Backpacking is in
Written by Unity Line   


Backpacking, or low-cost travelling with a backpack is a popular way to visit other countries, also very exotic ones. Veteran backpackers have methods to reach the furthest places on the globe, but they say that a smile and openness is the guarantee of getting far and great adventures.

Backpacking gives freedom. It is, first of all, the physical freedom because everything you need you have on your back with hands-free. Then there is the mental freedom to change your plans and direction any time. Backpacking is a form of independent travel that is not for everyone but gives back close contact with foreign cultures and nature. In the time of easy access to all-inclusive holidays, an independent hike with your belongings on the back can be an attractive and enlightening experience. Any inconvenience is rewarded by the authenticity of the experience, which seems to be the ultimate goal of the travel.

Be like a backpacker

Backpackers are people who travel on a low budget, independently, and for long periods of time, often to countries that are not popular with tourists. They sleep in dorms, hostels, and under the roof of people they meet. They hitchhike, use cheap public transport and other available means of transport, usually the ‘economy class’. They eat cheap or cook themselves with local products. You could risk a statement that such holidays are more effort than relax but backpackers agree that this is a lifestyle, not a form of vacation.

People have been travelling for pleasure and to learn new things for hundreds of years. In the 17th and 18th centuries, aristocrats undertook a trip of Europe to learn the world (called the Grand Tour). At the verge of the 19th and 20th centuries, first scout movements were established that longed for contact with nature and to verify their self-reliance. As the demand creates supply, the first youth hostels were organised for them. The tragic developments of the first half of the 20th century limited the possibilities of free and relatively safe travel. As soon as the dust of war settled, the backpacking tradition was reborn even stronger.

Hippie DNA

The current vogue for backpacking is mainly thanks to… the hippies. In the 1960s and 1970s, they travelled the hippie trail between Europe and South Asia. Driven by the hunger for freedom, contact with pristine nature, and intercontinental cultural richness they reached local communities and learned their customs only rarely focusing on traditional sightseeing. This alternative form of travel limited virtually solely by funds was a kind of manifesto, too. With their journeys so different to the suitcase vacations of their parents, they expressed their anarchist and counterculture ideals.

The desire of authentic travel experience, self-reliance, and independence are the residues of hippie ancestry in backpacker DNA. Backpackers, just as their predecessors in the 20th century, deny the system and prove that individual travel with the belongings on your back is a unique experience far superior to holidays with an activity organizer. ‘My first time with a backpack on the road was like a curtain went up, an illumination after a long sleep,’ Recollected Maciej Niełacny, a backpacker who has been to thirty-five countries on four continents. Still, he and others warn that it is not for everyone.


The unbearable lightness of being

Holidays are there for taking a rest. For some, it means lethargic lazing around till midnight at home (finally time get some sleep!); for others, a sunny afternoon at a hotel swimming pool with cool drinks and invigorating water. For backpackers, it is something completely different: the promise of adventure and contact with others, often accidental but decisive for following developments. With this form of travel, you need to rely a little on other people because they show the way, help communicate with authorities, or offer a roof for a night.

For some, though, it is difficult to leave behind comfort or even luxury even when backpacking. The literature describes two variants: poshpacking, or travel with a backpack and substantial funds to pay extra for hostel services or real restaurant meals; and flashpacking, which is gaining in popularity among geeks and those who have to be close to a laptop or tablet. You could question whether it is still about the ‘authentic experience’ but it certainly is better than being a couch potato.

Backpacking surely is not for everyone. It is a lifestyle, not a holiday trip. Not everyone can handle long hours on the cheapest bus or cold nights in an uncomfortable bed of a half-star hotel. Those who are not bothered by it are sure to have the adventure of their lives. For those who are not ready for a lonely trip, backpackers have a piece of advice: leave your comfort zone and smile at a stranger on the street. This will be the first step towards a great journey.



Interview with Maciej Niełacny, the Guy With Spinning Top, a traveller, backpacker (

Why the spinning top? Is it your talisman, an ice-breaker?

It all started when I wanted to take it on my first trip, take a few pictures and write that I spun it on Crimea. Years have passed and now the spinning top actually is an excuse to talk to people I meet. It attracts children and adults just as well, although for different reasons. Children often are the first people I meet in a new place because they are naturally curious. When you are accepted by a child, the whole home, street, and eventually village gets to like you.

What is always in your backpack, regardless of the destination?

A smile and positive attitude. And the spinning top; I don't go anywhere without it. The truth is I take less and less equipment with time. It is a matter of experience and knowing yourself. I know what is necessary, what is deadweight, and what I can get at the destination. But the will is what counts the most. If it's strong, nothing can stop you from reaching your dreams.

Your first backpacking?

A grand ad-hoc journey ending on Crimea. During the preparation, I came up with a three-day itinerary, which I didn't use because the trip took a month. I didn't know how to pack, had no currency, and tried to figure out the Cyrillic script more than read it. I started in Warsaw and ended up in Kiev without any idea where I would sleep the night. I tried to think of the safest place and came up with a cemetery where I spent the first night. Later I learnt about couchsurfing and took off to Crimea. First by train then bus, but the further I went, the more problems I had. A six-hour distance took me three days. I was really overwhelmed and was thinking seriously about going back. I decided to try to hitchhike for one last time. The first car passing by, a white Lada, stopped and took me to the steppe. It is an amazing place: various shades of blue and emptiness. On a hill, I saw a wild white horse with golden rays suddenly exploding from a previously cloudy sky. It is a kind of beauty, the incredibility of communion with nature you won't get on any commercial trip. That was when I asked the question: did I really drop out of school and my past life? At that moment I decided I would continue dreaming and pursuing my dreams.

Any formidable moments? It couldn't all be fun and games.

I was kidnapped in the Sahara. A guy who gave me a ride told me after fifteen minutes' chat that he kidnapped me for ransom and wanted my passport. Eventually, I gave it to him but unfortunately, it turned out I was just a Pole. He wouldn't get much for a Pole so the whole endeavour was a failure. Besides we had a good time talking. Finally, I ended up on his cousin's wedding party and everything was fine.

For you, backpacking is a passion, a way to live.

There is a difference between travelling being a style of life and even a long holiday trip. I chase my dreams. It is a matter of choice. Some people buy perfumes, a new car, or a boat, others follow their dreams like me. As a child, I had three dreams; I wanted to see stars in the Sahara, the ocean, and northern lights. I achieved it all. The travel made me more open to people. Before that, I was in a way a product of a suspicious society but all in all, we are all the same and should not be afraid of one another. We all have friends, love our families, and simply want to live good lives.

Would you recommend this form of travel to everyone? With belongings on your back and almost unlimited trust?

I believe if you apply yourself to a task, you can do anything. It is certainly a choice but maybe not an option for everyone. But even those who go ‘all inclusive’ can one day step off the trail and see a different world.

Here I am, standing at a bus stop before my first journey only with my backpack. Your last words before we part?

Smile at people and don't be afraid. Everything will be all right.


Six pieces of advice for beginner backpackers (or those aspiring to become one):

1.    Prepare

Don't get too attached to your plans but before you go to another country, read about it, about travelling there, and any formal issues.

2.    Take as little as possible

A light backpack means more freedom. Still, you should have the minimum equipment such as a light rain jacket and a mobile phone with a charger. It's a good idea to take some sweets and small gifts to give away to locals.

3.    Get to like couchsurfing, hitchhiking and tent sleeping

Look for alternative ways to move around and spend the night. They are cheaper and make it easier to interact with people around you. Be ready to suffer inconvenience. You may spend the night on hard, cold ground or a bench in a park. This is part of the deal.

4.    Keep your mind open and be ready for changes

Backpacking guarantees freedom and close contact with the genuine culture of the country you're in. Change your plans if you have an opportunity. You cannot plan an authentic experience from your couch.

5.    Smile and be friendly

Be a person you want to meet on your path.

6.    Experience!

Backpacking is an experience. Enjoy the moment!