By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Jan. 7, 2014
Welcome back from your little holiday break. I hope you got a chance to rest and spend some valuable time with your friends and family—or I hope you got an opportunity to get out of the city, away from the hustle and bustle of the holidaze, and do a bit of travelling. When it comes to travelling, there isn’t an incorrect way of seeing the world, but with limited chances, it’s important to do it right.
Contrary to popular belief, backpacking across a city, country, or continent is no more dangerous than any other form of travelling. Just because you aren’t staying at a five-star hotel doesn’t mean you won’t have a good time. There is a freedom to backpacking that other forms of travelling can’t replicate. You move at your own pace and decide where and what you want to eat, sleep, and do. You push yourself to get to rural destinations and see the breathtaking National Geographic sights.
Moreover, backpacking allows you to constantly meet new and interesting people, the kind you won’t meet at a resort. It also enables you to be fully engulfed in the cultural experience—especially if you don’t have a translator. Suddenly body language and patience become so important. All the skills and ethics your parents tried to instil in you from a young age are applied while backpacking. It’s a very human feeling of completeness, not in the way buying a new car or a computer makes you feel complete.
Not many North Americans are born nomads, but there is a beauty in trying new things. Limited to a backpack full of essentials, backpackers can just pick up and go. In a way, backpackers are really the only type of legitimate travellers—others are just passengers.
Is there anything worse than being told what to do? In normal life, you are always obeying your teachers, bosses, or parents—why should you be so obedient on your vacation as well? Tours are traps for travellers; it’s a way for big companies to make money. Often, tours will usher you to a popular destination and allow locals to leech off of you, selling you knick-knacks and other novelty foreign garbage that you can bring home and show to all your domesticated friends.
Of course, tours are sometimes the only method of seeing certain attractions. But more often than not, the most attractive places are ruined by the sensation that comes with being on a tour. In 2012, I was fortunate enough to visit the Galápagos Islands. As a fan of science and Charles Darwin, the archipelago off of Ecuador was a place I longed to see; sadly the only safe and legal way of exploring the island was to go on a tour with a naturalist. Let’s just say that it’s hard to have an adventure when a law-abiding environmentalist is practically holding your hand the whole way. Sure, the trip was worth it and I got to see all I wanted to see, but the experience was tarnished by the fact that it was a tour.
Perhaps at a certain age, tours will be an acceptable means of seeing the world, but not in your 20‘s. Take this opportunity to see the world without a leash holding you back.