimes my whole day revolves around food and street food stalls are a great place to sit and soak up the local atmosphere. Of course it’s also an opportunity to meet other travellers – be brave and ask if you can share their table!

 

Planning
This is going to sound strange to some but I love planning! I enjoy reading about my destination, thinking about the logistics of the journey, working out bus timetables and deciphering train tickets in foreign languages. I don’t always stick to my plans though.  Plans are great but are always liable to being changed if something better comes up.

OS Map, Dorset
Map reading skills are essential for the solo backpacker

I spend a lot of my backpacking time reading about where I might or might not go tomorrow, how I’d catch a bus, where I’d get the ticket from and what I might do when I get there. Sometimes I’m so busy reading about where I could go the next day that I end up not going anywhere!

Being different to the norm
I’ve definitely always enjoyed going against the norm. I’ve never wanted a family or a house or a car or a pension. Although now I do have the last two (middle age catching up with me!). I used to proudly say I’ve never owned a stick of furniture or a real towel (I do of course own two travel towels). All my belongings fit into three storage boxes and my clothes fit into a large rucksack. I once admired a mug in a quirky shop, with a friend. She said ‘treat yourself, buy it’. I said ‘but I already have a mug’. Needless to say, ‘stuff’ is not that important to me.

Being outdoors
One of the things I love most about travelling is being outdoors a lot. Definitely better than being cooped up in an office during the grey British winter!

Christmas Day on Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
Enjoying a deserted beach on Great Barrier Island, New Zealand on Christmas Day

I usually travel to warmer countries (I’m still not sure how I’ll cope with travelling across Russia and Mongolia this winter) and being able to sit outside for every meal, wander the streets in a t-shirt and go hiking every day is just fantastic. I’m sure it’s better for your health and keeps me looking and feeling younger.

The solitude
I love being on my own and having the mental space to reflect on what I’m seeing and feeling. It’s a whole different experience when you travel solo. Some people I’ve met hate it but those who love it will always love it.

Snaefell Peninsula, Iceland
Stark scenery on Snaefell Peninsula, Iceland

For example when I go walking with a friend, it’s great to be outside getting exercise while you exchange all your news and put the world to rights but often I realise I can remember hardly anything of what I’ve seen. Whereas if I’m on my own I spend a lot more time looking at the scenery and really taking in what I see. It’s my own personal interpretation of mindfulness!

Life at home in summer
The flipside of travelling every winter is that I’m home in the UK for the summer. And this is also a time I enjoy. I like the fact that travelling is just for a few months and I have the routine of returning home each March. Having just a short time in the UK each year means I appreciate it more. I enjoy seeing and spending time with friends and make a real effort to visit everyone.

 

Life at home in summer
The flipside of travelling every winter is that I’m home in the UK for the summer. And this is also a time I enjoy. I like the fact that travelling is just for a few months and I have the routine of returning home each March. Having just a short time in the UK each year means I appreciate it more. I enjoy seeing and spending time with friends and make a real effort to visit everyone.

IMG_20190714_173814485
Enjoying the beach last weekend

I explore my own country a lot more than I probably would otherwise and feel more connected to it. Some people in the past have suggested I move overseas as I like travelling so much. But I like living in the UK, I enjoy coming home and understanding what’s going on around me and not having to look up ‘where is the ticket office please’ in Ukrainian. Travelling definitely makes me like my home country more.

I’ll leave you with one of my favourite travel quotes.

I’ll go anywhere as long as I haven’t been there before.

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