20 little things I miss most about travelling
International flights remain grounded. Backpacks are gathering industrial quantities of dust. Feet have become insufferably itchy. As the global lockdown enters its umpteenth month, backpackers continue to wonder when we’ll next be able to hop on a plane to the other side of the planet and experience everything that makes travel worth doing. From free hostel breakfasts and familiar accents in far-flung lands to just, well, people—remember people?—these are the 20 little things I miss most about backpacking.
The sensation of fernweh
No matter what weird feeling you find lingering in your heart, there’s a German word to describe it perfectly. Stick this one into Google Translate and it pops out as ‘wanderlust’ in English. A more accurate translation would be an ache or a longing to visit a faraway place—a permanent affliction for most of us, and one that COVID has removed our ability to satisfy.
A spare seat next to you on the plane
Or, even better, the entire row. Business class, who needs it? Although at this point of the pandemic, who are we kidding—we’d leap into the middle seat sandwiched between a pair of unshowered and fresh-out-of-the-ring professional wrestlers if it meant a trip abroad.
Sure, sometimes it feels like those back-of-seat entertainment consoles have nothing to choose from besides 2 Fast 2 Furious and Mr. Magorium's Wonder Emporium. But there’s something about watching a terrible movie on a tiny screen two inches from your nose with headphones that have to be held in the jack juuuuust so that just builds the fidgety, jetlagged excitement for the destination at the other end.
When your backpack is the first thing to roll off the luggage carousel
And that smug swagger as you walk away like a VIP and nod at every single flight crew member within a visible radius.
Those lost-in-translation moments
You reach the metro station. The map is so complicated it may as well be a schematic of a nuclear reactor. You turn to the nearest person and work up the courage to perform your perfectly rehearsed “do you know the directions to…” in the local language, only for the grin across their face to communicate the fact that you’ve just garbled a whole mess of gibberish. You cringe. They laugh. Good times.
Those not-lost-in-translation moments
Same deal, but your delivery is so perfect that you spend the next half hour giddy with confidence in your flawless linguistic skills, 100% certain that stranger thought you were a local.
The inside knowledge at hostel reception
The brains behind the check-in desk are a font of good advice. Their algorithmic-like radar for recommendations is so finely tuned and weirdly personalized, it’s like they somehow combine the power of both Google and Spotify but for local bars and with an intriguing accent.
Walking into a dorm and having the pick of the beds
Top bunks. All the top bunks.
COVID-19 is the enemy of spontaneity, and the ally of routine. Wake up. Mope about the fact that a trip overseas feels as remote as a trip to Mars. Go to sleep. Repeat. Take me back to those carefree travel days where the extent of your planning was that list of bar recommendations from the guy at hostel reception. Speaking of…
Boring days that turn into epic ones
How many times have you woken up in your bunk with an empty to-do list only to return that night having stumbled upon some hidden beach, a hole-in-the-wall street food joint the guidebooks have never heard of, and a room full of pub crawl companions in the hostel common room? Spur-of-the-moment adventures and near-creepy levels of happenstance, how I miss thee.
Free hostel breakfasts
Because cereal just tastes better when you didn't pay for it.
“So where are you from?” is one tedious conversation I don’t miss. But beyond the small talk lies a cast of colourful characters each with their own tall travel tales to tell, and that community of five-minute friends is one of hostelling’s great joys. Also seeing new humans in three dimensions is pretty neat.
Thumbing through the hostel bookshelf
There’s always way too many copies of Marching Powder, Eat, Pray, Love and German-language Lonely Planets that look English but never are. But every so often you’ll stumble upon a dog-eared copy of a classic that becomes your new best friend.
Foreign grocery stores
You can keep your sky-diving and your bungee jumping—for me, nothing beats the thrill of walking through a Mexican supermarket and bearing witness to the dozens of Dorito varieties that grace the shelves.
Hearing a familiar accent
Hearing that telltale hard R on a ‘sorry’ will perk up any Canadian’s ears anywhere in the world and immediately start a where-you-from conversation that drills down to a neighbourhood level. Even if you hail from opposite sides of the country, you still somehow feel like cousins. See also: spotting a Canadian flag patch sewn onto your bunkmate’s backpack.
When you’re travelling, every single pic you post on Instagram rakes in hundreds of likes from jealous friends stuck at home. Now that we’re all stuck at home, think of all that sweet, sweet social media affirmation that’s going begging.
Getting mistaken for a local
“¿Dónde está la Puerta del Sol?” I haven’t got a clue, señor, I’m just flattered that you thought I might know.
The life lessons
You don’t need to pack that fourth pair of jeans. Plans are overrated but your mum’s cooking isn’t. Don’t trust the dodgy guy with a gold tooth who insists he’s the wallet inspector. Nuggets of wisdom only life on the road can impart.
Successfully ordering something off the menu
International menus can be a minefield. But the rush of clenching your teeth, spinning the roulette wheel and receiving something better than tripe stew or fermented herring makes the most delicious meal of all.
The countdown until your next trip
The only taste sweeter than that offal-free dinner? Your next international trip after so long in lockdown. Normally you have butterflies in your stomach en route to the airport. The next time you dust off your passport, those butterflies will feel more like pterodactyls. The sights. The sounds. The spontaneity. When travel gets back to something resembling normal, we’ll never take it for granted again.