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She Teaches Hostelling 101


Backpacker demographics...

The majority of young backpackers are heartily trying to inhale life before they must commit themselves to the routine of school, work, or family responsibilities. Budget travel offers what no lecture hall can provide. The world becomes the biggest classroom without borders—you develop life skills that are essential to every human being.

There are others too who have taken on budget traveling in order to take a giant leap outside their comfort zone. A number of travelers I met were ones who had taken a leave from their jobs in order to rejuvenate and assess what the fuller picture encompasses.

Then there are others, both young and old, who are trying to inject a heavy shot of adrenaline into their lives. There are quite a few who are escaping broken relationships—either with partners or with their own families. The anonymity of backpacking provides temporary refuge as they ponder future steps.

Lessons I learned...

Want to be the backpacker who everyone wants as a roomie? Fly under the radar. Put on your best weekend houseguest behaviour and your fellow travelers will not turn on you or ostracize you. Nothing wrecks the serenity of a rainforest or ruins the beauty of a sunset quite like a traveler who drags a U-Haul truck of emotional baggage into camp. Being a relatively quiet person, I often find myself exploring ways to gracefully extricate myself from emotional vampires.

I don't mind listening to someone in distress but find it distressing when I am a captive and an audience of one. The level of disclosure that comes from strangers can be quite unsettling; I can understand this happening to priests, nurses or police but I'm none of the above.

It is hard to find an escape when you're out in the rainforest. So you either pretend that you're asleep or you sit under some tall tree, waiting for a cassowary (emu-like Australian bird with dagger-shaped claws) to come out to impale you. Not wanting to be a cassowary statistic, I sat and listened. I guess that's all people need sometimes.

This form of travel definitely isn’t for those who are germphobic or focused on luxury. From my recent journey in Australia, I learned that the potential finds of your exploration far outweigh the drawbacks of loneliness and homesickness that are apt to be part of the backpacking experience. Keep in mind that the rewards await and the adventures are always about to begin. Remember, you might have clear expectations but the best made plans always have a wrinkle that keeps life interesting and fascinating. Safe journeys, everybody!

Some storage tips...

Most hostels provide in-room locker storage; however, you must provide your own lock. If you use a combination lock, remember that you might be fumbling with it in the dark so have a good flashlight on hand.

A number of dorm mates would sleep with their purses, wallets, and documents in their beds. Not ideal, especially if you don’t know the others in the room. Better to store these items safely. Luggage should be locked, especially if you have precious items inside. Wear the key on a chain. Some people traveled with a bicycle lock that was used to secure packs to bedposts, etc.

For short term storage, some hostels will provide luggage rooms for a fee. Do not leave any food items in your packs as you do not want to return to see that vermin have ripped through your bags in their quest for food.

Cooking on the road...

If possible, gather a few people and share kitchen duties. Meal preparation need not be elaborate. Pastas, couscous, and rice are wonderful with a good stew or protein. Buy seasonal produce to keep costs down and only enough meat for one meal. One of the problems in hostels is food theft; some backpackers get into debt and then get desperate.

If you have room in your pack, travel with a Tupperware box (doubles as both storage or serving bowl) and your own cutlery. Eating a can of tuna with a disposable pen made me appreciate having a fork!

Purchase basics such as cooking oil, butter, soy sauce, dried oregano, and pre-packaged sauces. Save packages of sugar, salt/pepper, and ketchup from your take out meals. Food prep and cooking time should be brief. Others will be waiting for their turn at the stove.

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