17 moral dilemmas every backpacker faces
If you thought that backpacking was going to provide an escape from the tough decisions you face in your everyday life, think again. Sometimes your trip just feels like one long game of ‘would you rather’—but instead of fun hypotheticals like comparing the task of fighting 10 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck, you’re forced to tackle quandaries like whether you can afford something fancier than toast for dinner or if you can delay your laundry for another day or four. Here are the 17 toughest dilemmas that could easily throw any backpacker into an existential crisis.
Top bunk or bottom bunk?
A backpacker’s ultimate Sophie’s choice. On the surface, the privacy of the top bunk always seems like the more attractive option. But do you trust yourself to clamber all the way up there when you stumble back into the dorm at 3 am, and those six or so steps suddenly become a summit of Everest-like proportions?
Pub crawl or night in?
A potential crew of new friends is waiting… but so is a punishing hangover the next morning. There are a number of factors you need to take into account here. Do you have an early start tomorrow? How chronic is your case of FOMO? And how much budget do you have left over to invest in unnamed shots that taste like paint stripper? Decisions, decisions.
When do I need to do laundry?
I get it, washing your clothes is a hassle. And besides, there’s always that stinky dude across the dorm you can blame for any incriminating odours. But there’s only so many times you can splash a bit of soap on your underwear then dry them on the rungs of the bunk bed ladder before you have to look yourself in the mirror and duck down to the laundry room.
Is McDonald’s acceptable?
One of the best parts of backpacking is trying all the exotic foods you find on the road. But sometimes—especially if you’ve been subsisting on a diet of white bread, bananas and free hostel dinners—you just crave the warm, familiar embrace of a Big Mac. Now if only you could find a Timmy’s…
How much should I post on social media?
A daily dose of braggy travel photos is a great way of finding online followers, but losing real-life friends in the process. There’s only so many sunset snaps and hostel cocktails you can ram down people’s throats before your buddies back home rage-unfollow out of jealousy (well, if they’re as petty as I am, at least). Oh, but when you do brag online, don’t forget to tag #hicanada. Kthx.
How many episodes can I binge-watch before I kill the vibe of the common room?
There’s always that one guy with his noise-cancelling headphones on, his laptop plugged in to the only outlet, and a vacant look etched across his face as he saddles up for his sixth straight hour of Netflix. And sometimes, you just want to be that guy. You didn’t fly halfway around the world to watch TV but there’s no shame in watching ‘The One Where Ross and Rachel Take a Break’ for the 19th time.
Bus or plane?
Is it worth taking that twisting, turning, 24-hour journey jammed into some uncomfortable bus seat when an extra $50 could get you to your destination in a fraction of the time? Sober you says, ‘Sure, why not, $50 goes a long way on a backpacker’s budget’. Shame that frugal voice in your head goes missing after midnight when your credit card transforms into a magical source of Jägerbombs and rash decisions.
Should I use this toilet?
When you’re sitting at home just a stroll from your porcelain throne, it’s easy to convince yourself that you’ll never settle for a squat toilet or an outhouse. But when nature calls—well, when nature doesn’t so much call but scream—anything with a door and toilet paper feels luxurious. Or without toilet paper… or a seat… or a door...
Do I really need to pack that?
A spare pair of jeans? Yup, because denim’s not that heavy. Extra toiletries? Of course—they might not have supermarkets overseas. My going-out shoes? Duh, the hostel common room is a veritable catwalk of haute couture.
All-nighter or early alarm?
The cheapest transport often coincides with the crack of dawn, which raises a dilemma that separates the dorks from the daredevils. An early night is clearly the sensible option, but where’s the fun in that? Not missing your flight, I guess
Is that ethical?
If you’re asking the question, you probably know the answer already. No one needs a selfie with a sedated tiger or a tour gawking at a slum. But there are always some grey areas. Should you give your change to beggars in less fortunate locales? Does taking the bus leave more of a carbon footprint than taking the train? Fortunately there are loads of ways to travel sustainably to ease the burden on your brain.
Organised tour or go solo?
If you’re time poor but cash rich (ha), then dump your bag in the back of a van and let someone else do the organizing. The risk? You get stuck sitting next to Trevor, a tax accountant from Winnipeg who insists on talking you through the finer points of his antique spoon collection. And there’s always a Trevor.
Can I eat that?
A hostel’s free-food shelf can be a treasure trove of culinary delights… or a pit of products older than some of Trevor’s spoons. The fridge, though, is where the moral dilemma pops up—a virtual buffet of ingredients clearly labelled with the owner’s name and departure date. Would grabbing a sneaky spoonful of someone else’s Nutella really be so bad? Yes. One hundred percent the worst.
How much do I need to call home?
Some people FaceTime their moms every day when they’re backpacking. If you’re one of those people, thanks for nothing—you’re setting an impossibly high bar for the rest of us mere mortals, who consider the occasional ‘I’m alive’ text once every couple weeks or so to be adequate communication with our folks.
Should I get a travel tattoo?
No. Nup. Never. Your mom would agree, if you ever called her.
Could I get away with having sex in the dorm?
Also no. In fact, this one isn’t even a dilemma. The answer is simply no—bunk beds are squeaky and sheets don’t muffle sound anywhere near as effectively as you hope they might. This is what private rooms are for.