Travel cliches and rites of passage: Life of a backpacker in their 20s

The world is your oyster! Let us know your favourite places and your travel troubles.

The world is your oyster! Let us know your favourite places and your travel troubles.

Your 20s are good for many things: going to uni, leaving uni; starting a band, leaving the band; sinking yourself into debt with a poorly thought out car purchase; breaking into a professional career; and travel.

Most importantly, travel. This is your chance to see the world solo for the first time, to discover its thrills, its beauty, its joys and its dangers. It's a time to meet new people, make new friends, and find out as much about yourself as the world around you.

It's also a time to go through a few rites of passage. If you were a passionate traveller in your 20s, then there's every chance you would have done most of these…

Spent 30 seconds staring at the Mona Lisa

Mona Lisa: Not all she's cracked up to be.
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Mona Lisa: Not all she's cracked up to be.

This momentary appreciation for the world's most famous work of art would have been part of a flying half-hour visit to the Louvre, most of which was spent trying to find the room that houses the Mona Lisa, and then trying to get out.

Got ripped off by a cab driver

This is a rite of passage for any young traveller who thinks they know everything about the world, and then suddenly realises how extremely easily they've just been duped by a guy who looks like he could be their grandfather.

Haggled someone out of 20 cents

Western travellers have a troubled relationship with the art of haggling, either wimping out and refusing to even engage with the process, or going the other way and finding themselves battling it out for half an hour with some poor guy over what's effectively 20 cents. A bit of perspective is handy.

Suffered from a Chang-over

Suffered a Chang-over in Thailand? Us too.

Suffered a Chang-over in Thailand? Us too.

A "Chang-over" is what happens to most backpackers on their first trip to Thailand, when they go out and drink heroic amounts of Chang beer with the foolhardy assumption that it will affect them the next morning in the same way any other beer would. The result is not just a hangover – it's a Chang-over. Prepare yourself.

Slept with someone they would never even speak to back home

This doesn't have to be a source of regret. Travel is all about trying new things, having new experiences. If that includes a night or two with some weirdo whose Facebook friend request you politely decline the next day so no one ever knows what you've done, then so be it.

Taken a bus tour

There's no shame in this either. Bus tours are great. When you're first starting out travelling, when you have no idea where you want to go or what you want to do, when you just want to meet other travellers and have a good time, then a bus tour is ideal. I did my first one around Europe when I was 17 – no regrets.

Done "The London Thing"

Dressed as a kiwi bird on Waitangi Day in London? You're not the first.
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Dressed as a kiwi bird on Waitangi Day in London? You're not the first.

These days the "London Thing" – the chance to spend a few years living and working overseas – isn't just the London Thing. It's the America Thing, the Whistler Thing, the Dubai Thing, and plenty more. It doesn't matter where you go, as long as it's not the same as back home.

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Performed some sort of menial task in order to live the dream

I spent four months picking fruit in Scotland, six months cooking for drunken bus passengers in Western Europe, four months flipping burgers in the US, and about a week as a deckie on a boat in southern France, all to keep the travel dream alive. You do what you have to.

Thrown up in an exotic location

Travel in your 20s isn't solely about drinking and partying; but some of it is most definitely about drinking and partying. That's why most of us have got a story about the time we overdid it in Croatia, or Peru, or Mexico, or Korea, or somewhere equally exotic. Oops.

Made a mental commitment to never conform to "the system"

Don't you love the twenty-somethings that swear they'll always be free spirits?

Don't you love the twenty-somethings that swear they'll always be free spirits?

Pretty much everyone gets so caught up in living the travel dream at some point that they become inspired – usually at about 2am in a hostel bar somewhere – to declare that they will never go home, will never conform to the world's job-mortgage-family expectations, will continue this wandering life of freedom and enjoyment forever. And then the money runs out.

Adopted a foreign affectation

It's kind of cringey to look back and realise that your carefully curated foreign accent wasn't fooling anyone back home, or that those Thai fisherman pants just looked ridiculous, or that you really couldn't pull off that Che Guevara-style cap.

Given up the dream of property ownership

Most of us have a choice in our 20s: knuckle down and save for a home loan deposit, work hard and set ourselves up financially for life; or travel. I'm comfortable with my choice. Mortgages are for your 30s.

Fallen for someone with a foreign accent

When you're living in the travel bubble it can be very easy to confuse an exotic accent with charm and charisma, or an actual connection. Sometimes it takes weeks, or months, or even years to realise that that French/Italian/Argentinian/whatever accent is about the only thing the other person has going for them.

Travelled overnight by bus and considered it a good idea

The first time you take an overnight bus it seems like a stroke of genius, like you've hit on a way to travel from place to place and save on a night's accommodation. It's only once you arrive in a foreign city at five in the morning with an aching back and no hostel to check into that you realise the flaw in your plan.

Suffered a serious case of "ABC"

First cathedral you see in Europe? Incredible. Beautiful. Amazing. The second one is a little less so, and the third one even less than that. Pretty soon these centuries-old religious edifices are just "ABC": Another Bloody Church.

Asked your parents for money

Few people go travelling with the intention of hitting their parents up for money to get them out of trouble. But it always happens.

What do you think most travellers do in their 20s? What did you do?


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