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How To Deal With Backpacking Surprises

Backpacking offers situations from the most mundane to the most surprising. There’s no way you can prepare for everything. But. You can set yourself up for favorable outcomes. Abhijeet Deshpande shares three anecdotes, each ending with a tip. Read on for ideas on how to deal with backpacking surprises.

South East Asia

Ice Buckets: Kick the Comforts

Navita and I reached Roing after a long, land-journey from New Delhi. It is a small town in the Himalayan Arunachal Pradesh, a northeast Indian state bordering Tibet. We hadn’t had a shower in a few days and the near freezing weather prompted us to ask for hot water. But the person at the reception answered our inquiry with blank looks. Given the local practice of going up to the rivulet for bathing and washing needs, it was a luxury to have any form of running water inside the hostel room. That too in the dry winter of December.

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When visiting forests or sparsely populated areas, where availability of food or potable water can be a challenge, we usually carry an electric kettle. It comes handy to boil water for drinking or to make instant noodles. In Roing, we tried using a boiling litre from our kettle to mix with icy tap-flow. Alas, a fluctuating low-voltage supply refused to power up the appliance and we reluctantly embraced the bone-chilling, ice-bucket challenge.

To reduce the shivering after-effects, we just stepped out in the sun for a hot cup of tea. For the rest of our time in the region, we cut down our bathing and made friends with ice buckets.

Backpacking to remote locations constrains the set of available responses. Gadgets that work flawlessly in urban homes might not in local conditions (for instance, due to a fickle power supply). Whatever your situation, while backpacking, be prepared to kick comforts out of your itinerary.

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Hold that Drink: Be Safe and Responsible

Recently, I explored Goa. After traveling solo for a few months, I felt like sharing social space and checked in to a dorm with two others – an Ecuadorian and a Spaniard. We met few other solo travelers and soon enough, it became a party. A few drinks too many and I crashed on the beach. When I woke up the next morning, I could not locate my day-pack (that had a few valuables including my wallet with all cards, driver’s license (DL), etc.). The Spaniard too had lost an expensive neoprene waterproof bag with similar contents.

The hostel staff helped us liaison with the administration, since a copy of the police’s statement would help to claim insurance or secure a duplicate DL. After spending that day and the evening mourning the loss, to our delight and chagrin, the next morning we stumbled upon the bags under our dorm beds! Since we had thoroughly checked before filing a police complaint, we had no recollection of how the bags got there.

Anyway, it brought the unenviable job of owning up the folly and apologizing to everyone who’d kept us company through the previous evening and eventually requesting the cops to cancel the complaint. Shit happens. It could have been worse. Goa police was helpful and professional.

It is fun to get drunk sometimes. But, watch yourself too. It took a false alarm to remind me to drink responsibly, especially when traveling solo. Wherever you go, be safe and aware of your environment.

Frog tastes like Chicken: Go Local

Few years ago, I went dining with two other fellow travelers in Bangkok. The menu card was Mandarin and the duo took the job of placing the order. When the meal was served, I noticed a large bowl of curry with a frog floating in it! With its face immersed, its limbs slit at the joints and stretched wide, it was a repulsive sight to hold. While I darted my eyes across the restaurant to avoid looking at it, an array of thoughts took over. It is food; it is cooked well; it might be rude to refuse; you wont die; you wont vomit.

I observed how my friends helped themselves with portions. Yet, sometimes, observing is insufficient. My hands quivered to cut the amphibian’s smallest limb. From another bowl, I generously poured rice over the ‘meat’ before scooping it in my mouth. The rice-coating did not last long before I felt the tiny piece, smeared in rather spicy curry, with fragments of crunchy bones underneath. And surprise, surprise!

The meat tasted like chicken. Encouraged that I did not vomit, I helped myself to slightly bigger second serving, cut from its torso. Things got better thereafter. Since that evening, I have tried them skewered and roasted or fried. And for that matter, few other peculiar items too.

Backpacking to any location is incomplete without immersing yourself in local culture and tastes. Whatever is served, just know that food aversion is not impossible to overcome. Accepting diverse food makes travel fun and helps to connect with people too. Be willing to go local.

As a first-time backpacker, you might travel to popular urban areas of the world, to a beach, or to the depths of a forest. Wherever you find yourself on your next trip, be open to new situations. You might discover things about yourself that you never imagined. Surprises can be pleasant too. Welcome them.

Do you have interesting anecdotes and surprises from your backpacking trips? We would love to hear from you (please scroll below to leave a comment).

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40 thoughts on “How To Deal With Backpacking Surprises”

  1. Oh My God! It’s really fun (and gross) when backpacking. I am sure you are fond of doing that. It is a great way to experience new things.

  2. The adventure push you out of your comfort zone. But, these are the times that you will know yourself better and makes you overcome some fears. Thank you for writing helpful article.

  3. Being a vegetarian, except food i can compromise with everything else. But i agree one needs to be flexible when backpacking. Good post!

  4. I agree! I personally tried eating frog thinking it’s a chicken! My uncle tricked me.
    After that, I’ve been trying all the exotic food I encounter when I travel. I even ate live octopus in Korea!

    1. Oh my. That was some trick your uncle played. Haha. But its amazing how it opened up a world of cuisines for you.

  5. Your experiences and stories with backpacking were wonderful to read. I am adventurous and would love to backpack around with my husband after our kids are grown.

  6. What amazing experiences you’ve had! I find it such a relief to just let go of concerns and worries and enjoy traveling and what’s around me. Thanks for sharing!

  7. Life is full of surprises, indeed. I agree when you travel to other countries you will be surprised and amazed. Thanks for these tips.

  8. There’s a lot of exotic food in Bangkok! and travel with different countries makes you enjoy and a lot of fun because of their different cultures I really want to experience that someday!

  9. While backpacking SEA, I have always avoided eating just about anywhere. My body is built to last endless bus rides, back-breaking motorbike rides, crazy-scary tuk-tuk rides. However, I have a very weak tummy. I just can’t go eating just about anywhere. However, I have to admit, staying in Vietnam taught me so many things and I was able to immerse myself although completely but the point is I have tasted many of their local cuisines and I have gone local almost always! Am a big fan of your blog, always a nice read.

    1. Thank you so much Sheena. Appreiciate your sharing and how you have been breaking the comfort zones! Keep us that wonderful experiential spirit.

  10. I’ve never been backpacking before and not sure at this stage of my life that I will. But I will tell you that I will never try frog. I don’t eat meat.

    1. We hope you continue to travel Heather, backpacking or not 🙂 We have found some of the vegetarian dishes and flavors also surprising, so our lesson is coming from trying out local taste.

  11. I never tried backpacking, because I’m quite uptight during my travel. I know that it wasn’t for me, but going local is such an amazing experience.

  12. Ntensibe Edgar Michael

    Hehe…. I always love surprises! They brighten me up and help me rearrange my thoughts about situations.

    Good one here.

    Thank you for sharing. Much love.

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