Put your books away and pack your backpack

Students choose backpacking as a way to travel

When Sheza Naqi went on a student exchange to Freiberg Germany last year, she decided the best way to see Europe while on a student’s budget was to backpack.

But her first experience didn’t go as planned.

“We heard that there was this huge festival happening in Amsterdam called Orange Day,” says Naqi. “It was apparently the party festival of the yearÉ we thought it might be a good time to see Amsterdam.”

But when she checked out popular student websites for good student hostels such as Hostel World or Gomio, she found there was no accommodation.

“Everything was booked, every single room. We started off at the hostels that were rated number one and number two and went all the way down to 50.

Almost giving up, her roommate mentioned a hostel to avoid. Despite this hostel being notorious among European students, Naqi simply asked her friend if the place was livable and eventually got the number from her friend, despite her friend warning her against it.

“When we got there, there was a smoke filled-room stinking of marijuana with a man sitting at the desk handing out joints and selling marijuana,” Naqi says.

And her rooming arrangements weren’t any better.

“Our room had 10 other girls in it,” she says. “They were prostitutes, potheads. The people there weren’t backpackers.”

After this experience, Naqi thought backpacking wasn’t for her. But her friend soon convinced her that hostels are, for the most part, a pleasant experience, and that next time she should just stick to the hostels that are mentioned on reliable websites and are rated quite high.

From then on, she did her homework.

“I want to know exactly where I’m going, I want to know exactly which subways I’m taking, I want to know exactly where my hostel is, and pretty much I want to know what I’m going to get out of this trip,” says Naqi.

Even though she had a rocky time at first, backpacking and staying in hostels ended up being a great experience. She said that it is best to take advantage of what your hostel has to offer you.

“Some hostels have free walking tours, best thing to take advantage of,” Naqi says. It’s a local person and they take you out to the good bars, they take you to the good hang outs and the good clubs, they show you the historical and tourist areas and they’re usually around your age or close to it,” while also mentioning that hostels also have bars within them for you to go meet other guests.

As for travelling through popular cities, she says it’s best to also visit the smaller cities.

“Some of the touristy cities are so exploited, so made up,” Naqi says.” Go t o the small places because it’s the actual place, it’s the actual culture, that’s the actual country.”

Also watch out for the contrasts in atmosphere between countries and cities. She said that going from a small, quiet university town in Freiberg Germany to a crazy, party atmosphere in Amsterdam, was a contrast that she was not ready for.

“That’s one thing you need to be prepared for when you go backpacking. You really have to know what environment you are stepping into, because if you don’t, you’re really going to be culture shocked. And you won’t enjoy the time you have there.”

Monica Pak, a third year University of Toronto student says when planning your trip, it is a good idea to assess the way you like to travel before you make any plans. She also backpacked through Europe with her best friend right after high school.

For her, even though she had booked a bus tour, she found that wasn’t the best way of travel for her.

“What we wanted was more a fly-by-the-seat of your pants kind of thing,” Pak says. “It ended up being a bit of a waste of money especially because it so cheap travelling within Europe so it might have been cheaper to fly initially or take the train.”

Backpacking is popular among students because it is more affordable than staying in a hotel or going with a tour group says Tracey Kelly, a Travel Cuts agent, specializing in student travel.

She says that there are many ways to prepare for a trip.

“Read a lot about your destination about the places you want and which cities are a priority to visit É and talk to a good travel agent who is familiar with your destination,” Kelly says while mentioning it’s a good idea to have a good guidebook.

Also, you must pack light.

“Basic clothing, a good pair of shoes, and something like an iPod to keep you busy on long train rides or overnight, it gives you something familiar in strange places.”

Kelly says that Europe is still a popular destination amongst students, as the most popular countries to visit are Italy, Spain and France.

But they are starting to see a bigger push for the more exotic destinations such as South America, Africa and Asia.

“Europe has been popular for so long, people are looking for something maybe a little more offbeat,” says Kelly

Kelly also mentioned that finances also have a lot to do with the popularity of the more exotic locations.

“In Europe, most of the countries use the Euro, and the Euro is quite strong compared to the dollar, whereas if you go to Asia you get more for your money,” she says.

This summer, Pak has decided to go backpacking through Brazil. She said that it was a toss-up for her and her partner Dan and finances played a huge part in them deciding their destination. They thought about going to Australia, Europe and even Asia but at the end decided on Brazil.

Pak also said that another reason why they decided to go to Brazil was because it was more exotic.

“That’s kind of what drew us. Europe you always feel like you’ll end up going there anyway,” Pak says. “Brazil kind of felt like we should do this while we’re young.”

About this article

By: Toronto Observer staff
Posted: Apr 24 2008 3:44 pm
Filed under: Features