The 5 How-To’s of Backpacker Fashion

Let’s be honest—everyone loves backpacker fashion.

Okay, maybe the word ‘fashion’ is a little too strong.  Backpackers themselves would be the first to admit how UNFASHIONABLE they are, but a closer look reveals a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’ in the clothing dawned by avid adventurers.  I’m talking fake Ray-Ban sunnies, toques with sag, and second-hand guitars with hand-made twine straps.  If you’re new to the game, keen to fit in, or struggling to stand out, I’ve compiled an easy list of international backpacker trends that are cheap, attractive, and, of course, beyond comfortable.

0000000000000000000000000000000000000000

  1. Decorate your arms.
    Wear your ratty, water-downed, double-knotted, discoloured hemp bracelets with pride!  Backpackers collect different braids of string from various destinations and display them along their wrists.  Bracelets can be bought or made from new friends, sidewalk stalls, or local beach bums.  This easy jewellery is the best way to keep your memories ‘close at hand’ (excuse the pun.)
  2. Be a bedhead.
    Leave your hair dryer, flat iron, and curling iron at home!  Voltage varies throughout the world, so why bother with chunky convertors and exploding circuits?  Instead, rock the ‘I don’t do my hair’ look by, believe it or not, not doing your hair.  Dreadlocks make knotted manes cool.  Bandanas, toques, and hats are great for covering up greasy roots.  Let the sea salt bring out waves, allow the harsh sun to bleach-dye your tips, and when all else fails, wrap up your locks into a bubbly bun on the top of your noggan.  The best way to get a naturally undone look is to simply not care.
  3. Rolls aren’t sexy, bags are.
    Leave your suitcase at home and stuff yourself a backpack!  Cinch a 50-60 litre bag on your back and sling a smaller (but equally heavy) backpack to cover your belly on front.  You do look rather ridiculous and creepily pregnant, but it will keep you balanced out.  Not only are backpacks more practical to carry when train-hopping and bus-chasing, but dawning double straps shows that you are true to your name.
  4. When in doubt, chill out.
    As I mentioned before, backpacking is not a fashion show.  Don’t feel embarrassed when you realise you’ve worn the same shirt three days in a row or that it’s approaching a week since you’ve showered.  As long as you don’t smell too bad, no one will care.  You can only carry so much, so take your favourite clothes.  Washing machines are your friend.  Anything alternative—a denim jumper, a onesie, elephant pants—will make you stand out in the best way possible.  Screw cotton and bring polyester fabrics that are comfortable and will outlast the various strains of backpacking.  Some countries will require you to cover up a little more, so pack a wardrobe as diverse as the places you are visiting.
  5.  Put your best footwear forwards.
    If you haven’t realised yet, comfort is key.  White running shoes might not exactly be ‘stylish’, but they will save your feet from aching after long days of walking.  Flats pack easy and are perfect to slip on for a night out.  Cheap, plastic flip-flops can be worn in filthy bathrooms and showers to avoid accumulating warts.  Shuffling around in slippers is an easy way to feel at home in the hostel’s public places.

Clothing expresses your individuality.  Be bold, be bright, be different—and you will fit in.

00000000000000000000000fashion00000000000000000iiionsie

Leave some room in your bag for clothing items you might pick up.  You may choose to purchase tacky souvenir tee’s, find vintage in thrift shops, or even ‘borrow’ items from the hostel’s lost and found.  Travelling the world will probably change your sense of style, your attitude towards clothing, and even your entire perspective.

A Backpacker’s Worst Nightmare: The Schengen Agreement

If you have been backpacking Europe for any length of time, it’s likely that you’ve ran into the Schengen Agreement before. So, what is it, anyways?

The Schengen Agreement creates border-less movement within 27 countries in Europe. The list of countries is constantly changing. The below image shows the Schengen Area as of 2012:schengen_map_en

The positive swing of the Schengen Agreement is that it makes EU travel extremely easy. Trains and buses pass over boarders without stopping—no customs or passport checks to delay your journey.

Now for the bad news. Schengen countries imply strict restrictions. The rule that will trip up travelers up is the 90 days/180. Basically, travellers from Australia, America, and Canada are only allowed within all of the combined Schengen countries for a total of 90 days within 180. (Kiwis are a bit luckier—they are allowed in EACH Schengen country for 90 days.Citizens from other countries may need a Schengen Tourist Visa.) They do not have to be consecutive days. Between the 180 days, you MUST spend at least 90 of them outside of the Schengen Zone. Once the 180 days are up, your count restarts and you MUST leave the Schengen area.

They do this to ensure that overseas visitors are not illegally working within the EU. They don’t want foreigners stealing jobs from the locals.

However, if you spend MORE than 90 days outside of the Schengen Zone, the count restarts when you re-enter.

Here’s an example of my trip to clear things up:
I entered Norway (Schengen) on July 17. I spent a total of 54 days in the Schengen Zone. Then I went to Scotland (non-Schengen) for 92 days, returning to Germany (Schengen) on December 9th. According to the count, I should have 34 days left in my 180 before my count restarts on January 14th, right?

WRONG.

Because I spent over 90 days in Scotland, my count ACTUALLY restarted when I returned to the Schengen Zone on December 9th. This wouldn’t have been a problem, except that I was planning on staying in Europe for a ski season. 90 days after December 9th only took me to March, meaning I would have to leave a month earlier than I wanted to.

Pain in the butt? You have no idea.

There are ways around this. For me, staying longer wasn’t worth the price of potential permanent deportation from the Schengen Zone and a big, ugly red-flag that could damage my traveling days forever.

I found myself in a peculiar position. I am a Canadian with a 2-year UK Tier 5 work visa. Sadly, this doesn’t make me a UK citizen, or even impartial to the Schengen Agreement. I am still considered a Canadian citizen with no special treatment by all of the EU countries.

However, my dreams of working on the Alps weren’t completely crushed. I applied to work in France with a UK company. Their headquarters were based in London, making it legal for me to work for them. All I had to do was fill out a form explaining that in order to complete my job, I had to work overseas. The company was willing to do this for me because I spoke French. Fluent English and French speakers are in high-demand at holiday spots in France. I’m sure there are similar situations within Europe.

As you can see, it’s a load of hassle to work around this agreement. I would advise backpackers to stay away from any loop-holes and respect the rules of the agreement. Make sure what you’re doing is completely legal. Nothing is worse the price of deportation, because there is nothing worse for a traveller than to be forcefully grounded.

Is Together Always Better?

Once you make the life-changing decision to travel, reality sets in fast. Before you know it, you are making plans, booking flights, and anxiously wondering Can I really do this alone?

Yes. You can. But you don’t have to.

After many years of traveling with friends, family, boyfriends, and alone, I am a strong advocate for solo travel.

Before you rush off to dump your travel partner or immediately disown my blog, hear me out for my reasons why.

1)      Meeting People

When you travel with friends, you tend to stick with them—they become your comfort zone.  Two people appear more intimidating to approach then solo travelers.  Couples are even less approachable—who wants to be a third wheel?
When you’re alone, people will go out of their way to talk with you.  Similarly, you will find yourself opening up out of your shell and welcoming new single travelers, just as you were welcomed.  Trust me, you won’t be alone for long.

2)      Doing What You Want
This is your vacation—your time to do exactly what you want.  Whether that means lying on the beach, shopping downtown, or taking tours, being alone gives you the freedom to do exactly what you feel like doing every single day.
When you travel with someone, you will be together 24/7. You won’t have work or other friends to distract you.  You will have to compromise.  You will get into disagreements and pick stupid fights. You will grow closer and more dependant on one another.  Whatever happens, I can guarentee your relationship will never be the same.

3)      Learn, Grow, and Change
When you take the world by storm alone, you will change.  You will be forced to spend long hours alone, so you will learn to be someone that you like.  You will begin to depend solely on yourself.  You will learn to find good deals, cook good meals, and discover exactly what you want in life.  You will learn how to blend immature entertainment with mature responsibility.  You will meet people from all corners of the globe.  You will experience authentic culture.  You will have backpacker flings and make life-long friendships.  One thing is for sure—you will not go home the same.

That being said, there are two sides to every story.  I find it only fair to acknowledge the difficulties that accompany solo travel.

1)      Loneliness
There will be some times when you find yourself alone – whether in a tram crammed with strangers or on a picnic by yourself.  When a stunning sunset hits the skies or you catch a glimpse of something hilarious, you will find yourself wishing you had someone there to share the moment with.  When the hostel is empty in the off-season or no one wants to accompany you to the museum, you can find yourself feeling frustrated and insignificant.  You will want to be around people who already know and love you.  You’ll miss your friends, family, and the familiarity of your home country.
However, as I mentioned before, this time alone is good for you.  You will become stronger.  You will face loneliness and homesickness, but then you will pick yourself up, step out into the sunshine, and move on.

2)      Disorientation
When you enter a new city, you will find yourself struggling to lug your bags to your seemingly non-existent hostel.  You will ask strangers for directions, double-check with the bus driver, and probably still end up lost. If you go out at night, you will have to find your own way back.  When you want to move on, you will have to research and purchase your flights by yourself.  You will have to find your ride at the crowded bus terminal and jump on your train at the station before it whisks away without you.  And, when you do miss some form of transportation, you will have to figure out what to do next. Your daddy’s not there to come and get you when something goes wrong.
However, if you are a directionally-challenged person, you will become familiar with maps.  You will begin to recognize street names and landmarks.  At the end of your trip, you will have stronger memories of exactly where you were because you had to navigate it all yourself.  If you don’t have common sense or street smarts, you better learn them quick if you intend to stay.  It will be hard, but in the end, it will be good.

The final decision is up to you.  Don’t be afraid to travel alone.  If you are still keen on going together, please do!  The bottom line is that you need to do exactly what you want.  This is your life, your choice, your grand adventure.  Enjoy  it!

I am CANADIAN.

As any backpacker knows, once you leave your home country, it becomes your identity. In the hostel dorm room, everyone’s first question is always: “Where are you from?” I have spent days and even weeks knowing people solely by their nationalities. In such circumstances, I am always ecstatic to reveal that I am Canadian.

Canada is a glorious country. With wide open Prairie skies, endless fields of golden wheat, staggering grey mountains, glacier-fed rivers, and an abundance of wild animals, nature thrives freely here.
000000000powder000canadaain0000000000000000000000000000caaaa

The incredible landscape and diverse wildlife are not alone in their freedom. Canada is the second largest country in the world, with 33 million multicultural citizens. Every single person who lives in Canada is granted freedom of speech, religion, and movement—freedom that I often take for granted. I am insanely lucky to be Canadian.

Canada is known around the world as ‘the nice nation’. It’s a fitting title. As soon as you enter the country, a toothless man in a cowboy hat at Customs greets you warmly with a fond “Howdy!” People smile and nod at you as you find your footing on the icy sidewalks. Young men hold doors open against the chilly wind for old women and busy mothers. Customers purchase coffee for the next customer in line at the Starbucks drive-through. Truck drivers stop to help strangers who have forsaken the road and hit the ditch.

We are courteous, helpful people. We avoid confrontation and welcome foreigners. We are proud of our land, even though it’s half-frozen for most of the year. It may be a vast, empty, rugged, freezing land full of oil rigs and Quebecois, but it’s OUR land, and we love it.

Sure, we might apologise when we get punched in the face, but our country’s most passionate sport allows fist-fights. We are a quiet, strong nation, with an unparalleled love for beer, bonfires, and bull-riding. We define the meanings of ‘roughing it’ and ‘redneck’. We have cliffs to climb and jump off of, mounds of snow to play in and toboggan down, and lifted trucks to take us muddin’. We have toques, Degrassi, grizzly bears, mounties, a solid, stable economy, and poutine. We brush off being mistaken for Americans because we are confident in our own skin.
000000cccc00cana0000mud
I love looking out my window to discover deer wandering my backyard searching for berries in the snow, driving over an hour to visit a friend like it’s no big deal, and living in one of the safest places in the entire world.

“I’m Canadian,” I tell the other backpackers that I meet along my travels. “I’m from northern Alberta.”

Whenever someone calls me ‘Canada’, I feel a surge of pride rush through my veins. No matter where I go, Canada will always be home. I love my country, and I am blessed to be Canadian.