The Good Life Bumming Around the world
This book can be downloaded and read in iBooks on your Mac or iOS device.
Warning: this book could cause your feet to wander... Planet Backpacker is for anyone who's ever yearned to travel around the world. This solo adventure involved mountain biking across Europe and backpacking on through Egypt, India and Southeast Asia. A rallying cry to visit some of the most exotic places on earth, Planet Backpacker includes an insider's guide for planning your own trip.
Around the World on $85 a Day
By Erin Creager, Travel Writer - Detroit Free Press
Sept. 5, 2010
Bob Downes isn't trying to talk you into backpacking around the world.
But if you've always dreamed of doing it, he'll tell you how.
"To me, going around the world is the last epic adventure that the average person can do," says Downes, 57, of Traverse City. For him, the key is to travel simply and lightly, camping or staying in hostels, carrying your pack on your back -- even if you are far older than 21.
"When we talk in America about backpacking, most people think of it as a backcountry camping experience," he says. "But people in Europe and Australia think of it as taking a rucksack and bumbling around the world. What I try to get across is that you can travel a lot cheaper with this style of travel and have a better time."
Planes, Trains, Buses And Bike
Downes is editor and publisher of Northern Express Weekly in Traverse City and author of "Planet Backpacker." He spent $11,000 on a 130-day solo trip around the world in 2007. He biked and camped his way across Europe, then ditched the bike and flew on to Egypt, India and Thailand.
He saw 20 countries, took 18 flights, rode 20 trains, 10 buses and pedaled 700 miles on his mountain bike.
He met few Americans once he got beyond Europe. He blames fear.
"That's a real serious problem for our country. We are really a very frightened country," he says. "Your typical American is a scared little bunny rabbit. Europeans and Australians know the world is not this big scary place. Our media just fills our head with all this scary stuff about foreigners. Our isolation is part of that problem."
In addition, most Americans have only a couple weeks' vacation a year, hardly time to go gallivanting around the globe. How did Downes get the time off from the company he owns? He told his business partner a few years ahead of time that he wanted to take a sabbatical. He planned carefully and hired a temporary editor to take his place.
He says anyone who owns their own business can do the same thing if they plan right.
"If you couch it as a sabbatical, it is easy," he says.
Age Is Not An Issue
In this summer's film "Eat Pray Love," a divorcing narcissist sets off around the world with a goal of finding herself and eating really good food (notice she never does tell us how much the glamorous trip costs). But Downes didn't have any life problem to solve -- he just liked to travel. With a journalist's eye, he noticed the world without demanding that it all relate to his needs.
Downes found himself the oldest backpacker just about everywhere he went, often sharing hostels with twentysomethings with whom he had nothing in common. It did not bother him.
"I don't feel older. I'm probably in a lot better shape than most people in their 20s," he says. "I don't give a rip ... if someone doesn't like me because I'm older, tough beans. I don't like to be buddy-buddy and palsy-walsy if they don't want to hang around."
A tougher issue was loneliness.
"When you just have yourself to entertain all day, time just goes at a glacial pace," he says. "Everyday I would be lonesome, so I would look around for an Internet café and I'd write up that day's entry. I wanted the book to be a little rough around the edges to get the idea across of real-time travel journal."
His book contains only one grand conclusion: "Planet Earth is much stranger and more interesting than you might imagine, and that most people are friendly to a traveler, especially if you take care to wear a smile."
Mostly, he just enjoyed himself.
Can Anyone Go?
Can anyone backpack around the world?
Downes is not saying that. If someone is in poor physical shape or has zero experience traveling on his or her own, they may want to get healthy and get some practice first. He also knows that roughing it isn't for everyone.
Downes hitchhiked alone to California at age 17 and is a former triathlete. Before he cycled across Ireland, England and Europe on this trip, he'd already done a lot of bicycle camping in Canada and the U.S. He already knew what it was like to sleep on the ground or stay in a $6 hostel.
In 2011, Downes is planning another world backpacking trip, this time for six months and with his wife, Jeannette. They have been scrimping and have saved up $20,000. They'll camp for three months around Australia. Then they will backpack through southern India, Sri Lanka, Turkey and Spain. They will travel part of the time on their own and part of the time with Intrepid Travel, which specializes in small group tours.
"People say they will wait until they're real old to travel," he says, with amazement. "You gotta go now."