A loose definition of The International Backpacker's Dream;
Flying, riding, or simply walking by the seat of your pants, becoming enveloped in a beautiful string of moments. Seeing foreign lands, eating foreign food, or just being foreign. Going against difficulties of shit covered toilets and bug ridden beds. Living Life. But most importantly, the heart's desire of every backpacker is that NO ONE has ever done what he/she will do. They will have the holy grail in a world of seven billion people...they will be unique.
For those that believe this defintion, I have bad news. The unique backpacker has all but fallen off the face of the earth, though no one has told the backpacker that yet. Whether they go to Costa Rica, Japan, Chile, South Africa, or say, Thailand, the story is generally the same. From a recent personal experience, let's look at Thailand.
Everyday another lonely wanderer lands at Bangkok International Airport. Everyday, a thousand others do the same. With adrenaline steaming from the fire of a new challenge (and the humid weather), most people head for the now infamous Khao Sarn Road. And it is true, there one can find exotic (I hate that word) clothes and handicrafts. One can find food like Pad Thai and Green Cococonut Curry, ride a Tuk Tuk, and perhaps a chance moment delighting the senses with some incense glowing to the beat of an ancient Thai ballad. But, you can also find A Western Breakfeast, Pizza, Sandwiches, Falaffel, and every other food a traveler could want. Not to mention every other traveler.
In such an environment, it is easy for a backpacker to quickly and comfortably establish his new special-to-him lifestlye. On the street, one man from Germany gets his hair put into dreads, another girl from Canada has her long red locks shaved off. He's got a new tatoo and she is wearing the Thai "Singha" beer shirt. Perhaps even a piercing to complete the new "you." Within a few days, each and every thousand travellers sets off for other destiantions throughout country. Perhaps to Chiang Mai, land of many Wat's, or one of the paradise islands that surround the southern portion of Thailand.
In my recent travels, I chose the islands. There, the backpackers every whim is catered to as you gaze with glassy eyes into the abyss of the sea-sky divide. Pineapple shake, no problem. Email, no problem, clothes need cleaning, no problem. Everything one needs is only a couple meters from your very own white sand beach, and it is all so new and wonderous! Not to mention ridiculously cheap. The backpacker thus begins his new voyage into the external and ever deeper internal worlds of life. This feeling is indeed awesome and uplifting for anyone who has ever experienced it.
But within about one to two weeks, an inkling that the dream is not quite up to par with the reality of the situation starts perkalating in the backpacker's mind. The traveler starts to notice something... "There is indeed the 'just me here, but there are thousands of other me's from all over the world doing the same exact thing."
Indignation sweeps over the Western Traveler like a crashing wave. With a little more color to their skin (probably a bright red) than before they ask themselves, "What are all of you doing here on my adventure? You must be just some poser who doesn't really know what is going on. Do you have a clue what it means to persue individual and cultural realizations? You're probably just on a one week holiday."
Of course, no one actually voices these sincere concerns to other travelers. Rather, he or she shoots caustic glances at the other white faces, judgement raging internally like a bush fire. If eye contact is actually accidentally made, then both parties undoubtedly divert their eyes. "If I don't acknowledge them and they don't acknowledge me, then their not here, it's just me, right?"
Many get stuck for the entire duration of travel in this dismal, self-depricating trip, but for some, the truth finally smacks and simultaneously caresses them in the face like the gliding rainbows of an acid trip: "I am not a unique adventurer." With this realization, the backpacker can be saved from dissapointment. It's true, the elephant ride, the white water trip, and the snorkeling have all been done before and is being done a million times over as we speak, but that's okay. It's gonna be okay. The people at one of hundreds of TV Restaurants all throughout Thailand are all trying to experience the country in their own uniquely same fashion. In that sameness there is a common ground, and more importantly, a blossoming community. In this community, members not only have an obvious shared interest in travel, but a wealth of cultural, philosophical, culinary, practical, and any other type of knowledge under a Thai sun. If we as backpackers freely share this knowledge, then every other unique entity in the community can benefit in inexplicable, yet beneficial ways.
So, for all of you out there, myself included, the next time you are on Koh Phangan and the TV Restaurant (If I ever find the man who invented such a restaurant, I swear I'll beat his ass) is showing a pirated DVD of "Runaway Bride," or "The Beach," kindly ask the owner to turn it off. Turn around in your chair, and as ludicrous and cliche as it may seem, smile at a fellow traveller. And before you know it, the intitial bullshit of "Where are you from?" and "Where have you been?" will have passed. Very soon, you will be engaged in conversations, which will trigger thoughts, that may perhaps realize your unique adventurer's dream.