If you seriously thought I could become a blissed-out backpacker just by the act of donning a pack, travel itinerary and tight budget, you were wrong. Part of the problem is that backpackers really get on my wick – I can’t be the only one, can I?

Vampire
My biggest problem isn’t with backpackers, but with the act of backpacking – by traveling across the world in a short space of time, dashing round the sights in any given place before moving inexorably on, we are basically just cultural vampires, and that sits very uneasily with me.

Somehow I think there should be more of a reciprocal arrangement, so that we leave having given something back or passed something on…something more than just money. I think this is probably a wa-y-y-y too lofty ambition, so I pose it more as a problem for all of us, and a guilt complex for me.

How far off the beaten track did *you* go?
All you travellers following the same well-worn cattle trail, please do me the decency of not pretending to have really discovered something new and unique. Furthermore, please don’t sit around in cafés and hostels competing to see who went the farthest off the beaten track. Just see your sights, take your photos and maybe concentrate on some internal development rather than playing at being Christopher Columbus on a budget.

There was this one time…
Don’t bore your friends, family or anyone who will listen with your travel stories when you get home: we don’t want to hear them and your photos are probably badly taken and massively under-edited. If a suitable travel anecdote presents itself in context with a situation we find ourselves in, offering genuine wit or insight, THEN you be a man of the world and lay a story on us. Otherwise shut up.

Haggle, haggle toil and trouble
Just because you’ve heard that haggling is expected, don’t angrily barter a poor trader down over a matter of pennies. You’re traveling to experience these countries and they probably badly need your tourist dollar. Yes you’ll get ripped off, but if you can afford it, so what?

Escapism and Buddhist repression
Travel may broaden the mind but I suspect it has an unfortunate psychological impact on many travellers, especially the younger and more inexperienced. Since you went away you’ve become someone newer, purer and happier, right? Or are you just running away from the darker sides of your personality?

In his book about traveling across India solo on a motorbike, A Last Chance Powerdrive, the author Benedict Beaumont (a friend) illustrates the same problem in another area: religion. In Part 3 of the book, he explains why he fell out of love with Buddhism, citing the latent anger many practising Buddhists are burying deep within themselves, and which can spill out at any time. The author is disappointed the first time he experiences the overflow of real-life human nature into his Buddhist life, but then he goes on to see it and experience other travellers chiming in with similar stories of this fundamental flaw with the religion (and perhaps all religions).

I think the act of traveling can have the same problem, so I say this as much as a mantra for myself as for other backpackers: don’t try to be someone you’re not. There’s nothing wrong with a yen for self improvement (that’s what this blog is all about, after all), but you’re still you, and getting a tattoo-kaftan combo isn’t going to change that. There are genuine things we can do to become better people but travel, in and of itself, isn’t one of them.

All that said, so far, I LOVE backpacking – here’s why.