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First Time Backpacker
Quitting your job, packing up all your stuff, selling your car and leaving your friends and family ó how does that sound? After years of thinking and thinking I finally came to a point in time where I was ready to backpack across Europe. The first step was to get comfortable with the idea by talking about it, then researching it, then taking all the steps necessary to do the paperwork stuff. Thankfully, I had a close friend that had ventured out on her own before me and could offer me practical advice and needed encouragement. She helped me to realize that backpacking across Europe wouldnít make me a pioneer ó many people have done it, and Iíve never come across anyone who could say it wasnít a fantastic experience.

I went through the usual fears and concerns ó could I travel all by myself? Could I afford to backpack across Europe? Will I get too home-sick? What if I canít find a job? Will I get too lonely? Will I make any friends? Am I just being silly to want to backpack?

When I first started to research a European trip I discovered that my friend was right ó backpacking Europe would not make me a pioneer. There is loads of information on the internet and in travel guide books. One book that really helped me feel like my trip was possible was Lonely Planetís Western Europe Guidebook. There are also numerous sites on the web about how to prepare for traveling as well as personal journals from people that have already be there, done that.

The most important thing in helping me to finally get to Europe was a clear mind-set. I had to think like this trip was completely possible and that it was completely normal for me to want to do it. For certain people, the life of a backpacker is not for them. People are driven by different motivators, you just have to stop and think about what motivates you. Is it a drive for success? Is it a drive for money? Is it approval by your family? Do you crave new experiences? Do you want to grow personally?

When you choose to become a backpacker for an extended period of time there are certain things that you have to sacrifice. But those things that you might have to sacrifice are likely those things that you really donít need anyway and, in fact, might actually keep you from doing so much more with your life. One really needs to discover what it is that will make them happy with themselves and their life. It certainly isnít an easy question but one worth spending some time thinking about. Living up to someone elseís expectations will never lead to a self-fulfilling life. You only live once and when years pass by and youíre not happy with where your life is or what youíve done, no one else will take the blame. Itís up to you to go after what you want. Some people already have that way of thinking and going backpacking is no big deal. For others though, such as myself, itís a huge step that is complicated with many fears. You have to make yourself happy because no one else is going to do it for you.

It was definitely an odd feeling deciding to backpack for a couple of years. Quitting my job was scary because although it was not a rewarding job it did pay rather well. My family thought I was crazy for wanting to do this. Everything was so uncertain. What I learned is that life is totally uncertain anyway whether you make plans or not. You can make plans but no matter what, you have to be open to change and be willing to deal with the unexpected. How exciting would it be to know exactly how your life would turn out, to do exactly what you had planned?

Thank goodness my friend met me at the airport. I hadnít slept on the night flight mostly due to a crying baby in the next isle, but it was great to see a very familiar face in an unfamiliar country. Right from the beginning it was discussed with my friend that meeting up with her at first would be as a visit and for any needed advice. It is very important to go out on your own and discover things yourself. Thatís the greatest way to learn. Nobodyís experience is going to be the same. Itís your own unique experience to have.

Not knowing where youíre going to stay or what job youíre going to have can be rather nerve racking but itís all part of the experience. Things usually work out with time. Itís weird to say that Iím unemployed. Usually the first question people ask you is what you do--What job do you do? Being unemployed almost makes you feel like you have a limited existence. When you meet people who are doing the same thing you are, it actually starts to become somewhat comical. You just have to remain optimistic. Life is meant to be enjoyed. Your enjoyment will come out of the work-in-progress, not the end result.

By: Judi Michaud
June 2003

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