The Ten Commandments of Backpacker Etiquette
Let’s be honest with ourselves, we all have little quirks that annoy others. Friends, family, loved ones, they are most likely to tell you when you’re doing something that causes frustration, or give off clear signals to suggest that your behaviour is not to their liking. But what about people you don’t know? What about the ever-so-polite people you meet every day who you don’t even realise you’re upsetting!
For those with the money to do it in style, I’m sure you’ll shrug off the trusty backpack. Maybe you always choose the upgrade to a private room on group tours, or have a personal chauffeur to drag your overweight suitcases to and from the limousine for you, where you travel with leg room and a three course meal and champagne, served to you by a monkey in a top hat and tails on golden roller skates. Maybe not. I don’t know you. But when you travel on a shoestring budget, you are likely to experience some pretty cosy sleeping arrangements, a few sweaty and awkward public transport journeys and some accidental elbow bumping at hostel mealtimes.
Your experiences whilst travelling are completely unique to you, but wouldn’t a few universal ground rules make things mildly more comfortable? Please take a minute to consider a few suggestions for appropriate backpacker conduct.
Rule 1: Your Plug. Your Problem.
If you own a converter plug, good for you. If that converter takes up the space of both wall sockets so nobody else can charge their electronic devices while you’ve got your iPod, iPad, iPhone and Mac on a constant rotation, do the world a favour, bring a multi-plug. You’ll make more friends, I promise.
Rule 2: Extra Bodies Not Welcome
Everybody likes to have a good time on their travels, but it’s not a rule that exchanging bodily fluids with every new DNA structure you come across is the only way to enjoy yourself, the people in your room might want a good night’s sleep tonight, so maybe leave your new friend at the bar. If you want to bring your good time back to your shared dorm, or worse, tent, then you need to have some kind of prior agreement with the people you’re sharing with. Or maybe you need to take your good time elsewhere. It’s really your problem, not theirs. So it’s a same-sex dorm, and you’re both already sleeping there – what does it matter? We’re not breaking any rules! Wrong, still not cool to be heavy breathing your way through a good night in a darkened room with uncomfortable and unwilling listeners trying to sleep. Not homophobia, just equality.
Rule 3: The First Packing Rule
There are certain items in your life which require an extra level of packing. I’m talking mainly about your explodables, things like shampoo, face wash, sun cream etc. It makes sense for you to give them a layer of protection within your bag encase of a rough journey. You don’t want to open your bag when you crawl into a tent at 2am to find your thermal PJs have been soiled by a thick unnamed goo. But is a noisy supermarket plastic bag really the best option? Picture the scene, if you will… It’s 4am. The girl on the bottom bunk in your dorm has a flight to catch and she’s pottering about, checking her bag, making sure she has everything, taking a shower, washing her face. She has a plastic bag for her shampoo, one for her dirty laundry, one for undies, one for her walking boots and another empty one ‘just encase’. Every movement she makes is a high pitched rustle and pure pain for you while you try to sleep… Don’t be that girl.
Maybe consider a few minor investments from one of the following helpful sites before you go:
Go Travel – Site available for both US and UK customers.
TravelGear.com.au – Plenty of great travel packing ideas for the Aussies here.
Gap Year Travel Store – UK – Dry sacks, rucksack liners, waterproof pouches of all sizes. Shop here travellers of Great Britain.
There we go, no excuses.
Rule 4: The Other Packing Rule
I am the first to admit, I have gained a little (more than a little) luggage in a few years of travel. It’s hard to continue to pack light over such a long period of time and easy to get attached to little trinkets and certain clothing that you know will ‘come in handy again someday’. But these are habits we have to get out of. When you sign up for this lifestyle, you are signing up for a lifestyle of no attachments and limited belongings. The reason this is a rule is that you’re not the only person this affects. When you have one backpack at a reasonable weight, you’re not only helping yourself, you’re helping Pablo the 72-year-old bus driver who has to crawl around rearranging the luggage compartment below, you’re helping the other passengers who rightfully want to use the wheelchair and pram access space and you’re helping Jenny, the miniature college student on a gap year who has no muscles yet and can’t lift the weight of your world off the top of her backpack when it’s all been wedged into hostel storage for the day.
Think of others – pack light.
Rule 5: Toilet Behaviour
I’ve been on the road for a long time now, sometimes I walk into a public toilet just to check my hair and I’m so excited to see a full selection of empty cubicles I have to go for a number 2 to celebrate. It’s a rare and beautiful thing to find an opportunity to drop the kids off at the pool in total privacy in this lifestyle, so when you’re lucky enough to score accommodation with bathrooms large enough for as many as 10 toilets, sometimes you can almost pretend nobody’s around and let rip based on proximity alone. If you happen to walk into such a situation, and find a row of empty toilets and one locked door, why would you pitch your butt right next door? Think about it, leave some space for that person to poop in peace, move along a door or two.
Rule 6: No Stealing
Just not cool. However you argue or excuse it in your own head and whatever you want to call it. Not cool. It takes a lot of guts to share a space with strangers and leaving your worldly belongings in a room with people you hardly know takes a certain amount of trust that’s hard to get back once lost. Don’t ruin it for other people, if somebody has something you need, I’m sure asking to borrow their phone charger, hairdryer, laptop etc. won’t put you out too much, if you didn’t bring it and you need it, then you need to accept the situation you put yourself in and suck it up. Stealing is for the lazy, the workshy and the scabs. Don’t be that guy. Buy your own, or suggest a swap and share of a few items.
Rule 7: Help a Fellow Nomad Out
It’s common practice for a lot of European, Asian, South American and… Oh wait, everybody. Everybody is looking to learn or gain something from their adventures, and for a huge amount of people you meet on the road, one of their goals could be to improve their language skills, most commonly, English. Don’t sigh and tut and brush people aside because it’s not as easy to communicate with them. Speak at a comprehensible speed, be patient, and politely correct them when their grammar isn’t quite right if you’re comfortable enough to do so. In fact, ask them if it’s okay that you do that, most people will love that you correct them if they genuinely want to learn. Also, maybe use the opportunity to coin a few of their phrases from home, it’s amazing what you’ll learn.
Also, if you see somebody with a map and a ridiculous amount of luggage, and you happen to know the area and have a hand spare to point with or lift some weight off their shoulders, offer some help. We’ve all been there and we’d all appreciate the offer, even if we choose not to accept it and struggle on alone. Some people might be too scared to ask a stranger or they may have trouble with the local language. Be kind, be patient, be a good egg.
Rule 8: Get Organised at a Sociable Hour
Sometimes it’s unavoidable that you check into a room full of sleeping bodies late at night, but if you check in at 2pm, leave your luggage strewn all over and don’t put the covers on your bed, then go out for the afternoon and happen to stumble back in and need to noisily clear your space at 2am when others are sleeping, you’re an ass. Arrange your bed sheets before the person on the bottom bunk settles in for the night. Do you have a head-torch? Wonderful, how smart of you to bring such a useful tool. Do your roommates appreciate it when you put it to use in a dorm room? HELL NO. Piss off please. Head torches are for the great outdoors, not walking around in a dark room, pointing your shiny face in the direction of grumpy sleepers.
Rule 9: Live and Let Live
Particularly if you’re travelling with company, you need to accept that there will be times when you don’t agree on the itinerary. There is no point making a fuss about it, you are an adult. If you want to do it, and your mate doesn’t then just do it anyway. If your mate does and you don’t, don’t be an arse about it when s/he goes without you. Hangover from hell until midday? Suck it up, buttercup. You’re either going out rough to support your mate, or your missing out.
Rule 10: Smile and be Nice
Just a life rule really. You can’t expect people to be nice to you if you have a face like a plumbers butt crack 24/7. If you move into a shared room and there’s somebody else already there, smile and look approachable. Same goes by the pool, at the bar, generally in public places. Just smile and don’t act like a tool, it gives off a better vibe and creates a nicer atmosphere for everyone. If you really don’t want to meet people or make any friends while you travel, that’s okay too, but just bury your face in a book or newspaper, there’s no need to sit around scowling at people to be left alone. Try to use each new destination or group of travel buddies to correct a behaviour you don’t like in yourself. If you’ve developed bad living and socialising habits, then use this time to coach yourself out of them. Stop bitching and gossiping, stop acting out for attention, don’t bring the drama. Alternatively, if it’s so ingrained in you that you have to be a bit of a pain in the arse, just be a decent human. Don’t be a dick.
Maybe I missed a few. I think this will do.