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A backpacker's guide to the planet

“What inspired you to live nomadically?” they ask.

“The price of London rent” I answer.


Hey there! My name is Melissa, and in this blog I’m going to share with you how I’ve travelled 50 countries at the age of 27 (and no, I’m not rich). Over the years my travel style has become increasingly minimalistic and spontaneous, offering unique experiences and challenges. Reflecting on some of these, I have highlighted five key benefits to travelling the world while you’re young.


Since 2022, I left my life in London behind and decided to take my remote work with me on a solo tour around Asia, Africa & South America – where rent, food, and daily life is almost always less expensive. My small backpack and I have since explored 18 countries in the last 18 months.


Visiting the lost city of Petra, Jordan 🇯🇴

 

Where did it all begin? 

I didn’t travel much as a child, so my first big step into the world of travel was at the age of 18, through an initiative called Camp America. Summer camps for children in the United States are always looking for camp counsellors to work with the young people. I mustered up some confidence to swing by a Camp America recruitment fair in London and to my excitement, got hired on the spot to work that summer in New York! Living on the camp, I received free accommodation and meals, in addition to a modest paycheck which I was able to save for visiting some US cities once the 2-month camp ended.


Later that year, I found another amazing opportunity called International Citizen Service. The government-funded programme offered me the opportunity to spend another three months overseas to volunteer with the charity VSO on a community development project. At the application, assessment day, and interview stages, I had no idea where this would take me. Around a month before departure, at age 19, I was notified that I had been matched to a project – I was going to Nigeria!


My team and I volunteering in Nigeria, 2016 🇳🇬 (that’s me in the middle)

 

So, what are benefits? 

 

  1. Personal growth

Someone once said to me “No-one problem-solves like a solo traveller” – I felt that! Nothing builds your resilience quite like when things don’t go your way, but you have to find a solution and keep going anyway.


Travel also presents a great opportunity to learn a foreign language. While travelling through South America I quickly realised English would not get me very far outside of the big cities. Although a little embarrassing at first, I used the little vocabulary I had to communicate, and surprised myself at how quickly I began to understand and engage in conversations as time went on.


At least, I thought my Spanish was good until I climbed a mountain with a Spanish-speaking guide and the only thing I understood the whole weekend was him shouting “Señorita vamos!” (Miss, let’s go!) every time I tried to take a break.

Climbing a 6000m mountain in La Paz, Bolivia 🇧🇴 


  1. Cultural exchange 

There is no better way to learn about a new culture than to immerse yourself into a new country. As you make friends along the way, you’ll learn about different cultural and religious practices, expand your music library, and sample a wide variety of local food. If you’re a foodie like me, be sure to try some Vietnamese, Jordanian, and Nigerian dishes – they are simply delicious!


Tip: Be aware of cultural norms and taboos – a quick Google search can advise you on these, including what clothing choices are suitable.


Exploring caves in Khao Sok National Park, Thailand 🇹🇭

 

  1. New experiences 

It goes without saying that being in a new place opens up new opportunities and experiences. It’s amazing to be able to tick things off your bucket list, but some of the most amazing experiences I’ve had were ones that I did not know existed until they were presented to me a few days earlier.


Swimming with sperm whales in Mauritius? Breath-taking.

Abseiling down waterfalls in Ecuador? Sounds fun!

Bungee jumping in Uganda, where my head dunks into the Nile river?Okay, I actually lost a bet on this one, but no regrets.


Canyoneering in Baños, Ecuador 🇪🇨

 

  1. Global awareness

Travelling helps to broaden your perspective on global issues. You may see or hear about the effects of climate change, food insecurity, or political unrest. Social support can be limited in many countries around the world, making wealth disparities and poverty clear to see. You may see children out of school selling products in the street, or you may find yourself “showering” with a bucket, or unable to charge your phone due to a blackout. It opens your mind to how millions of people live every day.


Walking with rhinos in Mukerenge, Uganda 🇺🇬

 

  1. Make friends for life 

Finally, no matter what style of travel you choose, you are bound to meet people along the way from all walks of life. What a blessing it is to have friends in every corner of the world!


Exploring the ocean in Dahab, Egypt 🇪🇬

 

Ready to take the plunge?

  • Look for remote work where you can be location independent with a steady income, or work to save money before a trip
  • Look into options to study abroad, and search for scholarships to apply for to help with funding
  • Look for volunteering and internship opportunities (but see my note on voluntourism below) 

A note on voluntourism: “Voluntourism” as opposed to “volunteerism” is a short-term volunteering opportunity packaged as a holiday. As a rule of thumb, if you need to pay to engage in volunteering, the initiative is likely a money-making scheme that has no positive affect on anyone other than the “holiday-maker”. Some of these programmes can actually cause negative impacts on communities, so be sure to do your research.

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