“Now backpacking,” the random girl I met on the train begins, “…it’s all about the layers.” With a smile and a wink, the girl with the grown-out highlights and greasy roots lifts up her jacket only to find a dingy sweater, and then a long sleeved shirt that has a couple holes that look suspiciously like bite marks, and then another shirt that may or may not have been found on the ground. Although I’ll admit, a lot of backpacking has to do with layers, it also has a lot to do with being really dirty and hanging out with people who have a good chance of being serial killers.
After my first year of college when I was 18, my good friend Fiona called me up one day and asked, “Hey, would you want to backpack across Europe with me?” It’s probably a good thing that at this point in time, I wasn’t thinking very clearly, because I said yes. I had never been on a plane alone, never been to Europe, hell, I had never even been camping. I think that this can be categorized with jumping in with both feet. Even still, though, I stuffed my clothes in an old backpack my grandma gave to me and Fiona and I ventured off to London, Edinburgh, Amsterdam, Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Rome, and Paris.
I remember before I left that I was complaining to my mother that I was sick of getting clean, getting dressed, and putting makeup on every day. AHA. I was lucky if I got a shower in every day when I was roaming abroad. Even though I am a big fan of yoga pants and lame t-shirts, I have never taken showers for granted since.
But I digress. Being backpacking is not like studying abroad, not in the least. As much as I love being abroad and having the chance to explore Italy, to live in beautiful Florence and walk by the Duomo each and every day, studying abroad is a pretty commercialized and is basically glorified tourism with a lot more drinking. If you haven’t noticed, sorority girls are all about going abroad (aka being international sluts) and mostly everything is planned out for you, from the study abroad student trips to the classes held all in English to your advisor being up your ass every ten minutes. In a way, this is nice. This is safe and it is stable. But it is not backpacking.
When someone tells me they studied abroad, my thoughts may wander to, Lucky for you that Daddy’s car sales have been good this year. But when someone tells me they backpacked, I know that they slept in a lot of dirty hostels. I know that they were lost most of the time, they washed their clothes in the sink, and they may have picked places to visit by picking up a map, closing their eyes, and pointing a finger. I know that instead of figuring out what the best drink specials were in their city of residence, they’re probably pretty good at falling asleep on cue in bus stations and don’t mind getting a little dirty.