Backpacking & Not Dying: How to B(L)ackpack

"I don’t know where I’m going, but I promise it won’t be boring" – David Bowie

Over the last couple of years, Black folks trekking the planet has become more and more common and it’s simply amazing! Especially knowing most of us came from households where “don’t do that or you’re gonna end up in a ditch” poured from mothers’ lips as often as Kool-aid poured from those large plastic pitchers.

The strange thing, though, for me at least, is that even with the numbers of Black travelers increasing, I don’t see many while I’m out there backpacking the globe. Sitting in my hostel in Bogota, it hit me: Increase the number of Black backpackers. So here I am.

Let me start by saying I became a backpacker by default. I’m undoubtedly the poorest person in my circle, and probably the poorest person I know, but I’ve made a way to make my 7% of the world happen (7% sounds small, but trust me, it’s not).

What is backpacking, eh? Backpacking is traveling to experience culture, life, foods, winds, suns and moons as they should be: up close and personal, and on a very small budget, because you know money isn’t as important as your “rise and grind” friends would have you believe. The best things in life are very close to free. Do not mistake me, though. You don’t need to live in a shoebox to be a backpacker. Just be smart. After all, this is your chance to find out who you are as a person, as a traveler, and as a human (again, speaking from my experience).

But what is Blackpacking? The same thing, except some of your motivation to do this is to prove to your folks that the world is not going to kill you.

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Here are my tips for all backpackers, but especially for Black backpackers (who have considered the hostels because the hotels have become too much):

Be sure to pack the following: Washcloths & lotion. The struggle is real when you realize most people just put the soap in their hand and run it over their naked parts. I need a cloth to get that need-to-be-scrubbed dirt. And when I dry off, I need real lotion that doesn’t have “water” as its main ingredient.

Taking risks will be a requirement. If you don’t like taking risks, give up now and contact your local travel agent, or just hop on the next group trip with others who like the normal, boring, “everybody else took a photo here, so I want one here too” trips. Sometimes you will need to hop on that unlabeled bus and see what happens. You’ll probably be right, but you must first get on.

Two pair of shoes is pushing it. Get a pair that serve as walking shoes, running shoes, and look half-decent with the pants you’ll wear when you go to a better-than-average live music lounge someplace.

You’re not a people person? Again, call that travel agent or those friends who are also not people persons and go someplace with them and practice being standoffish together. Being a people person makes it easier to eat, find free places to stay, get free tour guides, and more. I’ve been fed, housed, clothed, and shipped off by many kind strangers all over the world.

No, these people don’t want to learn your language. You’re in their country, learn theirs. Simple, hey? At least learn the necessities. “Where is the bathroom,” “I’m lost, where is the police,” and “Is that a dead body?”

Even when you’re not traveling, one of the most unattractive things in life is someone who refuses to try new foods. Well, when traveling, it’s multiplied by 10. UGH! Get over it, and fuel your body. God knows where I’d be if it weren’t for those baby goat pancreas and thymus glands.

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Things You Will Have To Abandon:

1. Comfort. I once slept on a wooden plank with a blanket on it then woke up and took a cold shower because all the hot water was used. I loved it.

2. Fear of the unknown. Embrace the unknown. After all, nothing but death is certain, right? Oh, but you won’t die on this trip.

3. Your constant desire to be plugged in. Wifi is scarce, international calls are rare and expensive, and honestly, who cares about what’s happening elsewhere?

4. Strict plans. Be flexible. While you have plans to go one place, you meet a group of amazing strangers who ask you to come with them to a beautiful waterfall an hour away. Change those old plans of yours and go see that waterfall.

Oh yes, the budget I mentioned. Every now and then there will be those moments when you can splurge on a steak in South America, but that’s rare. Backpacking money is held tightly in case of emergency, because there’s a slim chance there may be one at some point. Eat cheap (think Freshman year in college), check out public transportation, and cancel those expensive skydiving plans. The goal is to have money on your last day abroad.

Home is forever away. You’re in the world alone, or perhaps with just one other person, and unplugged from the people you left behind who’re probably talking about Beyoncé, Trump, Nikes, and Housewives. Leave them be. But if you absolutely must connect for just a few seconds, find wifi at Starbucks, McDonalds, or some strange coffee shop.

The backpack! What’s in that bag? What you got in that bag? You don’t have the stunt on anybody when traveling for the right reasons (yes, I’m determining here what the right reasons are). You can leave those unnecessary, complicated clothes home and make this trip happen with clothes that fold enough times to find into a back suitable for a school aged child. Make sure they’re clothes that can be discarded. I once had to leave shoes and half a bag of clothes in Barcelona. I recommend you pack no more than 20lbs. (9kilos).

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Clothes I typically Pack:

• 2 packs of white tees
• 7 pair of underwear (hoping to find a laundry along the way)
• 4 bottoms (joggers, 2 jeans, shorts)
• 2 pairs of socks
• Flip flops
• Shoes (no more than two pair)

Misc. Items I Typically Pack (because places I visit don’t usually cater to those with hair and skin like mine):

• Hair grease (Murray’s pomade)
• Shea butter (in case I need to mix it with cheap lotion to thicken it up for my soon-to-be ashy skin)
• Sun & heat protectors for your skin and hair (relaxed or natural)
• Extra large condoms (did you laugh?)

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Cheers to the extra large condoms. I’m kidding. Related: How To Hoe Safely When Traveling.

And Don’t Forget:

1. Bring a journal and a book. When you have down time, read something you’ve always wanted to read, and write about the time spent “out there.”

2. Reassure your mother you won’t die.

3. All happy white people who speak to you aren’t out to get you or steal from you.

4. You don’t have to buy a gift for everyone.

5. Be open to all new experiences.

6. Bring a pack of napkins or tissues with you. TRUST ME.

7. Pack a deck of cards in case you run into some other folks out there who may want to play a good game of Spades in the middle of the forest.

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Listen, backpacking is amazing, but it’s not a night at the Hilton followed by brunch at the Four Seasons, then an afternoon of safari, beach cruising, and zip lining. It may be bad weather, a lost debit card, a wrongly scheduled hostel and no food. Be prepared for that. But also be prepared for one of the greatest memories you’ll ever have.

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What I learned backpacking around the world:

• Most people are genuinely good
• How to survive and smile and not get upset when things go horribly wrong
• Unsustainable flames are amazing, but heartbreaking when it’s time to fly home
• There is no such thing as mediocrity in nature
• My mother, grandmothers, aunts, father, cousins, friends, and coworkers were all wrong: terrorists didn’t kill me, I didn’t get Ebola or Zika, and I didn’t end up in a ditch
• I can go 8 days with absolutely no money
• We are never alone if we’re able to open up
• Amazing lifelong friendships can be built in a matter of minutes
• I’m not even close to reaching my physical, emotional, and spiritual limits
• The history of the world is bigger than Mr. Tyson and Ms. Hartless said
• Things that matter greatly at home disappear “out there”
• Everyone back home who never left are wrong about the world

Now go. Forget everything I just said, and find out for yourself.

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CultureTravel on Purpose

Darnell Lamont Walker, a self-professed traveling foodie, has been found sitting at tables eating baby goat sweetbreads, drinking tequila, and laughing loudly with strangers. The writer, filmmaker, artist, and sometimes photographer puts happiness above all.

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