I am a terrible backpacker.
I travel with an 80L bag with wheels. And I still pack way too much. Fitting it all inside my suitcase is like a lesson in advanced level Tetris. My technology bag alone, which holds everything I need to maintain a working mobile office, outweighs a well-fed toddler. And we won’t even begin to discuss the black hole that is my purse.
Some days, when it’s hot outside and our hotel doesn’t have an elevator and the check-in line at the airport is a mile long, I kind of wish I could be more like the people who’ve managed to fit all of their worldly possessions into a single carry-on.
But as nice as that sounds, it just doesn’t work for me.
I like variety. I like not having to wash my underwear in the sink at night. I like having a spare shirt when I’ve covered the front of mine in chili crab or pho or anything I try to eat with chopsticks. I like having a comfortable pair of tennis shoes to walk the streets for hours by day and a cute pair of heels to drink cocktails at the fancy rooftop bar by night. I even pack my blow dryer. And my hot rollers. And my makeup, too. Because I’m a still a southern girl at heart and sometimes, after days of dirt and sweat and ponytails, I just want to feel pretty.
I know that some people will tell me that I’m doing it all wrong. That this isn’t the best way to travel.
And that’s okay.
Because the weight of my luggage is mine alone, and it’s easily balanced by the lightness of my heart these days.
I fail miserably at traveling on a budget.
I try. I really do. But I eat too much food. And I drink too much alcohol. And I have no interest in sharing a bedroom or a bathroom or a kitchen with anyone other than my husband, no matter how little it might cost. I will happily spend a few extra dollars for the peace and privacy of my own hotel room at the end of each day. Especially if it’s got a hot shower, cold air conditioning, fast Wi-Fi and a comfortable bed.
Some nights, when I track our daily spending and pay our monthly bills and watch the balance on our bank account drop a bit faster than I’d planned, I kind of wish I could be more like the people who’ve mastered the art of traveling the world on $50 a day.
But then I think about all the things I would have missed.
Like standing on top of a glacier in Franz Josef, and ringing in the New Year at a rooftop bar in Sydney, and rocking out live to The 1975 in Bangkok.
I find it impossible to pass up any opportunity that might not come my way again, regardless of the expense. And though our budget is far from luxurious, we’ve worked hard – incredibly hard – to earn some freedom and flexibility during this chapter of our life. Our days on the road are finite, and I want the peace of mind that comes from having no regrets, and leaving nothing worthwhile undone.
I know that some people will tell me that I’m doing it all wrong. That this isn’t the smart way to travel.
And that’s okay.
Because, in the end, the money I spend doesn’t matter when the memories I’ve made are priceless.
I don’t stray far from the beaten path.
I like museums. And monuments. And big, chaotic capital cities. I prefer history to hiking, and the arts to adventure. I turn to TripAdvisor daily and my copy of “1,000 Places to See Before You Die” is weathered and worn. I’ve even been known to join the occasional group tour. While other travelers are busy seeking out the undiscovered, my itinerary is filled with some of the most visited destinations in the world. I’m comfortable going where others have gone before me, and content in knowing that many will follow behind.
Sometimes, when I find myself surrounded by selfie sticks and frustrated by a massive mob of tourists more interested in the photo op than the sight itself, I kind of wish I could be more like the people who’ve bypassed the popular attractions in pursuit of a less conventional experience.
But then I remember that there’s a reason why millions of people flock to places like Angkor Wat and the Louvre and Machu Picchu each year. Because they’re awesome. And despite the crowds and the cost and the chance of disappointment, for some of us, this is what travel dreams are made of.
I know that some people will tell me that I’m doing it all wrong. That this isn’t the authentic way to travel.
And that’s okay.
Because I am not a perfect traveler.
I sleep too much. I plan too little. I travel too fast.
I’ve eaten at McDonald’s more times than I care to admit.
Some days I make mistakes. Some days, I get it right. But every day I’m learning and growing and, no matter what, I’m here. I’m trying. I’m pushing my limits and stretching my boundaries and doing everything I can to live a life without borders. On my own terms.
Because there’s no right way to travel or wrong way to travel. There’s just your way to travel and my way to travel.
And that’s perfectly okay with me.