Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Modern Backbacking (or backpacking, my style)

Finally home in America after my 19 day European backpacking adventure. I'm not really sure what is imagined when you say the word backpacking or what the exact definition would be for my readers out there, but for me, it was traveling, with a backpack. Cheap style.

Perhaps some day I will invest in a true backpackers backpack. Not a big one, but something designed for traveling as opposed to school books. Yes, I carried my stuff in my L.L Bean high school backpack through Andalucia. It's not designed to distribute weight, it's designed to carry large amounts of school books. But, it's big, and mine is an abnormal design that has an extra compartment on the bottom which really expands the capacity of the bag.

When backpacking, it's important to remember that you need to carry everything you own on your back for the remainder of the trip. It really cuts down on shopping and it also prevents you from packing too much. Always think about staying light. I brought about 7 shirts, 2 pairs of pants, underwear and socks for a week, a pair of sneakers and a pair of flip flops. Remember that you can always do laundry while you're traveling! We did laundry twice and we had plenty of clothes for the trip. Actually, my friend only brought 5 days worth of clothes. I would recommend 7 just because it does usually take 24 hours for clothes to dry and if you need to do laundry every 3-4 days it would be a nuisance. I think enough for 1 week is perfect. And as for toiletries, it's easy in America to get travel sized things, but in Korea, I've never seen travel sized anything. So, it's better to bring half used things. I have a small-ish bottle of shampoo that I use for the gym in Korea. I filled it with just enough squirts of shampoo to last me the trip and I was able to throw away the bottle when I was leaving. Deodorant, I brought a 3/4 used stick as well to keep weight down as well as a half used bar of soap to scrub up on the trip. These seem like small things, but every little bit helps. A half used tube of toothpaste would also have been helpful, but I didn't have one, so I had to bring a full tube.

The thing that weighed me down the most on this trip was my laptop. It's not that I really wanted to bring a laptop on this trip, but as I was going home and I don't know when I'll be back in Korea, I couldn't exactly leave it behind and be computer-less for the next 2-6 months. It actually worked out well that I had it because we were able to check emails, book train/bus tickets and make phone calls much more easily than having to go to internet cafes or using other people's computers. It wouldn't have been impossible, but it was definitely nice to have along. Something small like a netbook or an iPad would have been better, though, to save space and extra weight.

On to my accommodations, which was the most fun part of this trip and why I called this post "modern backpacking". In the past, if you went backpacking, there was really only one or two options for people I think. Normally people stayed in youth hostels, and the adventurous, strong types carried their own tents and found places to pitch them for the night.

Nowadays, people have a plethora of options out there. My first choice when traveling, nowadays is couchsurfing. For those of you living in a hole out there who still don't know what this is, it's only the greatest thing ever to have come about. You can host people in your home and then when you travel, you can have a free place to stay with other people. But, it's a lot more than just having a free place to stay. It's like making instant friends and having a local perspective. Since Spain is such a huge tourist place, it was quite hard to find folks to stay with. Fortunately, we were able to find 3 hosts. Our first host lived in the suburbs of Madrid. It was kind of a pain to go all the way out there, but she was such a welcoming, kind host that it was worth it. She brought us to a typical restaurant our first night and taught us all about eating and drinking culture in Spain which was valuable information for the rest of our trip. She taught us how to tip (¿you're going to tip a whole Euro? Oh, my gosh, no! It's too much!), what to drink (all I can say is that we drank "Tinto de Verano" twice a day for the rest of the trip) and what were the differences between "tapas" and "raciones". Not to mention how to speak in Spain Spanish since we were accustomed to Chilean Spanish. While in Sevilla, we had two different hosts. Our first one cooked us a traditional Spanish meal with tortilla (like a big potato omlette cake) and gaspacho (cold, pureed vegetable soup) and then brought us to the town's "feria" which is a fair only held once a year in every town, and every town's fair is held at a different time of year. Then we moved on to our next hosts, two guys, one Sevillan and one Chilean with whom we had lots in common. The Sevillan had spent 3 months in Korea and used to date a Korean woman so he was really interested to hear about life in Korea. And the Chilean guy taught us all the differences between Spanish Spanish and Chilean Spanish, which was a huge help for us too. Not to mention that they gave us an amazing tour of the city and told us all the history of all the places we went. It was like having our own private guide! Couchsurfing is an indispensable tool for the modern backpacker in my opinion! Join today! :-)

Another option out there that we also used was and which both are more or less the same, though airbnb has been around longer and is better established. These websites to me have a similar feel to couchsurfing with the only major difference being the necessity of paying money and having more options. It's an interesting way to travel. We rented out two apartments in Granada for probably less than we would have paid for a hotel. It was interesting to stay in apartments there because the apartments were situated in the Albyazin neighborhood where all the houses are around 400 years old. Then in Cádiz, we stayed at a lovely bed and breakfast in Puerto de Santa Maria which was a 20 minute ferry ride from Cádiz and overlooked the river.

Then of course, our last 4 nights, we spent in hostels for lack of other options. Sometimes it is nice to just go to somewhere where you don't have to worry about chatting with your hosts or getting lost finding a house in the middle of nowhere. Overall we had a good mix. In the future, I'd like to try some other things like WWOOFing when I travel.

The last element of this is transportation. We met some folks who had rented a car and they seemed to be having a lot of fun on their Spanish road trip, and our roommates in one hostel seemed to be hitchhiking their way around, but for us, we stuck to buses and trains. In Spain, there are lots of options for travel. Nice buses and crappy buses, slow trains and high speed trains. We tried a little of everything on this trip. Because we hit 6 cities (and we were in Madrid 3 times during the trip), transportation costs were quite a significant part of our budget. To save money, it would be better to stay longer in fewer cities.

Do you have any backpacking tips to share?

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this good tips, I'm going to check out Wimdu and Airbnb since we'll be traveling to Europe next year ;)
    I know I'll have a problem with my packing because I just can not do that "light" packing thing .... I don't know why but I just cant :S
    And remember, if you come to Mexico... you have a place to stay with me :D