Before I went backpacking, I was convinced that there was a right way to travel.
In preparation for my first trip to Asia, I stuffed my backpack full of tie-dye ‘hippy pants’ and long necklaces, determined to blend in with my fellow travellers. I got my hair braided on Khao San Road, turned my nose up at everybody I saw eating McDonald’s, and rolled my eyes when I saw girls in bodycon dresses stumbling out of bars.
I was the typical traveller snob.
I thought that because I wanted to travel for a long time, it meant that I knew more than all of the toned, tanned Swedish girls with their gel nails and eyelash extensions.
But I didn’t.
See, that’s the thing about long-term travel: you can try your hardest to be the traveller who you think you’re supposed to be, but sooner or later, the real you will catch up and you’ll feel like a fraud.
You might yearn to be that old backpacker, with the leathery skin, dreadlocks and endless stories, but don’t force it.
You don’t have to be a vegan just because you think that makes you a more authentic backpacker. You don’t have to wear tie-dye-everything because you think that you’ll seem more legit.
If you want to wear a tight dress and a face full of makeup, then damn well do it!
When I worked on Koh Rong, a small island of Cambodia, people expressed shock when I dressed up at night. If I wore red lipstick, or a pretty skirt, people would raise their eyebrows and comment on how someone’s dressed up!
I knew it wasn’t malicious, and that they were just expressing surprise because it wasn’t the done thing to wear makeup on Koh Rong, but rather than let it make me feel self-conscious, I just didn’t care.
I like wearing makeup and tight-fitting clothes. If I’m going out to a party, I could never go bare-faced in a baggy t-shirt and some hippy pants.
Fair play to those that can, but it just isn’t me.
The same goes for food.
When I first arrived in Asia in April 2015, I was determined to try all the Asian foods that there were. I would never have dreamed of eating Western foods, especially chain restaurants!
But after 6 months, or 12 months, or 18 months of living in a place, sometimes you want to eat something other than rice for every single meal. Sometimes you want a big fat pizza, or a steak, or whatever.
I now know that even locals eat Western foods. Just as, in the UK, we may order a Chinese or Indian takeaway, locals in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam will happily tuck into delights from all around the world!
There is nothing wrong with being yourself.
If you don’t like Thai food, don’t eat it! Of course, you should aim to try everything once, but if it’s just not your thing, don’t pretend to like it just because you’re scared of being judged by other travellers.
If you don’t want to wake up at 4am to see the sunrise over Angkor Wat (because believe it or not, it will still be there at midday), then don’t do it!
If you want to spend a day in bed catching up on all your favourite TV shows and eating Domino’s pizza, then be my guest!
There is no right way to travel, and there certainly isn’t a wrong way to travel.
Travel is what you make it, and if you spend your whole trip trying to be someone you’re not, then – spoiler alert – you’re not going to like what you find!
Most people soon come to realise that it doesn’t make you any less of a traveller if you still want to shop in H&M or eat Burger King once in a while, and those are the people that are worth being friends with!
What do you think? Do you think that there is a ‘right way’ to travel, or do you agree with me? Let me know in the comments below!