Backpackers and the Big City

Carlos didn’t want to leave the hammock he was sitting on. He admired the green landscape in front of him and the fresh air that calmed his senses. He told me that serenity is the perfect antidote to life’s complexities and nothing is as peaceful as the sound of silence in the countryside.

But the backpack-toting Spaniard didn’t have a choice. He had to leave for the city to catch an emergency flight back to his homeland. If given a chance, he said, he would stay for another week to enjoy the rustic atmosphere. Carlos admitted that he hated the glitz, the towering concretes, and the overwhelming noise of the big city, which he ardently described as “chaotic”.

He’s not the only one. Most backpackers I’ve met are against big city travel for reasons such as pollution, honking cars, too many people waiting in line or pushing each other to get inside a sardine-like train carriage. And I absolutely know how chaotic it can get because I live in one and it’s called Metro Manila.

It would be unfair, however, to completely dismiss what the big cities can offer. To tell you the truth, I still enjoy traveling to these urban jungles even if I carry a backpack. I may love the thrill of trekking in the wilderness or listening to the lullaby of geckos in a remote area, but going to Hong Kong or Singapore is still a treat for me. Whether it’s shopping in Plaza Singapura, staying in reputable hotels in Tsim Sha Tsui, watching a dozen cars speeding, or eating Baskin-Robbins below skyscrapers, city travel can still be as exciting as meeting indigenous tribes in the mountainside.

Most backpackers may disagree because they believe that city life can be an obstruction to experiencing the authentic. However, what most people don’t know is that the authentic can be found anywhere. So the question is never about whether you should be staying in a big city or traveling to a bucolic area. It’s really all about satisfying your needs as a traveler.

Try asking yourself these questions:

What do you want to do?
Being in a metropolitan area doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go shopping. There are plenty of options from watching street acts perform to enjoying a relaxing spa service. The big city is also the place to be if you’re looking to drink or party in bars, visit museums, or taste global cuisine. Now if you want to go hiking or see rice paddies, then heading to the rural areas may be your best choice.

How much are you willing to spend?
Remember that big cities are more expensive than smaller towns in most cases. So if you’re on a very tight budget but want to travel for weeks, spending more time in the countryside may just be good for your money.

How do you want to experience culture?
If you think that culture can only be experienced through meeting indigenous tribes, then you’re absolutely wrong. The truth is, you can get a taste of a country’s culture wherever you go as long as you participate. This means trying out activities, experiencing local cuisine, and communicating with the people  – from tribes to taxi drivers.

How comfortable are you?
You don’t have to stay beside a river or live in a small hut just because you’re a sandal-wearing backpacker. It’s never really about being labeled as cool. It’s about what makes you happy and comfortable. Whenever people ask me where they should travel, I always tell them to pursue what they want to see or experience because there’s no right or wrong when it comes to traveling. If you want peace and quiet, then go to a hillside retreat. But if you want fast-paced experiences with overflowing mojitos, then it’s just right to stay in the metropolis.

So the next time you travel and someone tells you to avoid the big cities, think about these questions and answer them truthfully. There is absolutely nothing wrong if you choose to stay in one of the most exciting capitals of the world. What matters is how you want to experience your trip, because in the end, it’s really about what makes you feel good.

singapore buildings

It’s still fun in the big cities.

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