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10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking

Hey pals,

Sorry it’s been a while. While I have been lucky with internet lately, it’s been the “check email, check facebook, oops, out of time” kind of internet.

Luckily, there is free internet here in Kerikeri (which is the northernmost town I could get to on the intercity bus system), hence this post.

Without further ado…

10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking

10. You actually do sleep a lot.

I’d been preparing myself for six weeks of poor sleep, anticipating drunkenly stumbling roommates, roommates that wanted to read at 2 am, and hard beds.

Actually, in many smaller towns, there’s not much to do when the sun goes down, and most people have been out sightseeing all day, so many people turn in early. Add sleeping on long bus rides, and I’m clocking more hours than I have in years.

9. Hostel parties don’t always happen at hostels.

Some of this may be due to my selection process: I was careful to pick “quiet” hostels. Still, most of the time, people who want to go drink don’t stay in the hostel. They go to bars, leaving things relatively quiet.

8. “Clean” and “dirty” are not absolute states, but a spectrum.

Clothing is never just “clean” or “dirty” (nor are you, for that matter). There is a spectrum ranging from “washing-machine clean,” to “I washed it in the sink clean,” to “it still smells ok clean.”

You don’t want to know about the gradations of “dirty.”

7. Internet is everywhere, if you know where to find it.

I thought I’d be mostly disconnected while travelling, but I’ve been able to check things pretty consistently. Most hostels have internet for a price, some have it for free, and you can find it free around cities: in libraries, cafes, and the random “hotspots” in Auckland.

6. You read a lot.

I love the book exchange system in hostels. I love it so much, I may do a separate post on it. For now, suffice it to say that I’ve plowed through several novels already.

5. Kid rules still work.

Remember when you were a kid at a function with lots of adults, and a few other kids? Typically, the kids get sequestered in a basement or rec room and a movie is thrown on. How do these kids, who have never met each other, coexist peacefully?

Don’t be a jerk. Don’t be loud. Play nice.

People slip into movie lounges, watch, and then slip out again. As long as they follow the above rules, no one ever minds.

4. Backpacking is like a constant frosh week.

Ah, frosh week, that magical time when people are so desperate for friends, they’ll talk to anyone. Solo backpackers are the same way. Eye contact made? Instant conversation!

3. Fight Club was right. They are “single serving friends.”

Nonetheless, you know you’ll probably never see them again. While random conversation provides enough social contact to keep you on this side of sanity, it doesn’t last long.

2. Always, always ask for student rates.

This is less in regards to hostels, and more for general travelling. An adult ticket to the top of Auckland’s Sky Tower is $28, which feels like a lot. A student’s is $18, which feels much better. A student ticket on Wellington’s cable car is $1. The only catch is that you do need an ID. I have two, from Toronto and Otago. Since the latter is a New Zealand university, I’ve been using it to avoid hassles. Thus far, I’ve been so glad to have it.

1. You develop a rhythm.

A new city every few days, no longer than three nights in a bed, constantly changing people? How do you develop a rhythm?

Get into town; find the hostel; drop your stuff; locate the supermarket, i-Site, and library; sightsee; write; sleep; wake up early; sightsee; write; sleep (repeat until departure); get on the bus…

And do it all over.

And there you have it: 10 Things No One Told Me About Backpacking, or, 10TNOTMAB. 😛

North Island Ahoy!


I have about an hour’s worth of internet here in Taupo, so I thought I’d spend some of it updating here, since my internet in Fiji next week will be really, really patchy( maybe expect not to hear from me at all).

To get to the North Island, I took the ferry.

Prior to this, my only ferrying experience had been the Toronto Islands Ferry. So, I was envisioning passengers crossing the Cook Strait on hard, wooden benches, stamping their feet on corrugated metal decks to stay warm, and occasionally running into a cramped, dingy washroom.

It wasn’t like that.

The Interislander Ferry I took could fit about 500 people and their cars (as opposed to the ones without cars, which fit a few thousand). I never did figure out how many decks, but at least five. There were multiple bars, a playground, and a cinema. Instead of hard benches, the seating areas had padded armchairs clustered in quartets, with tables between.

As I took my seat, I was gloating. “I get to do this voyage again in July!”

I was at the front of the vessel, and since there was an observation deck overlooking the nose (bow, I guess, if we want to be all nautical), I spent the first part of the voyage out there, gaping as we cruised by the ridiculously green Marlborough Sounds.

When we hit open waters, I retreated inside for some writing time. But then, it hit.


I never get seasick. Not that I’m on boats that much, but still. What’s more, the seas were light, and I was on a floating airport lounge.

Still seasick.

After curling into a tight ball failed to cure anything, I grabbed a “travel sickness” bag and went back on deck, hoping to get some wind on my face and the horizon in view. All that happened was that I got cold, and very nearly lost my gloves overboard.

Eventually, I fell asleep out of sheer misery, and only woke up when we entered the Wellington Harbour, and the waves turned into ripples.

And thus, my glorious arrival on the North Island.