Backpacker Assholes

This past week my journal pages were filled with observations about life in an Asian hostel. I had settled in Osaka and the sightseeing honeymoon phase in Japan was over. I was getting down to business, looking for a real job to help finance the rest of my time away.  A proper apartment was part of my future plans, but until the money started to roll in, my home was a super-cheap backpacker hostel.

Looking back on it all – the noisy chaos and unhygienic toilets; the lack of privacy; the mysterious food disappearances (Don’t look at me! I don’t know anything about that missing half-eaten sandwich in the back of the fridge with your name on it.); sneaking in past curfews; the aroma of unwashed laundry and sweaty shoes  – I realize this era actually prepared me for my current reality: life with my three teenage boys!

I don’t have a WWW list this week since I stayed put in one place during this period; but I’d love to share something else instead. One of the fun byproducts of the DustyJournals project has been getting to know my followers and fellow travel bloggers. Their tales, and styles of storytelling, are as diverse as the myriad destinations they visit and describe. Some travel bloggers are serious and cultured, others wild and adventurous, some retirees, others high-school dropouts. Male, female, gay, straight, couples, solos, and everything in between.

One of my favourites is a blogger from the UK who calls himself “The Broke Backpacker.” This dude, Will Hatton, has been everywhere and has a wicked eye for local detail. And being a former el cheapo myself, I have a deep respect for his frugal ways. Best of all, he’s hilarious. So, in honour of my 25-years-ago immersion into backpacker life, I’d like to share an excerpt from Will’s excellent round-up of characters found in Backpackistan. (His term, not mine. Wish it were mine, though. Brilliant.)

He totally hits the nail on the head – I encountered all of these types at some point or other during my year away. If you’ve ever spent time on a backpack adventure, I’ll bet you know some of these characters too! (Check out Will’s blog for even more Backpackistanis…)


Travelling is not all about the places you go, it’s largely about the people you meet. Whenever I hit the road I meet a whole range of eccentric, sexy, hilarious and downright wonderful people. Unfortunately, the nation of Backpackistan is cursed with a stubborn horde of assholes who you will want to do your best to avoid. Luckily for you, avid explorer, I have designed this list of the worst offenders so that you can identify your foes from a distance and steer well clear.

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Perhaps one of the most annoying people you will meet on the road, the Yoga Mystic tries way too hard to be cool and is somewhat obsessed with doing yoga in as crowded a place as possible. Unfortunately, yoga mystics tend to be rather good looking so you may find yourself lured into an idiotic conversation by accident. They are a fan of patronizing, non-sensical comments and are usually out on a short trip to ‘reinvent’ themselves. When drunk, the Yoga Mystic has a tendency to dance in a floatey, rather hilarious, manner and flash everyone.

Catch Phrase: “It’s OK that you don’t want to try Tibetan Chakra Rain Dance Massage today, everybody has to take their own journey and one day you will arrive at the higher level of being at which I reside.”

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A frequent visitor to the fast food stalls, Captain Pancake is often obscured in a haze of marijuana smoke. He is a great person to hang out with for an afternoon, just don’t get stuck – he’s really quite boring and in desperate need of a shower.

Catch Phrase: “Hey man, shall we try a weed pancake?”

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Dreadlocks should be your first warning. A guitar slung across the back is your second. If they have tattered Ali Baba trousers, run… you’re in for a full blown douche-bag attack. The wannabe adventurer is obsessed with being ‘the best’ and will aim to outdo everyone they meet with a long list of the places they have travelled and the deeds they have accomplished. If you’re really lucky, you might be able to get away from them before they start showing you how many stamps they have in their passports or telling you which countries they have ‘done.’

Catch Phrase: Yeah man, Burma’s pretty cool, of course you had to go ten years ago to really feelthe culture, you know?”

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Avoid at all costs. These are the backpackers who give the rest of us a bad name. Convinced that they are being ripped off, even when they aren’t, they will argue for up to an hour over ridiculously small sums of money. They usually travel in packs and seem uninterested in learning anything about the place they have come to visit. They have a tendency to get loud, drunk and aggressive.

Catch Phrase: “No, no, no! I know for a fact that the price is under one dollar, I was here ten years ago and that was the price then!”

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Convinced that all the locals do in fact speak multiple international languages this specimen will ask the same questions again and again in gradually louder tones. Do not be near them when they start to shout, it gets embarrassing. They are usually found in international restaurant chains and are fond of bright shirts and stupid hats.

Catch Phrase: “You tell me – good price – nice McDonalds – where?”


WWW – Kon’nichiwa to Japan

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I just love that quote by Saint Augustine. Don’t you?

Now for catch up time. Here are the places I’ve been revisiting by dipping into my old journal during these past two weeks:

  • 11/5-7/90 – more time with the cousins in Melbourne. Highlight: the Melbourne Cup Horse Race – an event that’s as much a national holiday and as a sporting competition. Not to be missed if you are ever in Oz the first week of Nov. So fun! The best part was I picked the winning course, based solely on its name which reminded me of Mark. “Kingston Rule” was the horse and Mark was living in Kingston, ON, at the time. The Aussies in the crowd around us who at first told me I was crazy to bet on such a long shot were yelling, jumping, and hugging me when my horse came in first! Such a great memory. If only I’d bet more than a couple of bucks, the payout could have financed many more weeks of travel! The win actually freaked me out a bit, because I superstitiously wondered if it was a sign that I wasn’t supposed to give up on Mark, whom at that point in time, was an on-again-off-again obsession. Funny thing: I just googled that horse and found out that to this day it still holds the record for the best ever Melbourne Cup time – if I were still a person who believed in signs, that one would be a doozy, wouldn’t it?
  • 11/8/90 – arrive in Tokyo. SO EXCITED ABOUT BEING IN ASIA!
  • 11/9–11/90 – Takayama, pretty town in the foothills of the Japanese alps that retains a 17th century  feel. Fall colours were in full force. Beautiful intro to Japanese culture. Splurged on staying in a traditional “ryokan.” Almost impossible to believe, but I ate sushi for the first time here. My kids think sushi of as common as a pb&j sandwich, but I travelled half-way across the world 25 years ago to try this exotic delicacy!
  • 11/12–19/90 – Kyoto. Stayed in a cheap, crummy hostel/boarding house while figuring out our plan for a long stay in Japan.
    hostel, Japan

    This is what Uno House looks like now, according to the net. Pretty much as I recall it, only a lot tidier. And, luckily, the image doesn’t capture the aroma of a shared backpackers’ dorm either.

    Job hunting and deciding which area to settle in. Uno House, remarkably, is still in business! (I just looked it up online… which make me wonder how we found these places before the internet. How did we anyway? WOM?) Met all sorts of international travellers here, some of whom I kept in touch with for a long time but have sadly lost track of now. Great adventures meeting quirky folks and figuring out Japanese customs during these early days. Our stay in Kyoto is the source of some of my loveliest visual memories  (the city is known as the most beautiful in Japan) and some of the ugliest too (Bed bugs. Yikes! And scummy hostel toilets shared with backpacker dudes from all over the world.) Intro to Japan was a definitely a double-edged samurai sword!

  • Japan, Temple

    At Kinkaku-Ji Temple, thought to be Japan’s most beautiful man-made site, with Luca, Italian photographer and fellow Uno House resident. It’s covered in gold! The reflection in the lake: spectacular!


Aujourd’hui Je Pense à Paris

You know, I sometimes think, how is anyone ever gonna come up with a book, or a painting, or a symphony, or a sculpture that can compete with a great city. You can’t. Because you look around and every street, every boulevard, is its own special art form and when you think that in the cold, violent, meaningless universe that Paris exists, these lights. I mean come on, there’s nothing happening on Jupiter or Neptune, but from way out in space you can see these lights, the cafés, people drinking and singing. For all we know, Paris is the hottest spot in the universe. 

– Owen Wilson, Midnight in Paris

Even before this week’s sad and shocking events, I had been thinking about Paris. Recently – on a rare evening in which my kids and husband relinquished the remote control and I got to choose on Netflix – I finally got around to watching the 2011 film, Midnight in Paris. As a francophile, a writer and a hopeless romantic, I couldn’t help but fall in love with its quirky premise; but what I loved most about it were the gorgeous shots of the city. I’m pretty well travelled so it’s no small thing when I say that Paris is hands-down the most beautiful city I have ever been to. (That must be why I keep going back! Eight times and counting…)

On a recent visit.

A pic from my recent visit.

Paris has also been on my mind since I was just there a few months ago with two girlfriends to celebrate their 50th birthdays. My souvenirs – vintage plaques picked up at the Marché aux Puces – are still sitting in my kitchen and I spend a few minutes every day carrying them around the house looking for the perfect spot to hang them. A couple weeks ago I even wrote an essay about the City of Light, specifically about how each of my visits there has changed me in some way. I’m still working on getting my essay published and every time I pitch it out, I tweak it a bit. With each tweaking session, I daydream some more about Paris and scheme about how I will finagle my next jaunt over there.

If that wasn’t enough, I just finished reading ParisEdward Rutherfurd’s educational and entertaining historical novel

Maybe it’s because of this recent immersion in all things Parisian that I’m feeling a more-than-normal connection to recent events there. I’m glued non-stop to CNN, despite the fact that reporters have nothing new to add. Like everyone I know here in North America, my heart goes out to Parisians – both those affected directly and indirectly. But I’m a bit obsessed about it.

Back to Dusty Journals… lots of my pages do cover Paris, but I won’t be getting to them for many more months. In fact, 25 years ago today, I was in Japan – a world away from the European capital. I was full of wonder there; it was the most exotic location I’d ever been to, and every moment was an eye opener. I’m having a great time reliving Japan through these entries, which are extraordinarily long and full of unremembered details.

Visit to Paris in 1991, Eiffel Tower

I didn’t peek ahead in my journals, but there are no rules against blogging in advance about locations-to-come, nor against jumping ahead in photo albums. (Gotta love loopholes.) Here we are, looking insanely young and happy, in April 1991.

That said, today I was really tempted to skip ahead to my time in Paris, instead of reading about my explorations around Kyoto. I have a strict self-imposed no-peeking rule for my Dusty Journals project, so it took a lot of discipline to not cheat. (I didn’t.)

Not that I need to peek, really. That time in Paris is very well-preserved in my memory. It wasn’t my first visit there (it was my fourth, in fact) but it was definitely a special one. My then-sort-of-ex-boyfriend, Mark, came to find me and persuade me to come back home. I hadn’t planned on ending my tour so soon, but seeing Mark again in person changed everything. My wanderlust, amazingly, began to fade. I did travel around Europe for a few more weeks after that, but it was never the same.

I recognize now that those days in Paris marked the beginning-of-the-end of my year of travel. And the beginning of an exciting new chapter: 25 awesome years with Mark.

Thinking of you, Paris. Sois fort et prends courage.

Peace for Paris by Jean Julien.

Peace for Paris by Jean Julien.

Where’s the Action?

Somehow it’s time for WWW (Where Was She Wednesday) again… and I didn’t do my regular weekly post in between this WWW and last week’s WWW. I’ve been extra busy with family and work, but that wasn’t the real reason. The real reason is because I hit a snag.

If you read my post from September 28, you already know that when I set out on this Dusty Journal project, I promised myself that it wouldn’t be just about reading and reflection. I wanted my new daily habit to be more than just a schmaltzy trip down memory lane. (Although that aspect of it has turned out to be fun, for sure.) What I really wanted was to be inspired to break out of my rut. An excuse to do something new, different, maybe even a little daring. I didn’t know what these new activities or behaviours might be, I just had a strong intuition that something in my journals would give me the spark I needed.

This project is supposed to be about ACTION.

“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine. It’s deadly.”

                                                          – Paul Coelho

So, everything was going exactly as planned. I got my first big “action” idea last week and wrote a draft post all about it. I was pumped! Couldn’t wait to get going. Spent a good bit of time on research and set up for my exciting outside-the-box scheme.  And then I remembered something important: I’m not single and 25 anymore… I now have a family to consider. This particular adventure would affect them too. One by one, I told each of my guys about my idea. I hoped for some degree of excitement, approval or at least curiosity. Instead their reactions ranged from indifferent to down-right pissed off.

Consider my bubble burst. This is going to be harder than I thought.

I decided it would be better to put this particular idea on hold rather than force-feed it to my family – I’m hoping that maybe they’ll come around with a little persuasion and time to digest my (admittedly) harebrained idea. Until then, I need to come up with Action Plan #2. (Send me ideas if you have any. No sky diving or tattoos, K?) I don’t want to reveal what Action Plan #1 was because I haven’t given up on it yet. With any luck, I’ll be posting all about it in a few weeks. (In fact, I notice that my husband is already starting to warm up to it just a wee bit.)

And now without further ado, here’s the WWW list…

  • Oct 29 – Nov 1:  Sydney: so many awesome things seen, but highlights were the Sydney Opera House, going to a killer Midnight Oil concert, and meeting yet another incredible local who insisted on rescuing us from the King’s Cross hovel we were planning to stay in. This angel’s name was Andrea; she lived in a brand-new spacious condo and we ended up staying and partying with her the whole time we were there. She was too much fun – we got along like old friends right from the get-go.

    Seeing “The Importance of Being Earnest” at the Sydney Opera House for $15 almost blew our $48/day budget. Luckily free accommodation during the rest of our stay in Oz made up for our splurges. (Geez… I hope that’s not what I wore to the play?!)

    (Hmm. What ever happened to Andrea? We stayed in touch for quite a while, and then poof! Off the radar. Maybe I should track her down as my Action Plan #2. Nah. Trolling for someone on FaceBook doesn’t exactly count as action or adventure, does it? I can probably do better than that…)

  • Nov 2 – Nov 3:  Melbourne: From the outset, part of the plan for our trip was meeting our fabled Australian relatives. We knew that a whole branch of our family lived there, but had never met them. What a huge, happy, woggy (you’ll know that word only if you live down under… google it) tribe of wonderful people they turned out to be! We were treated like royalty. A few years later they came to see us in Canada too and we got to return their hospitality.


    Australian penguins are too cute!

  • Nov 4: Phillip Island to see the famous faerie penguin parade with our new Aussie family.

More fun in Melbourne in the next post….