So let me pose a question. How rough is too rough when it comes to travel? Is roughing it a tarp and a bedroll? Or is it a Holiday Inn Express?
I’ve had this conversation with a few people and have learned not to judge people who may not enjoy backcountry accommodations as much as I do. But there are a couple points on this topic that are worth making. So I’ll tackle this in two parts: backcountry adventures and international travel.
I’ve told the story many times, my first experience camping in Oklahoma. It was at an improved campsite on Tenkiller Lake, a place that had restrooms, concrete pads for RVs, electrical outlets and even showers. Growing up in Colorado, I can assure you such campsites are largely absent there.
I could poke fun. But really, that’s pretty pointless. If the facilities are there, it just lets that many more people enjoy state parks, lakes and other sites. Tenkiller is beautiful, its fishing is good and is just one of many places where people can get outside but still have a few modern conveniences.
But if that is the bottom end of what you’ll tolerate, there are so many other places that become out of reach. It eliminates all of the backcountry, simply because the backcountry, by definition, has no infrastructure and is largely inaccessible except on foot or horseback. Even places accessible by car but not having modern amenities become undesirable.
Much of the Appalachian Trail, for example, wouldn’t be much fun unless you’re ready to camp by tent. The bulk of the Rockies is the same way. Want to explore the San Juans? Better get used to tents, sleeping bags and doing your “business” behind a bush.
The bottom line for me is that the backcountry is beautiful. Camping in northern New Mexico, I had bighorn sheep stroll through my campsite. You can’t buy that kind of experience. Or the solitude, for that matter. For some of us, that’s pretty important.
If you can get used to really roughing it, so much more of the outdoors is open for you to explore.
About 18 months ago, I was walking the streets of Phuket, Thailand. This tourist city was really just a stopover during a 10-day trip to southern Thailand. So it allowed me to make comparisons.
Phuket is designed to cater to Europeans, Australians and Americans. It’s modern and heavily westernized. Hotels and resorts are clean and have western-style restaurants, restrooms and amenities. In my opinion, too much of what Thailand is was scrubbed from the city.
I’d spent most of my time in Phang Nga at the Phang Nga Guest House. It was more Spartan, but was still clean and comfortable. The city itself was completely Thai and non-Western (with the exception of the nearly ubiquitous 7-Eleven stores). Restaurants were all Thai. Fresh food came not from a grocery store, but an open air market.
Other places in the developing world lack toilets (just do a Google search for “squatty potty” and you’ll see what much of the rest of the world uses). Some hotels and hostels might not pass most Americans’ standards in terms of heating/cooling, reliable power or posh bedding. And most of the world’s tap water is stuff you don’t want to drink. Even in a modern city like Shanghai, you only drink water from bottles or from hot water spigots that heat (and thus purify) water with near boiling temperatures to make it potable.
If such inconveniences bother you, be prepared to mark off a number of amazing destinations you’ll never get to see. China. India. Vietnam. Anywhere in Africa and some places in Europe. And a whole swath of incredible places in Latin America. That will pretty much limit your world travel to western Europe, Canada, Australia, Japan and South Korea. Great places, but just a fraction of the globe.
And forget much of the world if your fear of germs leaves you constantly reaching for the antibacterial gel.
But if you can learn to adapt to conditions the locals live in, so much more of the world opens up to you. You can trek the Himalayas or hike the Andes. Explore Peruvian food markets or dive into the Chinese countryside. See the wild places of sub-Saharan Africa or experience the teeming streets of Mumbai. Enjoy cheap but tasty street food expertly prepared by a Hong Kong street vendor.
Priceless memories you can’t get from the safety of the sanitized West and the places that try to imitate it.
So the question becomes this: Can you accept less in order to experience more?