The Dirty, Uncomfortable side of Backpacking

Below is a snippet from a journal entry I wrote after a extra long day while on a three month backpacking trip in Europe with my best friend. Please understand that this journal entry does not reflect every aspect of backpacking, which is a truly beautiful experience. It simply attempts to tap into the parts that people don’t often hear about: the dirty and the uncomfortable.

If there was ever a day that I was glad to see behind me it would be today. My hands, simultaneously sticky AND dusty (sounds impossible? It’s not), fumble for euros in an stuffed-to-the-brim bag. They’ve been overused and under-efficient for the past few week. These hands of mine…grasping at poles and stranger’s arms for balance at the metro, scratching at jeans clinging to sweaty legs, as my lungs attempt to sift through the stagnant air for something that resembles oxygen. I look that at my hands, red and sweaty, sitting in my lap. They are under-appreciated, I crack my knuckles with an unexpected pang of sentimentality. I’m alone out here. My family, my friends, my bed is all back home. I’m out of my comfort zone that I didn’t think existed. Random thoughts like these cross my mind more often than not these days. It must be part of being foreign, of being homeless, of being “free.”
This, my friends, is suburban camping. Props should go out to the city girls regarded as prissy and spoiled, with no knowledge of the “real world.” These cities are sticky jungle-gyms. Camping on a mountain or in a forest is much less mentally challenging. There, you face the elements — massive, dangerous, and perfect. Here, you face faulty man-made elements — wobbly, dirty… questionable. Take this metro I’m sitting in, for instance, we’re packed like sardines into decade old technology, rattling and bouncing us all the way to our destination.
I am nauseated from the influx of fatty foods and dead form a lack of caring. I don’t want to be here. The worst part of this day, this entire trip, is that it was completely pointless. It’s just another think to check off my bucket list — some more pins for my map. I’ve been wasting energy and time doing nothing of any use to anyone. Sure, I’ve explored and followed my whims. I’ve eaten what I wanted and dance when I felt like it. Sure, that was nice for this first week, but I haven’t been of any use to society in two months. I’ve consumed everything (sights, foods, hospitality) and produced nothing. I want a purpose. I want to go home.

But see, nobody ever tells you this when you hear about their glamorous backpacking trips around Europe. This is not what they Instagram. This is what they cry to their parents about during those 2 AM phone calls using a public phone at the train station, but never never what they’ll post about on Facebook.

So here’s the dirt truth of traveling on a budget: your boundaries will get crossed, whether by other humans or the situations you find yourself in. You will make it out alive and you will have beautiful memories to share. You will absolutely hate it, but you will learn about yourself and probably wouldn’t trade it for anything.