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5 Ways I’ve Benefitted from Backpacking

March 22, 2019

1. Backpacking taught me that who I am determines what I do, not the other way around.

Work is a fundamental part of life. For some, it is life. And that’s fine for those who love what they do and who chose their profession with much care and consideration. But many of us simply stumble into the thing that consumes our days. And even more are just trying to pay the bills. So how long until we become a product of what pays?

benefits of backpacking

(riding the Circular Railway in Yangon, Myanmar)

When backpacking, we find ourselves answering more questions about who we are rather than questions about what we do. We are forced to answer those questions, to discover what remains when the titles and incomes that define us day to day are stripped away.

2. Backpacking challenged my worldview for the better.

Whether it’s work, or simply the familiar, we all establish routines in our daily lives that make time move a little more quickly. We are immersed in cultures that we don’t even recognize as foreign to many, cultures that shape the people we meet and the experiences we have. We are conditioned, we are comfortable.

When backpacking, we are constantly being confronted by new information and our minds must work to process it, must decide how to respond and adjust accordingly. People and experiences are fresh and varied. We are constantly learning new things and are asked to defend or dismiss the things we already know. It’s an education. It’s exhausting. And it’s exhilarating.

benefits of backpacking

(local market in Yangon, Myanmar)

3. Backpacking gave me a greater capacity for empathy.

We live in a globalized world, but how much do we really know about our neighbors in this global village thrust upon us by technology? How much can we really learn through the veil of our computer and television screens?

When backpacking, we are able to make connections with people from all over the world based on the fact that we are together in the adventure, no matter where it may have started. We share in laughter and sorrow and realize that language can pale in comparison with the communication of souls. We learn to understand where other people are coming from, in the realest of ways.

4. Living on a little while backpacking made me realize how little I need to live.

We are surrounded by things. Things that promise to give our lives meaning but so often leave us emptier than their discarded plastic casings. Often, we aren’t even conscious of this betrayal. And so the hollowness is hard to place. It makes us bitter. It leaves us searching.

benefits of backpacking

(in the mountains of Ha Giang, Vietnam)

When backpacking, we are forced to shove as little as we can into a backpack and go. Our separation from the many tangible things that crowd our lives gives us a closer look at the intangibles. We come to understand what really gives life meaning and redefine our ideas about what’s essential and what’s expendable.

5. Backpacking forced me to exist in the present.

An old Buddhist proverb describes people that live in the past as being depressed, people that live in the future as being anxious, and people who live in the present as being content. Now, this doesn’t trivialize the importance of memories or of planning ahead, but the here and now must not be overshadowed by the then and soon to come. The present is the only place where we are truly alive, where we can really make a difference.

While backpacking, the present is all there is. We become skilled in the art of saying goodbye, of being grateful for what has passed without dwelling on it. There is simply no time. We learn to go with the flow of our adventure, unsure of what awaits us in the next place or with the next person. We trust in our instincts and miss far less than we would if we weren’t constantly digesting the world around us. Travel has made me a better person. Better for me. Better for others. Better for the world.

Meet the author.

Colleen Connolly

Canadian, 26

Favorite place I've been so far:  Nepal

I am a traveler turned nomad and a writer without deadlines. I first fell in love with living abroad when I went out West to British Columbia in 2012 and have since lived in the Netherlands, South Korea and Prague. I have backpacked everywhere in between and truly believe that travel makes us better people, for the world and for each other.

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