Travelling among the bluffs

Backpackers must never show weakness.

When trekking through foreign lands, as I plan to in September, you must make it clear to fellow adventurers that you have travelled much farther, experienced far more and appreciated it all on a far deeper level than they could ever know.

Furthermore, you must make it clear that, though your experiences would thrill and delight the average middle-of-the-pack backpacker, to you it was a bit of a bore.

If a fellow traveller saw the village church, you went inside and had a spiritual moment. If he went bungee jumping, you went skydiving. If he climbed Mount Everest, you reached the summit with a really tall Sherpa and then stood on his shoulders.

Of course, we’re all bluffing, and couldn’t imagine a weekend without beer, let alone a few days without water. But all backpackers do this. It’s just the way things are done.

It’s been several years since I went backpacking, but these primal truths came rushing back to me this week as a salesman showed me some of the camping gear I’d need.

Immediately, instinctively, I began bluffing. The salesman said, “This is a Hybrid EC tent with bulfable tarmac eco-stretch and composite MoldProtect fibre, of course.” And I said, “Of course,” furrowing my brow in a way that I hoped conveyed world-class knowledge of tent construction, when I was actually thinking, “How come people only say ‘of course’ when you have no idea what they’re talking about?”

If I’d shown my ignorance, I could have lost my backpacker cred, had my hostel card ripped up and been stripped of my blister strips.

I know it makes me seem like a fool, but it’s the same in hostels worldwide. So don’t feel guilty, fellow bluffers.

If we were to talk about how scared we were on our journeys, or how ill-prepared, or how we really just spent the last week going to bars, ogling women and demonstrating the medicinal powers of cheap whiskey, well, the whole backpacking system would fall apart.

We’d lose the sense of competition. The lure of travel would cease. And, before long, we’d all be staying home.

Potential backpackers would instead be stuck going to neighbourhood bars, ogling women and drinking whiskey. And, let’s face it, that’s really kind of pathetic.

So remember, the important thing is to share your stories and listen to your fellow travellers, speaking in a condescending tone one might use with a clever dog. “Oh, you went THERE. Good for YOU. That’s really GREAT.”

And, barring that, just remember the greatest travel quote ever, as penned by novelist Robert L. Coburg. I’d rehash it here, but you know what it is. Of course.

Follow John Mazerolle on Twitter


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