How Independent Do You Need To Be To Travel?

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A while ago, one of my hostel guests came down to reception with a couple of shirts in his hand. ‘How do I wash these?’, he asked. First I thought this skinny looking German boy was joking. But soon I realised he was dead serious. ‘My mom always does that.’

He really didn’t have a clue of how a washing machine worked. After my thorough explanation (‘ehm.. put clothes in. Put soap in. Close lid. Turn on. Wait.‘), he came back twice more with pieces of clothing he didn’t know what to do with. Then I wondered: Is a world trip really the right moment to learn the basics of independent life? Wouldn’t he get more out of his trip if he didn’t have to worry about these simple things?

Learning On The Road

I guess there is much to say for both. First of all, you will have to learn these things somewhere anyway, so why not on your own when travelling the world? You will have to come up with creative solutions and ask for help, because there is no-one that will do it for you. Maybe you learn some of the most important rules of independent life much quicker while travelling. Who hasn’t seen the kitchen signs with ‘Please clean after yourself – your mum does not live here’?

Travelling On A Different Level

On the other hand, if you had known most practical things, such as washing, cooking a decent meal (that is not instant noodles kids!), how trains and maps work, etc., isn’t there so much more to gain from a world trip? You could spend more of your time talking to the people you meet on the road, sharing your past experiences and give back instead of just needing others to help you.

My Experience With Independent Travel

When I went on a solo trip the first time, I went to Japan and Australia for 4 months. I knew hardly anything about the world myself, to be honest. Having always have lived with my parents, I never had to worry much about cooking, the price of groceries and what else. I’d never had to live on a budget and didn’t think much about what I spend while being away. It was good in one way, because I literally didn’t worry about anything. On the other hand, I could have saved myself a lot of money if I would have known more about the cost of things, for a start.

Ignorance Is Bliss?

I must say that it sometimes cracks me up how little people know when they start to travel. But maybe I’m getting old. I overheard a tour guide explaining what cordial is and how you use it. Another time, I had a deeply concerned guest at reception telling me he thought his room-mate was doing cocaine. It turned out to be a plastic bag of laundry powder… These things make me also realize that going on a big trip should be all new and exciting in every way possible, doesn’t it? Most of the things I remember clearly from my first big trip were the simple things of finding transport to a hostel, getting to airports on time, making conversation with new people, exploring unknown supermarkets and the collective excitement of finding out whether your clothes got sized down in the tumble dryer.

Just Do It

My advise to everyone wondering whether they’re too young and/or inexperienced to travel the world: just go for it! See for yourself if you’re up for it. The adventurous amongst you can go on a world trip, but don’t feel ashamed of exploring the world a little bit closer to home, or sticking with just one country. Start with a country that is relatively easy to travel in. Australia and New Zealand for example are 100% independent backpacker proof, they have a lot of hostels, tours and activities aiming for your type of travellers, there is a lot you can do organized and you’re sure of meeting people that can help you out. These countries are really easy to find your way around in, but they are a bit more expensive than most countries as well. Another place that is buzzing of first time travellers is Thailand, It’s a little more exotic than the above Western countries, but very cheap and really easy to get around in.

Backpacker Basics

Don’t be afraid to ask people for help, watch and learn from your fellow travellers and you’ll master the skills of independent travelling in no time. Before you leave though, have a little understanding about the price of things, how big your budget is and maybe get your parents to explain a little about doing laundry and cooking potatoes while you’re at it. You go from freshman backpacker to graduate solo traveller in no time!

What do you think: Does your travel experience get better when you are a little older and wiser, or is a (world) trip the perfect time to master these skills?


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