In the spirit of making lists, I thought I’d put together the 5 biggest frustrations I’ve encountered and continue to encounter whilst backpacking. Whilst most of this is tongue in cheek, there is an undeniable element of truth in these 5 points and I’m sure many backpackers will agree.
There are the general frustrations that all travelers have: the budget, the language barrier, etc. This post isn’t about those. Instead, it’s about those things that get under my skin on a cellular level.
This one is a 2 pronged issue.
The first is the issue of dirty laundry and what to do with it as you’re living out of one bag. I have issues with clean stuff touching dirty stuff (a condition that has lost its edge over the past 16 months, thanks to desperation). Furthermore, something happens to dirty clothes – it is like they expand and take up twice as much space as their clean counterparts – try zip up a bag with 2 weeks of dirty laundry – impossible! I’ve also taken up the age-old tradition of the ‘smell test’ – only put it in the laundry part of your bag when it smells bad enough to get the attention of strangers and random passers by.
The second issue is actually getting the laundry done. Despite Laundromats being a dime a dozen in both the Eastern and Western halves of the world, they’re all shit. If you want white clothes turning brown, send them to the laundry. It’s as if the guys wash your clothes in the river with rocks – they come out stretched and looking like shit (not aided by the fact an iron hasn’t made contact with my clothing in over a year). When this trip ends, I’m going to throw everything away and buy new stuff. It makes me think of when I went back to South Africa for 2 weeks in January. I asked a mate of mine to drop me at the mall so I could buy new clothes as the fear of bumping into anyone I knew whilst in my backpacking gear was too much to bear.
4. Hostels that require you to make your own bed
A massive irritation! I get that hostels are a cheap form of accommodation (unless you’re in Patagonia, in which case the same money would buy you a night in the Shangri La in Sydney) but that doesn’t mean you should sacrifice the fundamental basics. The thing that kills me is checking in and then the receptionist gives you a clean sheet, duvet cover and pillow case and you’re required to make your own bed.
Exactly what are the staff doing then? Granted this only happens 10% of the time, it’s enough to get my blood pumping and is enough of a reason to get me to go to another hostel. Make the bloody bed for goodness sake – apart from taking my money, it’s the least you can do. Making up the top bunk is one of the most difficult things you can ask a human to do – I nearly break my neck numerous times attempting to do this and inevitably end up sleeping in my sleeping bag because stuff it.
If you really want me to lose my mind, ask me to bring down my used bedding when I check out. I swear to you, it’s a miracle I’m not in a Colombian jail right now. Advice – you’ll pretty much need to do everything at International House Medellin Hostel.
3. Shit information
It appears to me that everyone thinks they’re an expert once they’ve gone somewhere or done something. For instance, if Joe has completed a day hike, Joe now thinks he’s the messiah – the best source of accurate information about said day hike. In reality, Joe is an idiot. It must be said that half of the travel bloggers out there are also full of useless information.
My advice to anyone considering a trip and is reading this is to double and triple fact check and don’t believe everything you hear. This is especially pertinent in regions where seasonality is important (i.e. summer vs winter. In Patagonia, things all but shut down in winter).
2. The Know It All
Aah, my favorite type of hostel dweller. This is the guy or girl that has been staying at the hostel for more than 4 days and sees themselves as the regular and attempts to regale all and sundry about where they’ve been and where they’re going.
Despite being an arsehole, they also suffer from delusions of grandeur. For instance, you’ll be sitting quietly eating dinner and the next thing this random sits opposite you and just starts talking. I’m a polite guy so I entertain this fool with a few nods of the head and “oh, really’s”.
You’ll hear all about the one time they were running through the jungle barefoot, hunting tigers with nothing more than a toothpick; or that one time their bus broke down in the middle of a desert and he saved the day with his shoe lace.
I encountered one such individual in Ulaan Batar who was sharing this story about how he was volunteering in the Gobi and staying with a local family, and all I could think of was how lucky that family was that they never understood English and had to put up with this verbal diarrhea.
The crazy thing for me is that everyone else (sane, likeminded individuals) can see the bullshit from miles away and avoid this character like the plague. You’d think they’d get the message, but no such luck.
1. The backpackers conversation
My number one annoyance. It’s that initial conversation you have with a backpacker and goes something like this:
Me: “Hi, how’s it going?”
Them: “Good thanks, where you from?”
Me: “South Africa, you?”
Them: “Ah, cool, Nelson Mandela [or insert some other stereotype]. I’m from Germany”.
Me: “Where are you heading?”
Them: “Bolivia, you?”
And then we run out of things to say and never speak again.
I have this conversation 5 times a day and only 20% of the time does it materialize into a better chat. Granted, the 20% conversion rate makes it all the more worth it as the people you do properly interact with are typically very interesting. I guess this conversation, as annoying as it is, serves as a very effective bullshit filter.
Alright, writing this actually felt cathartic!
Cheers for now.