I grew up like a lot of Americans do as I became a product of my environment. As children we take on the characteristics of our parents, friends, and community. My community at first was one of staying where you are and not really aspiring to getting very far away from where you started in life. This doesn't mean that people don't aspire to success where I grew up, they just aren't terribly interested in going very far away from where they began. Family is very important, and there seems to be a great emphasis put on getting married as young as possible and shooting out some kids at the earliest opportunity, thereby ensuring the fact that you are not going to go very far from home.
I'm not saying there is anything wrong with that life, I'm just happy that it isn't the one that I have and don't really envy the lives of my extended family that never did any sort of travel. Of my extended family, I don't think that anyone has traveled internationally outside of places like the Bahamas where you don't even need a passport to go there.
When the idea was presented to me about backpacking back in the mid 90's I have to admit that I didn't even know what it was.
I had heard of people backpacking through Europe but it has been my impression that this was still relatively expensive and for the most part it is. Therefore, after talking to a friend I set my sights on South East Asia where I had heard stories of exceptionally low prices on just about everything to the point where I didn't really believe that it could be possible.
When I first arrived in Asia, it wasn't possible because I arrived in Singapore and that city, while nice, is just as expensive as any medium-sized city in USA. I had been warned about this and was only there for one night and took a bus out of there to Malaysia the following day. It really was amazing how much the prices changed once we simply went over the border. It was pretty alarming how different the prices just a few miles after the border. I bet that is really frustrating to anyone that lives in Singapore!
Anyway, I probably made a few mistakes on my first backpacking trip because I seemed to be pressing on to the next spot before I even really dug into the place that I happened to be in but this was because my first trip was only 20 days - which as an American was a crazy amount of time to take off for a vacation. I started to feel a bit silly about my 20 day vacation when I would encounter Europeans who were on a "gap year" which is where they take an entire year off to travel and see the world. How they are able to afford this is beyond me, they must have wealthy families.
Even though i was moving overly fast from place-to-place there were a few standout locations like this cave temple in Kuala Lumpur
Even though I was moving what I now know to be "too fast" from place to place, I still ended up meeting people around every turn and while some of this has to do with me being an outgoing person in a general sense, it also is because staying in hostels was a new experience for me and staying like this kind of enforces that you are going to meet other people. I ended up meeting a bunch of people and talking to the over beers about where it was that they had been and where they were going to go next. Just like in the few movies you might have seen about this sort of thing, we ended up traveling onward together from that point.
It makes things a lot easier when you are in a group because when you get dropped off at your next hostel, you wouldn't otherwise know anyone. Since this was before the ages of getting everything online, a lot of your information about the area you are in as well as where you were potentially going next, had to be acquired from actual human connection and talking to strangers.
You spend a lot of time lost when you are moving around and that is fine because you have your crew with you. The idea of making a ton of friends while you travel was very foreign to me. In the past I had been on vacations in USA but this very rarely resulted in me actually deciding to move on to my next location with that group of people.
For the most part people in the states will travel to a location with family and friends and when they arrive there they will rarely, if ever, interact with anyone else at all. In retrospect this seems to be a very unfriendly way of traveling.
You see, when backpacking a big part of your travels that makes the entire experience so amazing isn't necessarily where you are, but the people you meet along the way. Even though this first trip was over 20 years ago, I still keep in touch with many of the people that I met on that trip to this day. Who would have thought that a backpack and a map could result in life-long friends? Well it does, and that is one thing that backpacking did to forever change my life.
That's just the tip of the iceberg though, because things that would happen later would truly open my eyes to life for people living outside of their home countries. But I'll save that story for another day.