They cluster at the railway stations… five guys sharing a loaf of bread and some Nutella. Girls with just-starting dreadlocks. Late teens or early twenties. All of them with packs piled high: sleeping pads rolled and secured on top, a map sticking out a side pocket, bandanas tied to handles, loops, anything. A little in need of a shower, probably, but not offensive.

The backpackers.

They’re fading off now, as August ends and colleges go back in session. But for all of July and much of this month, I couldn’t help but notice the backpackers every time I was in a train station. And they were all over Brugge. One night we sat down across the street from this hostel (upon zooming the picture, I learned it is called Snuffel Hostel; and by searching the web I learned it has its own beer) and simply people-watched. It was around 10 p.m. and the lobby area was buzzing with guests, sitting in small clumps, playing cards or reading. Every so often a backpacker or two would wander down the street and in the front door.

I’m a bit fascinated with the backpackers, partly because they seem so mellow, young, and untethered. And partly because, when I was twenty or so, I don’t think the idea of drifting around Europe on the cheap had ever even occurred to me—much less did I have the nerve to get a pack on and do it. The only kind of backpack I knew about was my school Jansport. I admire their boldness, their curiosity, their willingness to sleep in mass bunkrooms with total strangers and call bread with Nutella dinner.

On my first trip overseas (2004), I visited a friend who was studying in Oxford, UK. I hauled a bulky sleeping bag with me from Boston (feeling foolish carting it and my suitcase around Oxford trying to find the college) and used it on my friend’s floor. One night on that trip, we almost stayed at a hostel in Bath, but changed our minds. Then a year later I took a sleeper train from Delhi to Bhopal, India, which was an experience I won’t forget. But by and large, my travels have been planned, structured, spent in comfortable hotels and without the company of either strangers or large groups of friends.

What about you? Did you get the wanderlust and backpack around someplace? Were your college summers more exciting than mine?

And, in case this didn’t make you want to look up wanderlust in Merriam-Webster Unabridged:

Pronunciation: wänd(r)lst

Function: noun

Etymology: German, from wandern to wander (from Middle High German) + lust desire, pleasure, from Old High German — more at WANDER, LUST

: strong or unconquerable longing for or impulse toward wandering or traveling

wan·der·lust·er \-t(r)\ noun

wan·der·lust·ful \-tfl\ adjective

“wanderlust.” Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002. http://unabridged.merriam-webster.com (23 Aug. 2010).

[I like the adjective form. I’m not sure I knew it existed until just now.]



Filed under European Travel, Words

2 responses to “Wanderlust

  1. B

    I’ve always wanted to be one of those students backpacking around Europe- but the cost of getting there was more than I could afford when I was that age…and honestly, I like knowing where I’ll be sleeping each night. I still travel- but with a bit more planning…Maybe I’ll get another chance to backpack when I retire in 30 years? 🙂

  2. I think when I would have had the opportunity to go I never went backpacking, which I guess is one of those things I should have done… I went to study abroad though which kind of compensates a bit! And actually, not all of the backpackers are that young so maybe I’ll still get my chance before turning 30!

    And yeah, I had a Jansport as well! Memories..

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