It seems that after a while on the road you will discover certain things about yourself, about the people you meet, and about the world around you. Exactly the kind of things you probably hoped you would learn about when you set off from home with nothing but a guidebook and sense of wide-eyed adventure weighing you down.
I know that during my years on the road, I came across some recurring motifs, eventualities, and idiosyncrasies of fellow travellers. This is what I have come to call my 10 Commandments of Backpacking.
1. Thou shalt not listen endlessly to Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Tracey Chapman, or some form of reggae.
All I know is that despite not owning a single album by RHCP or Tracey Chapman I know more words to their songs than I do to a lot of the albums I’ve bought myself.
2. Thou shalt meet your ideal soul mate or life partner while on the road.
Unfortunately, while there is an element of truth to this one, you are most likely to meet them for a fleeting few hours just as they have arrived at your hostel / beach hut / on your bus, just as you are about to leave in a completely different direction.
3. Thou shalt only remember the swear words of another language, despite repeated attempts to learn something a bit more useful, or at least a bit less offensive.
Just at the point when you’re really lost and want to ask how to find the bus station all that you’ll be able to remember is how to insult someone’s mother in a foreign tongue.
4. Thou shalt not only visit world-famous attractions.
Some famous places are well worth going to – and many are completely unmissable. But some are a bit of a disappointment, if we’re totally honest. Which is fine, as it would be unnatural for everyone in the world to all like the same thing. The good news is that for every slightly underwhelming major attraction, city, monument etc there is nearly always another smaller, lesser known one just around the corner.
5. Thou shalt not carry Traveller’s Cheques.
Unless you are going to certain parts of Africa. Other than that, I think everyone else stopped around 1986. My experience of getting them replaced was about as far removed as possible from that American Express advert in the 80’s where the guy has them delivered on a silver tray by a waiter while he lounges by a pool. Mine involved me having to cross Tanzania!
6. Thou shalt not become a travel bore.
At some point everyone comes across one of these. No matter how many places you’ve been to, how cheaply you’ve done it, how dangerous or unusual or interesting it was, the travel bore always has a story to trump it. As soon as you realise you’re cornered with one, you have two choices – invent impossible-to-beat tales, or leg it.
7. Thou shalt cultivate an “alternative” look.
So “alternative”, in fact, that everyone else will also want to emulate it. Wristbands, tattoos, going barefoot, a head either shaved or covered in dreadlocks, and a necklace. Always a necklace – of sandalwood, beads, yin/yang etc. Oh, and men wearing skirts.
8. Thou shalt have to answer the same questions over and over again.
You will hear an untold amount of fascinating stories on the road, get enough tips on places to go to last you a lifetime, and discover personalities you never knew existed. However, you will also have to go through the Backpackers Stock Questions roughly 300,000 times – Where you from? Where have you been? How long have you been away? What do you do at home? Where are you going?
Unavoidable, and pleasant enough ice breakers, but after the first few hundred times of replying you might want to consider handing each new person a piece of paper with the answers on.
9. Thou shalt get ill at some point.
Sorry, but it’s true. In fact, if you don’t get something at some point then you’re clearly not trying hard enough! Travelling is so fraught with health hazards – seasickness, Delhi belly, sunburn, malarial mosquitoes, Japanese Encephalitis, altitude sickness – it’s a real wonder anyone ever leaves their sofa at home.
10. Thou shalt become a better person.
You’ll probably become more tolerant; a bit more willing to do things you previously wouldn’t; become more knowledgeable about different cultures; widen your food palate; and learn what is really important. Now you can’t get that from TV or the Internet. At least, not yet…