When you’re a kid, everything is new. You don’t know what the grown ups are on about, you don’t know what’s edible and what’s not, what’s ok to touch and what will burn five layers of skin off. Who’s who, what’s what and why’s why?
Being a backpacker in a different country is kind of the same. Except this time you don’t have anyone to show you the ropes.
Facing the not knowing, again, can bring up all kinds of insecurities you don’t know what to do with…
1. “Will people like me?”
Not with that drippy attitude. Most backpackers who go travelling are after the times of their life, the stories and experiences that will keep them going for the next 40 years of office life. No good story started with the time they met this really boring person in a hostel who was totally insecure all the time. No. You’ve got to be interesting and fun, or at least, not boring. For the first few days anyway.
Look, there’s someone out there for everyone; you’ll find a friend. If you’ve managed to make a mate or two in England, you’re sure to make at least one travelling.
2. “Will I be able to sleep?”
Remember when you smelt nice, were bathed by mum, towelled off by dad and laid in your super clean bed? (Yeah I don’t either, but that ruins what I’m getting at). Well, there’ll be none of that when you’re travelling.
You’re going to have to get used to squeaky bunk beds, dodgy looking mattresses, and showers that a thousand people have showered in before, and perhaps, maybe, done other things too.
If you were one of those awkward kids who didn’t want to sleepover at Fred or Chloe’s house for fear of the unknown, you need to forget all that.
Sure, you’ll sleep, at some point. Probably on a beach, or a bus.
3. “Will there be anything I can eat?”
If you were a picky eater as a child you’re going to have to stop that. And I mean stop that now.
One of the best and most culturally immersive things you can do while travelling is to eat everything that’s put in front of you – whether you feel like it or not. There’s no one to bring the choo choo train to your mouth in your high chair now, you’re going to have to put your big kid pants on and grow up. Eat it!
If not, Pringles are universal.
4. “Will I be safe?”
No one to look after you now but yourself, is there? Mum and / or dad won’t be there to check you’re in at night, to check the windows and doors or under your bed for monsters.
There are lots of things you can do to be safe – don’t be an idiot, keep your wits about you, have a buddy, learn Muay Thai, be kind to locals, just to name a few.
If you’re going down the well trodden backpacker route round South East Asia you’ll only ever be as at risk as you are in the UK. If you’re going to the likes of Libya, good luck.
5. “I’m scared of all the new things – what can I do?”
When you’re confused as a kid you can just cry and the offending item will be taken away, or at least explained. And then someone will give you a hug and you know life is ok. When you’re travelling you’ve got to work out that kind of thing for yourself. There will be a lot of new things – that’s the beauty of travel.
If you really feel overwhelmed, take some time out to be by yourself. Book yourself into a cheap hotel and have some time to gather your thoughts and get some perspective. Go to McDonalds, stay in and watch Netflix, revitalise yourself, and you’ll be ready to hit the street markets, hostels and local bars in no time.
Just take it slow; only you know how much you can take.
6. “Where’s my muuuum?”
I really hope you don’t get ill when you’re travelling, especially if you’re by yourself. It’s so lonely. If you were five you’d cry and shout for your mum, but your mum is a thousand miles away. You need to stay strong and fend for yourself.
I was really sick for about three days in Guatemala, as in couldn’t get out of bed. Not one person asked me if I was ok. Get over it. (I never will).
It’s times like these that you’ll really get to know about yourself. If you can get through uncomfortable circumstances like this, knowing that it will end at some point, then you can bring that confidence to other parts of your life in the future.
7. “Nobody loves me.”
Feeling homesick can be hard. Log on to Facebook and you’ll see all your friends at that wedding you’ve missed or Pete’s 21st, and oh, they didn’t tell you? Sucks to be you right now.
Step away from the computer. Step away from the portal of doom and depression we know as social media. They would’ve loved you to be there too, but they have a whole lifetime of you ahead of them. This is your time to explore the world and if that means missing a party or two, so be it.
Take the initiative and phone them. It’s important to let the people you love know how much you miss them. They’re probably avoiding calling you because they don’t want to intrude. Communication is key to feeling loved.
8. “What did I do wrong?”
Confusion. I remember eating a sandwich on the Metro in Tokyo, BIG no-no. I also sneezed on the tube and a local handed me one of those masks. When you enter a new culture it’s so difficult to know what the new standard of right and wrong is. You need to learn all over again.
Also, someone might just ditch you. The world of travel is fickle. You could be best friends with Babs from Blackpool one day, and the next she’s off with Horace from Hull. It happens. When you’re travelling most people are just out for the most fun they can get for an airfare. Don’t take it personally.
9. “Where’d my family go?”
Eugh, getting left with a boring babysitter while your mum and dad went out all fragrant and merry to some party you didn’t even get invited to was the worst.
If you feel like they’re not talking to you enough, don’t be annoyed, just take initiative and get in touch with them.
With Facebook, Snapchat and all that lot these days it’s so much easier to talk to your family. Schedule a time every week and stay in touch. The more you talk to them, the more they’ll be able to talk to you. They might be feeling a little distant what with you having all these crazy adventures. Include them in your day to day.
Don’t forget to tell your family how much you love them either. You’re not a child anymore.
You can do this, backpackers. Time to see the world on your own terms.