It’s official, I’m old! I think I’ve been old for quite some time, but I didn’t want to admit it. I recently celebrated a birthday, my 41st. So now I’m no longer 40…..I’m in my 40s. It sounds so much worse than just saying you’re 40. I have to admit, 20 years ago this blog would have been the total opposite. I would have wanted to join the backpackers and stuff all my crap into a nylon bag on my back and travel the world on $2-3 a day. 20 years ago something like that appealed to me. See the world with everything you need attached to your back! Today….I hate them. I can not stand backpackers! They permeate all the tourist spots, but think they’re doing something non-mainstream and oh so alternative. Just because you’re standing at the Eiffel Tower with a yoga mat strapped to your leg for sleeping doesn’t make you any different than the woman who’s there with her family and staying in a comfortable hotel. You’re just a tourist who’s cheap as hell!
I have lived in Europe, the backpacker’s mecca, and watched backpackers from all countries pass through my beloved Madrid. I have had to endure their paying with change at McDonalds and their refugee-like behavior on the sidewalk in front of the Prado. I have had to hear their loud banter in Plaza del Sol and watch them throw up late on a Saturday night on a Huertas street corner because it’s the first time mommy has allowed them out on their own and they couldn’t handle it. I have walked past backpacker hostels and seen them sitting on the steps with their white-boy dreadlocks and their clove cigarettes, trying so hard to be “alternative.” I have had to sit next to them in fast food restaurants, where their musty odor overpowers the smell of my Whopper, trying to fit myself into the booth that is occupied by their overstuffed packs filled with dirty socks and marijuana.
When I moved to China, the phenomenon followed. Thankfully, it’s more difficult to get a long term visa for China, so they were fewer and further between. They WERE still there, however. They permeated the fake markets and the parks in Shanghai. They cramped themselves (ginormous pack sticking out) down narrow paths in the gardens in Suzhou. They stank up the public beaches in Sanya and looked like tiny sherpas as I watched them climb the Great Wall.
Unfortunately, I have moved to another backpacker haven; Southeast Asia. They are rampant in Singapore, and I’m reminded of life in Europe. They seem to be everywhere, pack strapped on, that I want to be. I ran into 2 of them at Subway in Raffles Hospital today! Why?!? What are they doing at the hospital? I have to admit, it’s near Arab Street, which is a cheaper place to find accommodation and food. That’s where they fester; cheaper, run down, wrong-side-of-the-tracks type places. These are the homes of the backpacker. Unfortunately, they can’t leave their pack here during the day (it WILL get stolen), so they carry it with them…..all day…..everywhere. Crowding me on the MRT, blocking me on the sidewalk, stuffing the elevators and stinking up the Sephora on Orchard Blvd.
I do think it’s important to travel, and it’s admirable that these people want to do it when they’re in their early 20s. I think it’s important to see the world and see how other people live; experience the culture and become part of the neighborhood. But there are much better ways to do it! You’re already spending mommy and daddy’s money for the trip, spend it on a decent hotel, one with a shower and where you can leave your bag during the day. Treat yourself to some good food once in a while. Wash your clothes!! Be considerate of others when you’re twice your normal width due to an overstuffed pack. Don’t be loud in public places…..it’s not a jungle, it’s only Starbucks! Just because you’re a young traveler doesn’t mean you have to ACT young. Most backpackers act like 15-year-olds when they get away. Be mature!
Like I said, I’m old, and I’m owning my age. I like comfort and I like people around me to respect that comfort. I will never again stay in a hostel, nor will I ever again travel more than 2 hours on a bus. I am happy to spend my money for the decadent luxury that I feel I deserve. My idea of “roughing it” is staying at a hotel that doesn’t have 24-hour room service! 20 years ago things were different, I would have been envious of the backpackers, but now I just wish they would STAY OUT OF MY CITY!!!