Trudging through foreign lands like a turtle with your life on your back; not knowing where you will sleep that night; crashing on random people’s couches and ending up as BFFs; volunteering on remote farms and gorging on fresh organic food; staying at the cheapest hostel in town and exploring secret alleys with fellow travellers; surviving on risky but tasty street food; bussing miles of the unknown alone – this is the life of a backpacker.
It’s not as dangerous as it sounds – as long as you’ve got your wits about you and take precautions, you’ll have the time of your life. I honestly feel more at home when on the move, not knowing what I’ll be doing even in the next 30 minutes, than when I am comfortably home in Nairobi living a more predictable life. Could be the nomadic genes – I recently learnt that my ancestors were camel/goat/sheep herders in the Kutchh desert of eastern Gujarat, India.
There are some cool, rootsy “hacks” to exploring a place in a meaningful way. I am a dedicated CouchSurfer (and Host), an eager WWOOFer (World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, or Willing Workers on Organic Farms), and soon-to-be WorkAwayer. Through couchsurfing, travellers stay on the couches of local hosts for no fee except sharing something (could be tangible, like cooking food, or intangible, like experiences together during their stay). Wwoofers volunteer on organic farms, where they work for around 5 hours a day and are given accommodation and tasty fresh food in return, in the setting of a friendly community of earth lovers. I hear that workaway functions similarly to wwoofing, except that a range of skills can be offered by volunteers, ranging from tutoring to painting to teaching yoga. Finally, I am a loyal user of the Lonely Planet and Rough Guide books, which have provided me with essential tips about various locations, such as security, transport, accommodation, currency, and activities.
Backpacking is more than a hobby for me; it defines the essence of my existence. Every dime of my savings is for this low-budget travel. When I forgo a night of partying, I interpret it as an extra day of travel acquired. I rarely go shopping for clothes, I have no thoughts of acquiring land or property (yet), I don’t splurge – everything I do is aimed towards travel. Why?
Reasons I’m an endless wanderer:
- The thrill of adventure
- Living in the moment = joy. When travelling, your mind is forced to remain in the present rather than dwelling on the past or worrying about the future. Presence of mind, I believe, is the key to happiness.
- The People – learning and sharing. I meet the most amazing, loving, good, and crazy people while backpacking. And every person I meet teaches me something and I share something with them. We depart having enriched our lives, and having changed, just a little bit.
- The Places – getting local. When low-budget backpacking, you can’t help but really get the local feel of a place. Rather than staying in aloof, fancy hotels, you make every effort to save and in the process you personally connect and bond with people, places, and experiences.
- Searching for home. I have never fully fit into a place or a community (see upcoming post Search for My Identity). The closest I’ve come is the community of creative, passionate artivists at Pawa 254 in Nairobi, and beautiful, cultural, festive, friendly Oaxaca in Mexico. One day, I believe I will find a place I call home and a people whom I can call my own.
Backpacking does not just mean foreign travel, especially when you are lucky enough to live somewhere like I do. My country Kenya itself is a trove of hidden gems for those who seek them out – from the dazzling Lake Turkana (largest desert lake in the world), to sublime Mount Kenya (second largest mountain in Africa), to chilled-out party town Mombasa (main port), to endless savannahs such as the Maasai Mara with the Big Five animals (lion, elephant, buffalo, leopard, rhino), to hot-springs and flamingos in Lake Bogoria, to rock-climbing in Hell’s Gate gorge, to the breath-taking Rift Valley, to the mysterious Mau Forest, to cultural Lamu (Swahili coastal town), to vast Lake Victoria (largest lake in Africa, largest tropical lake in the world) and its islands, to vibrant, artsy Nairobi (capital city) – and believe you me, this is just scratching the surface.
I owe some of you an explanation. A few times I’ve had to refuse requests to buy items while on a backpacking trip. The reason I don’t shop even for myself is that big ass bag you see in my photos – last time I was lugging around 17 kg, almost half my weight! After a previous trip, I presented my best friend and partner with tiny peacock feathers that I collected on a remote mountain, filled with the rainbow shades of my love. HOWEVER, if there’s a critical medical need, please let me know and I’ll do my best to find the medicine.
If you have any questions, whether on how to travel on a shoestring budget, how to stay safe as a solo (female, or not) traveller, how to travel in a spontaneous style with minimal planning, or for more details about Couchsurfing or WWOOFing, ask away in the “Comments” section below and I’ll get back to you.
Finally, if you would like to go on a low-budget adventure, whether local or not, hit me up!
Love, roots, and worn out boots,
The Endless Wanderer.