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Opinion

Backpacking poses challenges for college student

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November 15, 2007

My knickers are hanging from the window. They are hanging from the bedpost. They are dangling from the hooks pushed into the crumbling walls. No it wasn’t strip night in the hostel room, it was laundry day.

College students are poor and starving, yes. But the life of a backpacker goes beyond having little money and no food.

Washing clothing in the sinks has become so routine there is a perfect callous forming on my right index finger from the cleansing friction. Fortunately, the people that share the rooms with me in hostels are generally in a similar situation when it comes to nasty laundry. We share soaps and sprays and hangers. This goes in hand with the sharing of laptops, cigarettes, paper and, most importantly, food.

I quickly found that ordering the cheapest thing on the menu and waiting until closing time to get the clearance foods, also known as the food expiring in five minutes, does not always pan out the way I hope. I became a fan of late nights to Camden Town in London for their £1 (one English pound) Chinese take-away that had been most likely been sitting out for four hours. We laughed at our cold rice. Hostels usually have a continental breakfast included if you decide to not party all night and are able to wake up at 7 a.m.

This is really the best food advice for any backpacker and/or college student: buy the market food, cook it with friends, share and be happy. Not only will the food be ten times healthier for you but the new foods you will try and people you get to know are worth the time. However, not all hostels have kitchens available for the guests’ use. In this case, meet someone in the area that is cute and/or rich to take you out to dinner.

As an obvious disclaimer, staying healthy is one the most important things to keep in mind. Doctors are available, but who wants to deal with that during travel? Eat your greens and drink that water.

Besides food, the backpacker is forced to get creative in situations when money is tight and that bus ride is absolutely necessary to get to the train station. The image of a short girl with massive bags wrapped around her tiny body sneaking onto the back of the bus seems odd, but odd things happen. A child’s toothbrush becomes an adult’s daily-use hygienic tool, and I was once called “barbaric” for rolling my own cigarettes.

Two months ago I whined about the lack of a mobile phone. Pay phones are plentiful but expensive. I become in complete control of every relationship conceived as they wait for my call. Plus, the most thrilling of relationships I have made in Europe are the ones that consist of nothing but time and place for a rendezvous.

The life of a backpacker is a rough one. Wearing socks three times without wash and no conditioner for my hair does not compare to the enlightenment of travel. Go minimal—I dare you.

-Teresa is a journalism major and a geography minor. She is enrolled in the Semester Abroad: Europe program and has done research on the River Thames in London. She is currently backpacking independently across Europe.

Teresa Aviles is a student at UW-River Falls.