As residents of North America we are accustomed to travel on this continent and beyond much differently, in my humble opinion than say our European or Australian & Kiwi counterparts. When we think of travel to the Caribbean or Central America we tend to think of resorts with all inclusive packages, providing us with unlimited food, drinks & activities for a worry free set price. Many times these packages include air fare and the worry free concept of having everything done for you. You don’t have to look for restaurants, bars or things to do on your own. Everything is done for you, all you have to is show up. Now while I’m not stereotyping all North Americans (Canada AND USA) there are plenty of lovely Canadians & Americans who are not afraid to pack a backpack and explore the unknown, The numbers are just much smaller.
In my opinion I think that our culture of work, work, work here contribute greatly to the love affair with all-inclusive travel. Here in North America our vacations are much shorter averaging about 1-2 weeks a year and because of this I can see how looking around for places to eat and things to do in a foreign place can add to more stress than we already have. That being said, I think the all-inclusive resort or cruise also takes away from really seeing how other cultures live. It widens the human-to- human contact gap and the unfortunate concept of the world outside our big continent as a big scary place. Reinforcing the us and them mentality which only contributes to ignorance and the numbers of westerners behaving badly abroad, this including some backpackers but that’s a whole other article in itself.
The results of doing some extra research and traveling off the beaten path has rewards beyond just getting some much needed rest. It provides being closer to people of the culture you are visiting, to eating their food and learning about their history OR doing those adventurous activities you have in your mental “To do before I die list”.
Here are some inspirational & practical tips to getting out there.
No one wants to come with you.
Traveling alone is no new concept and you would not be a revolutionary if you did it. Traveling alone has many rewards and the truth is that plenty of people do it so meeting new people would never really be that difficult. In fact it’s easier to meet new people if you are traveling alone. The international tourism industry caters to this concept and many hostels have either bars inside and help with activity planning , which usually includes your fellow hostel mates.
The whole point of backpacking is traveling on a budget so you will probably end up spending less money as it is. Knowledge is power and backpackers are all about research, the more you know about a place the less likely it is you will overspend. I worked on a farm for almost a month in Thailand through the WWOOF program and got to stay an extended amount of time in Thailand while saving money because all food and lodging are usually covered on a farm stay. There are many ways to make and save money while traveling you just have to get out there and do your homework.
You’re scared , everyone keeps telling you nightmare stories about how dangerous it is.
Anyone that ever did anything awesome took a risk. If you’ve never stepped outside of your comfort zone how will you know what you can achieve? Also the world really is not as dangerous as our media makes it out to be. Sure there are bad people out there even here, but that doesn’t mean everyone is out to rip you off. I like to stick to the general rule that most humanity is good and if you adhere to that without being naïve and judging all situations wisely, chances are you will meet people you never would have met or do things you never would have thought of doing if you were inside your general comfort zone.
You don’t speak the language
This is where buying a general phrasebook comes in handy and this should never prevent you from traveling anywhere. There are general phrase books for all the languages of the world available at most major chain book stores and they really help in getting you around. When you visit another country and take the time to learn simple phrases, people really appreciate the effort and it also helps in getting around. When traveling through South America it really helped my boyfriend and I with very basic things like getting food, buying bus tickets and getting directions. Also socializing, we had some really fun nights out and if we hadn’t bothered to at least get the basic phrases down we would not have met some really interesting people.
You don’t have time
Making time to do things that are important to you like seeing Machu Picchu or wherever you want to go, instead of saying you would love to go someday is as important as eating right and keeping your blood pressure low. When you make the time you will be rewarded with time well spent.
You are only planning on a short holiday, you are not planning an around the world extended trip.
There are plenty of options outside the resort, you can rent your own apartment or house through websites that cater to vacation rentals by owner, as well as home stays. There are stays in nature reserves or even just booking a hotel that’s not part of a chain conglomerate. Many places also offer their own car or motorbike rentals that provide a bigger freedom of personal mobility.
You have no idea where to begin.
This is the easiest part. Think about where you would like to go and buy a guidebook. The guidebook will spark ideas that will take you to do more research on the internet and so on and so forth. Before you know it your backpack will be packed and you will be ready go.
The food was phenomenal and the staff extremely helpful and friendly. Locals like to come with their families during the day so the mix of people is quite nice. For $10 a night it can’t be beat.
For me, to travel this way is more of a personality issue and feeling very confined within the all-inclusive system as well as well as an ethical one. I don’t really know how much these chain resorts benefit the local economies and I believe they create a huge socio-economic gap between tourists and locals. For me to travel responsibly eliminates certain levels of resentment that we expect from local populations when visiting places that have less monetary wealth. To add, what have you learned? Travel for me feeds an ever present curiosity about the rest of world. The last couple of weeks have seen a stranded cruise liner off the coast of California and an awful explosion at a resort in Playa Del Carmen, Mexico causing people to cut their vacations short or worse. So now it is almost a question of how safe are you when so confined?
When visiting Nha Trang, Vietnam to scuba dive and spend some time at the beach, we had a friendly encounter, which describes my whole travel philosophy. After a big day of scuba diving, my boyfriend and I decided on having drinks at a small local bar serving pitchers of the famous cheap Bia (beer) at the very characteristic to Vietnam, tiny plastic tables & chairs on the sidewalk. We spent the night there happily people watching with the rest of our fellow patrons. Next to our table was a group of local men out on what seemed was a boys night and one of them turned to me asking me where I was from and how we liked Vietnam, after chatting for a couple of minutes he said. “Welcome to my city and Vietnam” That, to me is the biggest reward.