I’m not sure where I stand on the whole nature-nurture debate (or, for that matter, where anyone stands — the last time I heard anyone talk about that was eighth grade biology). So I can’t tell you if great backpackers are born or made, and I also can’t tell you if that matters.
What I can tell you is somehow, I’ve ended up with a few traits that have made it a hell of a lot easier for me; and if you share any of them, perhaps it’s time to accept your destiny — nay, embrace it — and get backpacking. (There are worst destinies to have, trust me.)
Note: I just want to clarify that I’m using “backpacker” here to mean “a person who travels for an extended period of time, keeps all their possessions in one bag, and typically stays in hostels or other shared accommodations.” I never actually had a backpack (that one up there is Simon’s), but I hope you won’t hold that against me.
Once I’ve fallen asleep, it’s hard to wake me up.
But hostels are always going to be about sharing limited space with a lot of people, and that means noise, any way you swing it. Deep sleepers certainly have the advantage here; life is a lot easier when every returning drunky, or fighting couple, or newbie traveler packing at 5am to go and catch their bus* aren’t waking you up every five minutes.
I pack to fit my suitcase, no matter how small.
My first two years in New Zealand, I used a suitcase that a surprising amount of other travelers considered too small. “That’s your only luggage?” they would stutter at me in disbelief. At first, I brushed it off, but eventually, these folks started to get in my head. This tiny suitcase! It would not stand! So I bought a bigger one, filled it to the brim, and promptly became a miserable human being (you know, more so than usual). After two weeks of dragging that monstrosity around Bali in sweltering heat, I was ready to chuck it in the ocean.
There are many lessons to be found here, probably, but I think the most important one is that I’ve got an appalling lack of upper body strength. Also: if it ain’t broke, don’t fucking fix it.
I’m not picky about my laundry.
Nearly every hostel or caravan park will have washing facilities, but their availability will be limited. You may not have four separate washers all to yourself, or time to run multiple loads. It’s a heck of a lot easier to throw it all in together and, you know, hope for the best.
Also, the washers will invariably suck, regardless of how you use them, so there’s that.
If nothing else, you’ll want a solid day to let any washed clothes dry completely; dryers in hostels are notoriously bad and I’d rather have dirty clothes than ones that have been packed up still wet. (Consider this when showering just before departure, as well — do you want to pack a damp towel?)
Also common among hostel dwellers: shower washing your most recently worn underwear. Convenient, only takes a couple of extra minutes, and ensures you always have at least one clean (albeit maybe slightly wet) pair.
I don’t have a strong sense of smell.
Same thing after our bus went through Rotorua — nicknamed Sulphur City and known for its eggy aroma. Everyone else complained it had seeped into their clothes. Me? Nothing. I assume they were telling the truth, but you couldn’t prove it by me. (This also makes putting off my laundry a lot easier, come to think of it.)
Of course, when I had to share a hostel room with seven guys, one of whom had shoes you could smell from the balcony? Nothing could save me.
Have you ever gone hostel backpacking? Did you have any issues or challenges not addressed here? How did you deal with them?
* Don’t be this person. Trust me, this advice is the greatest gift I can give you (and your future hostel roommates): if you have an early departure, pack the night before.