Backpacking An Interview With David Lee

Ever wanted to go backpacking? I must admit it never crossed my mind when I was younger but I wish I had. The thought of being able to travel around foreign lands as I wanted to without the need for a second mortgage to pay for it, certainly appeals.

The freedom this type of holiday can give you is second to none and the life experiences you gain along the way are priceless. For the young it's a chance to see the world before things like family and debt start to take hold and for the more mature it's a chance to spread your wings and see the world anew.

As I had no experience of back packing myself I decided to ask someone who has years of budget travel under their belts, who would be able to give an insiders point of view and be able to answer some of those questions which could help you to choose this type of holiday for yourself in the future.

David Lee has traveled around the world, visiting 20 countries over 14 months and loved his new destinations so much he never returned home and is currently living in Colombia. I think you would agree he is the perfect person to tell us all about back packing. Enjoy the interview.

1. Hi Dave and thank you for giving us some of your time. I would like to begin by letting you tell us about yourself and how you first got into backpacking and for how long you have been doing it?

My first backpacking trip was the classic post-college summer in Europe. It wasn't even my idea, but when all my best friends started talking about it, I knew I had to join them.

Eurorail passes and trans-Atlantic flight tickets in hand, the 5 of us headed to Paris the day of the 2008 World Cup, which as soccer fans will know, was when France beat Brazil at home! It was a great way to start the trip, and while my friends all decided to go home over a month early, I knew it was a great opportunity and decided to continue traveling alone. I had a lot of adventures, met some wonderful people, and discovered a new sense of independence and self-reliability along the way.

2. What are the essentials in your opinion to take with you on your trips?

In the 21st century, I can't imagine traveling without a digital camera to capture the great landscapes and environments, as well as the new friends you'll make abroad. I am a big music fan, and I always like to have an mp3 player with me to ensure the soundtrack to my trip is matching my emotions. LED headlamps are more efficient than battery-operated flashlights and offer the added bonus of allowing you to use both hands to climb a temple or mountain in the pre-dawn hours.

3. One of the things which I imagine attracts people to go backpacking is the fact that it does not cost as much as normal holidays and gives you far more freedom of movement. However I have always wondered, just how much money would you say you would need to take with you for a two week trip?

This is a hard question to answer, as there a lot of variables to consider, from the country you choose to visit to whether you prefer to cook for yourself versus eating out in restaurants.

For example, a dorm bed in a hostel in Western Europe can cost $25, while a private room with bath at a budget hotel in India might be $5 per night. As a result, the younger and more budget conscious backpackers tend to head for the cheaper destinations. Latin America and Southeast Asia are very popular, while Europe, the United States, and Africa are often left for future trips because the costs of travel and living are higher. 

Another consideration when budgeting for a trip is an individual's style of travel. While one backpacker might be comfortable staying in 12-bed dorm rooms for 3 months straight, another might prefer to spend a little more money for 4-bed dorms in the hopes of getting a better night`s sleep each night. In addition to food, and accommodations, there are also decisions to be made about activities. Some backpackers are happy to spend their hard-earned money on lots of adventurous activities, while others on tighter budgets are satisfied to simply be wandering around the back streets of an exotic city, taking in the sights, smells and sounds of a foreign culture.

The best way to gauge the cost of a 2-week trip would be to first select your destination, then check airfare costs online, and finally spend some time searching the popular online travel communities, such as BootsnAll or Lonely Planet's Thorntree Forum. Travelers are consistently sharing spending habits and budgets to help one another with planning future trips to similar destinations.

4. One of the issues I have often heard people talk about is safety. I have heard stories of backpackers being attacked and robbed as a common experience. How true would you say this was and are there measures you can take to protect yourself?

The camaraderie and community atmosphere at hostels, campgrounds, and budget hotels on the backpacker trail ensure a lot of storytelling occurs.

Relaying bad stories, whether they relate to rare tropical diseases or muggings, is common but should not be a deterrent! What can and does happen to backpackers is no different than what can happen to any traveler while navigating a foreign environment. 

In general, if you apply the same common sense regarding personal safety you use at home or when visiting a large city in your country, chances are slim you will be seriously harmed in an incident. This includes asking people at your hostel or hotel about any local dangers or neighborhoods to stay away from and not walking alone at night (especially intoxicated).

I have also learned the value of trusting my gut instincts. If I feel it is best to go back to my hostel before sunset in Cape Town, than I would rather miss out on a night at a bar then put myself in a potentially dangerous situation. 

After 15 months abroad, I had my pocket picked twice, and lost a few items to a thief in a hostel. While petty theft can be frustrating at the time, in retrospect, it usually makes for a good story while paling in comparison to the overwhelmingly positive experiences. 

5. How do you find the best and cheapest places to stay? Are there special information websites for backpackers?

I still tend to rely on paperback guidebooks as it allows you to make a decision about where to stay once you arrive in a town, instead of planning in advance. The advantage of using a website such as Hostelworld is the ability to secure a bed in advance, which can be useful if you will be visiting a certain place during a popular festival or holiday.

6. Do you find travelling around foreign countries an easy thing to do? I would worry that not knowing the local language I would end up getting on the wrong bus and getting hopelessly lost. Is this the case or is that part of the fun?

After visiting 20 countries on my recent trip around the world, I am happy to report it was far easier to get around than I'd imagined, even in places such as China where the written language bears no resemblance to English. Figuring out how to communicate with others who do not speak your language is definitely part of the fun, though it can be frustrating at times. It is amazing how much you can communicate by body language alone. Throw in a smile and most people will do their best to help you.

7. What for you is the best thing about backpacking and if you were asked to promote it, what would you say?

My favorite aspect of back packing as a means of travel is the independence and sense of freedom it affords you. Living simply, you can experience some of the most amazing environments, treasures, and man-made monuments the world has to offer. Right now, backpackers of all ages are standing in front of the Taj Mahal, trekking to Mt. Everest's base camp, taking photos of lions on safari in Africa, and sipping cocktails on Rio de Janeiro's beaches. Dare to dream big!

If you would like to know more about backpacking or would like to follow David on an y future travels, please visit his site at

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