These Malaysians want more people to give backpacking a try

By | December 1, 2022

For most of us, a thirst for adventure is why we explore foreign lands.

Regardless of what stage of life we ​​are in, there is no denying that deep down there is always a desire to see and experience something new and escape any stressful situation that we constantly find ourselves in in our daily lives.

Backpacking, at least for some people, is considered a good way to temporarily relieve stress, as it helps to unload any negative thoughts, replacing them with good feelings and new experiences.

This style of travel is quickly gaining popularity again in today’s post-lockdown world, as more people start to embrace the world as it is, without all the trimmings and curated experiences of luxury tours. Not to mention backpacking usually costs a lot less than other styles of travel.

Furthermore, some people also find that backpacking adds that extra “zing” to their lives. Perhaps this is the reason why many younger travelers prefer to travel this way.

Backpacking gives you a sense of freedom to explore as you chart your own path, without the constraints of a monotonous routine, says artist Lisa Anthony, 27, who loves backpacking.

“Backpacking simply means ‘living with a backpack.’ I get emotional not knowing what my next step is, where I’m going to sleep or what I’m going to do at my destination”, she says in an interview.

“I spent years living away from home, both to study and work. In fact, my interest in backpacking comes largely from living an independent lifestyle,” explains Anthony.

Anthony enjoyed backpacking through parts of Europe, where he visited Ghent, Belgium, a university town.Anthony enjoyed backpacking through parts of Europe, where he visited Ghent, Belgium, a university town.

Backpacking involves less planning too, says Anthony, and the flexible schedule lets you easily make decisions about where to go, what to eat and where to stay. “I can make my own plan without fear of letting someone down by not meeting their expectations,” he adds.

“I find pleasure in the spontaneity of on-the-spot planning. Usually, I only had a few things set and confirmed, like the length of my visit, airline tickets, and how to get around. That’s what I did on almost all of my backpacking trips – I took public transport or rented a car to get around,” says Anthony, who has visited 15 countries around the world so far. She prefers to backpack alone, but she also has no problem traveling with a small group.

free and easy

Senior Account Executive Michelle Chang, 27, also prefers to backpack alone. She thinks going on vacation with her friends is fun, but it doesn’t always give her a lot of freedom to do what she really wants.

“You can visit the usual tourist spots, but usually nothing more. That’s why I prefer to travel alone or maybe with two other people, as it allows me to see more of the ‘unexplored treasures’ and experience more of what the world has to offer,” she says during our interview.

Chang prefers to travel alone or in small groups, as this gives her the freedom to visit what she really wants to see, like this Pink Cathedral in Da Nang.  —MICHEL CHANGChang prefers to travel alone or in small groups, as this gives her the freedom to visit what she really wants to see, like this Pink Cathedral in Da Nang. —MICHEL CHANG

Having the freedom to explore also gives you the freedom to eat what you want, when you want. Chang recalls his trip to Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam with his sister. After spending an entire day exploring the city, the brothers wanted to visit a local restaurant that served snails, or “oc dao” in Vietnamese. With the help of Google Maps, they found a store hidden in an alley.

When ordering, they noticed that the menu didn’t have any photos or descriptions in English. “It was all in Vietnamese. We tried using Google Lens to figure things out but to no avail as the results we got were ‘bike’ and ‘slippers’. The waiters were nice but they couldn’t explain or understand us.

“So we just tried our luck and pointed to a bunch of stuff on the menu! It was exciting, but also a little stressful at the same time,” said Chang.

When the waiter brought their orders, the sisters were relieved and happy that none of the dishes were too overdone.

“Every part of the experience was memorable and worth repeating. We ordered eight dishes and each one was wonderful. Even the price – we only paid RM60 for everything,” she said.

Going somewhere you’ve never been before warms your mind to experience new things and learn about new cultures and traditions. Anthony points out that traveling can also promote tolerance and understanding between people.

“You are more willing to accept other people’s opinions, even when they don’t align with your own. People can have completely different ways of doing something, but that shouldn’t stop us from interacting with them,” shares Anthony, adding that after seven years of backpacking, it’s now easier for her to embrace each other’s differences. .

new you maybe

Taking a backpacking trip, especially if you’re alone, can be daunting, but let the uncertainty of the journey push you forward, says Anthony.

Both she and Chang have a positive outlook on the benefits of the backpack, as the experience has given them the confidence to be independent and not be held back by fear.

Anthony, for example, is one of those people who often turns setbacks into opportunities. She shares, “You can put me in any country and I can figure out how to get from one point to another. Things don’t always go according to your plan, but being able to think for yourself and come up with a solution is a skill that can only be learned through experience, and I did just that. 🇧🇷

Chang once backpacked in Hoi An, Danang, Vietnam.  One of the attractions there is the boat ride.  —MICHEL CHANGChang once backpacked in Hoi An, Danang, Vietnam. One of the attractions there is the boat ride. —MICHEL CHANG

She talks about a time when she backpacked in Italy with her brother. “One day we missed the train, but instead of dwelling on the problem or ‘hoping it will fix itself’, we decided it was just another challenge and came up with an alternative plan.

“You’ll find that the windows are never completely closed and that we’re still able to find ways to (get out of a difficult situation) and create memories,” notes Anthony, adding that no matter where we are, we’re bound to encounter some setbacks.

For Chang, she says the language barrier is a common situation people face when traveling abroad, but that shouldn’t stop you from trying to connect with the locals.

“A lack of trust and an unwillingness to communicate will slow down and derail any journey. Believe it or not, some people prefer not to talk to other people who don’t speak the same language as them, for fear of miscommunication.

“Fortunately, after doing several backpacking trips, I have gained more confidence when it comes to communicating with the locals. I can ‘talk’ to people without worrying that we can’t understand each other,” says Chang, adding that hand gestures are also an effective communication tool.

There are also apps that can help you translate foreign languages, or you can go “old school” and get one of the many useful travel phrase dictionaries that can easily be found in bookstores.

And after connecting with the locals, it’s easier to ask for advice on where to go, places off the beaten track and without many tourists, for example. Or maybe even your favorite restaurant, the one that everyone goes to daily for a quick lunch or homemade dishes.

“What I love most about traveling is being able to meet people from diverse backgrounds, including locals and travellers. You would have a chance encounter with people from cultures different from yours. Remember to pick your brains for some street tips!

Anthony riding a dromedary while traveling through the Sahara desert in Morocco.Anthony riding a dromedary while traveling through the Sahara desert in Morocco.

“You can also have a nice chat with them, and that’s usually when you can discover some wonderful food destinations,” says Anthony.

Economically viable

While most people think that backpacking is a cost-effective way to travel, it’s actually not always easy on the wallet, especially if you like to travel last minute. Good financial management is essential as it all comes down to having an effective budget.

Of course, backpacking can sometimes be relatively cheaper than other styles of travel. For Anthony, most of the “savings” she usually does is on accommodation. Backpacker hostels and budget hotels are preferred accommodations for most adventurous backpackers, who prefer to spend their money on experiences and visits to memorable attractions.

Chang says cheaper accommodation options – and even ground transportation – are everywhere and easily accessible these days, as many are listed on apps and booking platforms.

Both she and Anthony agree that a stay at a higher-end, more expensive hotel is unnecessary, as you’d be spending most of your time exploring the place and its surroundings anyway. So really, you just need a place to store your bag, shower and sleep – a hostel is good enough for that.

Anthony reveals that she spent just RM25 per night on a capsule hotel while traveling around Sabah!

That said though, people who prefer to backpack are not “cheap tourists”. Chang says that while backpacking is a cheaper way to travel, people travel for a variety of reasons.

One, she notes, is seeing the world from a different perspective.

Most people travel alone, but some still prefer to have one or two traveling companions.  — KETUT SUBIYANTO/PexelsMost people travel alone, but some still prefer to have one or two traveling companions. — KETUT SUBIYANTO/Pexels

“Some people like to backpack not because they can’t afford it or are on a tight budget, they simply want to experience things differently (than what is usually portrayed in television, movies and media) and at their own pace. Backpacking helped me get out of my comfort zone and at the same time it helped broaden my outlook on life as well.

“Backpacking is like a bundle of learning and adventure opportunities where you are likely to stumble across many unexpected but interesting things. Learning new cultures is definitely an experience worth having,” she concludes, adding that Malaysia is a great place to start your backpacking adventure.

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