There are so many times while travelling – especially when you’re alone – that you can’t help but ask yourself that very question.
More often than not there are so many people around you in hostels, hostels, museums, sights and attractions, who are all in the same shoes as you and seem to have done so much more than you! There are guys and girls the exact same age who have been travelling for the same amount of time or even less but have been to so many more countries and have way cooler photos and stories. I’ve found that there’s always an edge of competition amongst backpackers (not to be sexist, but particularly the guys).
“Oh, you were in Cuzco?! I was there last week! Did you go to [insert name of really obscure but cool sounding museum/mountain/ruins here]?!”
“Really? Shame, you missed out.”
To put it bluntly, these kinds of comments make you feel like shit. They make you feel that everything you’ve done, all the places you’ve visited and the sights you’ve seen are almost obsolete because you haven’t matched the list of Peter from Sydney or John from LA. But in reality all those things you’ve seen and done? They are pretty fucking cool.
It sounds ridiculous now, but during my first few solo trips I would always think that fellow travellers were judging me for silly little things like not signing up for the hostel’s pub crawl. Every time I stepped foot in a Pizza Hut or McDonald’s, I would feel so ashamed, thinking that the cashiers would hold their composure until I left, and then start sniggering amongst themselves about the gringa who can’t handle local cuisine. On the days where I did nothing but stay in my hotel room binge-watching Netflix and eating mass amounts of Pringles, I would contemplate what my friends and family back home would think – how they’d probably think I was so stupid for not making the most of the amazing opportunities presented to me.
What I’ve realised is that when you’re travelling (especially on an extended trip such as the one I’m on now), sometimes you don’t want to cram a million things into your day. Sometimes you don’t want to go to sixteen different art museums in one city just because the guidebooks tell you to. Sometimes you feel like you can’t possibly eat another empanada in Chile or paneer butter masala in India, so you turn to the likes of Pizza Hut or McDonald’s for the comfort of greasy Western food (and for the free Wi-Fi). And all of that is okay! It’s your trip, and so you can and should do whatever the hell you want!
In India, the friend I stayed with for the first few days insisted on doing something every single day. And not just one thing on each day – my days were jam-packed to the point that I was actually falling asleep while standing, I was that exhausted. He took me to an elephant sanctuary, bowl-boating and to a museum on my first day. On the second day he drove for 7 hours each way to take me to see the tea plantations of Munnar. On my third day he hired out a whole houseboat for me in Alleppey. He said that I was his guest so he wanted to make sure I got to see all the highlights. Don’t get me wrong, I had an absolute blast but in hindsight I am so glad it was only for three days; I couldn’t imagine how my body would have reacted had I stayed much longer. When I left his place and arrived at the house of a different friend, and he asked what I wanted to do that day my response was “absolutely nothing”. And you know what? It was absolutely wonderful.
When you’re non-stop on the move, sometimes you need to take a day out to relax and recharge your batteries. So missing out on the pub crawl or the wine-tasting event or the tour of a graveyard really isn’t such a bad thing.
Another misconception about what to do when backpacking is staying in hostels. I love hostels. The atmosphere, the social aspect of it, the free breakfast – all of it, I love it! When you’re travelling solo they can be such a blessing; sometimes you get lonely with your own thoughts and hostels are a great way to meet people and maybe link up with someone heading the same way as you. On the other hand, hostels can also be extremely overwhelming at times. Being constantly surrounded by people, sharing a room with 6+ others, having to queue for the bathroom and the horrendous snorers that always seem to be sleeping above you – it can all get too much. Which is why booking into a hotel every once and a while isn’t a bad thing at all.
I booked a whole apartment to myself for 5 nights in Santiago. At $25 a night it was definitely more than what I would normally be comfortable spending on accommodation, but Santiago was my escape from the ex and a so having an apartment to myself was definitely the best thing for me. Being in an apartment gave me a sense of being home. I had my own bathroom, a kingsize bed, somewhere to sit and chill in front of the TV and a kitchen to cook whatever the heck I wanted! On my first day in the city I just stayed inside watching Jane the Virgin and cooking copious amounts of pasta. No regrets.
On this trip I’ve been a lot more forgiving on myself than previously. I went to McDonald’s 12 times in India. I’ve been to the cinema to watch English movies in every country so far. I haven’t done something “tourist-y” every day. Because what I’ve realised is that I’m not on holiday right now. I’m still working and earning money wherever I am. I still need to sit down in a quiet corner somewhere for a few hours every day to complete a project or two.
This is not a holiday, this is my life. It’s the same life I had back in the UK, but it just has more planes, buses and immigration control in it.
When I found out that my ex’s new girlfriend would be flying out to Peru to meet him, I decided I would skip the country altogether. Then I thought long and hard about it and realised that would be silly, and I shouldn’t let them chase me out of my favourite country in the world. So I decided I would go there, but only to Trujillo and the North (a part of the country I haven’t yet been to but have always longed to visit), avoiding Cuzco, Sacred Valley and Arequipa (the only places they will be). Then I thought about it again and decided screw them, this is my trip, this is my life and I will not be mentally barricaded from two of my most favourite cities in the world! So screw the both of them and hellloooo Ciudad Blanca.
When you’re travelling, you shouldn’t have to answer to anyone but yourself. It’s your trip so you should do what you want to do. And if that involves 3 McDonald’s a day, only visiting 1 of Trip Advisor’s “Top 10 Things to do in Buenos Aires” and spending most of your time in bed watching YouTube videos, so be it.
The bottom line is, there is no right and wrong in how to travel, as long as you do it your way and have a blast in the process!