Editor’s Note: Katie Christoff is a junior journalism major spending her fall semester in Maynooth, Ireland, sharing her growing cognizance and her adventures.
Traveling is a hobby for some, while for others it’s a way of life. I’ve been living in Ireland for about a month now, but it took my first stay in a hostel to realize this truth.
In my last column, I encouraged studying abroad as a great way to break out of your comfort zone and learn about the world. In America, that seems to be the only opportunity young people have to see the world. In most other countries around the world, this is not the case.
I recently took a weekend trip to Belfast, where I stayed in a hostel for the first time and met people from all over the world – Australia, New Zealand and Canada, to name a few – most of whom were not studying abroad, but backpacking.
As I talked to them about their travels, I quickly realized that this was a lifestyle to which I was completely unaccustomed. These people are completely on their own in a foreign city every day, living in a rapid cycle of making and leaving friends. They were all friendly and eager to get to know each other because meeting new people was their way of life. For the time being, they had no place to call home and no friends except those they met along the way – something I can’t decide whether I’m terrified or envious of.
Either way, this lifestyle intrigued me. Since I still have such little experience with travelling myself, I decided to interview Belle Power, a girl I met at the hostel from Melbourne, Australia. She is 18 years old and backpacking by herself for six months – the perfect person to offer travel advice.
Katie Christoff: What made you decide to take this trip?
Belle Power: Basically, I just couldn’t imagine going straight from high school to university. I needed a break from studying. I’ve always wanted to go travelling and this seemed like the perfect time.
KC: What has been your favorite part about backpacking?
BP: The spontaneity. I’ve always lived quite a sheltered life back home. I was very comfortable in my bubble and was never particularly independent. I think this trip has forced me to mature a lot because I’m totally responsible for myself but also I get to have fun and plan where I’m going the night before I’m there. It’s been a surprising trip and I’ve surprised myself at times.
KC: What are some of your best tips about traveling on a budget?
BP: Supermarkets become your best friend. I’ve started traveling with plastic forks and spoons in my bag for when I want to buy a pre-made salad for lunch or tubs of yogurt for breakfast. Also, to avoid paying for washing all the time, I have my own packets of detergent and wash things in the sink with that. To be honest, most budget travel things are pretty obvious – you learn to live off less and you get used to it.
KC: What has your experience been like traveling alone?
BP: Really great, actually. I was anxious at first but within the first two days of being by myself I met four really lovely Canadians. Then each new place I went I just kept meeting new people and making new friends and you realize you’re not the only one who’s by yourself or the only one that wants to make friends. Travelers are almost always really friendly because they want to meet new people just as much as you do.
KC: Why would you encourage people to take a trip like this?
BP: I’ve just really enjoyed myself. I obviously know it’s not for everyone, but I’ve actually had the best time. I’ve met dozens of new friends from all over the world and I’m hoping to stay in contact with them and visit in the future. I’ve definitely caught the ‘travel bug’ and I’m already planning trips for next year and the year after.
If your program of study doesn’t allow the opportunity to study abroad during your time at UD, backpacking is an even better way to get out and experience the rest of the world – if the opportunity to leave the country for a few months ever arises.
I have an upcoming backpacking trip planned myself, during which I will visit Paris, Milan, Rome, Barcelona and London over the course of 10 days. After meeting people like Belle, who do this for months at a time, I’m still having trouble imagining living out of a backpack for just over a week. Traveling can be both exciting and nerve-wracking, but after talking to Belle, I’m trying to embrace it as a way of life rather than a hobby.