It’s hard to stop travelling once you have been bitten by the travel bug. And, unless you have deep pockets, discovering new places is a distant dream when fuel prices are steadily moving north. However, even today backpackers continue to travel, carefree and not burdened by accommodation, reservations or tickets.
Says Kochi-based Johann Kuruvilla, who freelances as a writer, social media influencer and travel guide: “Backpackers are people who travel independently with a low budget and live out of a backpack.” While backpacking continues to be popular with hikers and campers, many youngsters are hitting the road with a backpack if they happen to be on a tight budget or want to have an immersive experience of the places they are travelling through.
It was the road movie Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvannabhoomi and various travel shows that inspired Johann, to pick up a knapsack.
“I read a lot of travelogues of backpackers and I carried out their suggestions with a trip to the North East. I have stuck to this style of travel since as I found it the best way to thoroughly soak in a place,” he says.
Bangalore-based R. Niranjan Das, a blogger and travel writer, who has “done numerous family trips, package tours and group travels”, says backpacking helps you break away from the beaten-to-death tourist itineraries, while for city-based George Easow, a techie, it was his elder brother who got him hooked to backpacking.
Says Jithin S., a former marine engineer currently based in Kannur: “Backpackers, I feel, tend to be more of travellers than tourists. They look for authentic experiences rather than tick-off destinations, monuments and attractions. I enjoy a place more when I explore it all by myself.”
Money, they say, is saved via careful travel plans, choice of accommodation and dining, sticking to the daily budget and the like. Staying at star hotels and dining at Michelin-starred restaurants are big no-nos. Instead it’s Couchsurfing, hostels, camping and even railway platforms and so on for accommodation. Staying with family (no matter how distant the relationship is) and friends (even mere acquaintances) also go a long way in cutting costs. Dining is usually on street food unless there is a stove to cook on.
As for the mode of travel, while Nirajan prefers backpacking road trips on his motorcycle and has completed a 78-day road trip across Himachal, Ladakh, Kashmir, Uttrakhand and Punjab recently, the rest say travelling by foot, hitch-hiking and public transport is what they opt for.
“During my last trip, walking seven to eight km was a daily affair. It’s cheap and gives you the real look and feel of the place,” says Jithin, whose last backpacking trip was 45 days long.
“I had three goals in mind. One was to meet a few friends in Agra, second was a trek in Sandhakphu and third to travel by one of the longest train routes in India. I added plans on the go and visited Agra, Patna, Aizawl.... The trip concluded at Fort Kochi. I spent just ₹38,000 for the trip,” he says.
A lot of research goes behind each trip, right from how to move around, where to stay, what to eat and most importantly what to experience.
While train tickets and air tickets are booked in advance, accommodation and local travel modes are done on the go. “I plan a rough itinerary and keep modifying it as and when required to suit my travel. When visiting certain places like the Himalayas, you can’t really predict the weather and must be ready to shift or change plans with regard to the weather,” says George.
The backpackers stay in touch with their family wherever there is connectivity. Barring George, who is active on Instagram, the rest share their travels and adventures on their travel blogs.
What’s in their knapsack?
Everything from clothes (to suit the climate) to gadgets (laptop, camera, phones) to biking gear to travel guides to medicines to toiletries. Their backpack is well packed to take care of all the requirements during their travel.
Next on the list
Niranjan intends to backpack and ride across Rajasthan and Gujarat post the monsoon.
George is keeping his fingers crossed for a backpacking trek in the Kashmir Valley.
Johann is undecided on his next destination. “It could be Kerala, India, outside India. I’m open to anything.”
Jithin is debating on whether he should backpack through the North East of India or head for Vietnam.
Do not reach an unfamiliar place at an odd hour.
Divide your cash into different compartments.
Knowing a bit of self defence helps.
Respect the people, culture, traditions... when travelling.
Keep your medical kit up to date.
You can read Nirajan’s blog on Tales of a Nomad, Johann’s on escapinglife.com and Jithin’s on trablogger.com