Today I came across a hilarious blogpost called: How to be cool while traveling. Stunned with the title, i got reading of course. When glancing at the first tips – including wearing a fanny pack and wrap-around glasses -I was amused. But when the author listed mocking other travelers’ accents and name-dropping all the countries you’ve been to, it pretty quickly became obvious that this article was just a fun little sarcastic adventure. Still, it made me think. What does make people cool while traveling? Obviously, the idea of cool is very subjective and almost hard to take seriously, but still I thought I’d give it a go with my, less ironic, attempt at explaining what I think is a cool traveler.

Before leaving on my trip around the world at the age of 24, I thought the cool backpacker wears Fisherman wrap pants and colorful scarfs, ideally has dreadlocks and practises yoga on the daily. They read literature relevant to the country they’re traveling in, try all the local food available and know at least basic words of the language of whatever country they’re traveling in. They keep a tight budget, are fearless of modest accomodation, communal showers and large insects. They spend the days exploring and the evenings reflecting what they’ve seen, ideally writing everything down in a diary they intend to publish as a novel once they return home.

That’s really what I believed. The Santa Clause of backpacking was that person to me. And god dammit, I wanted to be just like that. I even brought a laptop with me, so I could use it to write my novel diary every evening.

The truth is, my image of what’s cool changed pretty quickly. After just one night, to be exact. My first night in Bangkok, at a $3-a-night dump was a slap in my tight-budget-keeping face. Box-sized room – check. Insects – check. Nasty communal showers – check. Loud music all night long – check. It was terrible. So terrible, that I cried all night and decided to rethink my strategies and up my budget to whatever price it took to got a modest, yet clean and bearable room. Same was found the following day for just $2 more. Relief – check.

yep, really me. in that room. for $3. in Bangkok.

One week in, I realised that bringing a laptop was a silly idea. It was far too heavy, I was constantly worried about it getting stolen and in all honesty, I wasn’t exactly writing a novel. I kept my friends and family informed in weekly emails and blog updates which turned out to be better than any diary. But not just my production of literature, also my consumption thereof was a lot different to what I had originally planned. I quickly developed a love for writers such as Mariam Keyes, Amy Tan and other female authors, mostly stuff that could probably be summed up as chick lit. Oh well, at least I was happily entertained. My plan of being deeply reflective and practise yoga gave way to careful planning on where to grab the next banana pancake and not rarely I spent more time exploring locals bars than temples. I realised that what I cared about were people and the way they lived their lives on the daily. I went to markets, talked to as many locals as possible, took public transportation and walked until I couldn’t walk anymore. I pretty quickly knew that temples, museums and ancient ruins bored me. Anything that didn’t come with life and vibrancy bored me. But I soon accepted that it was OK for me to think so. I wasn’t ignorant, I just had different priorities.

The biggest turning point in my thinking came at the end of my travels through South-East-Asia. Three months in, my world trip took me to Sydney, Australia. A vibrant, modern and yes, fashionable, city. Here it hit me. I hated my clothes. I hated looking like a backpacker. I had to leave Asia to realise this, but once I did, I knew that I never quite liked my wrap pants and cotton T-Shirts. Clothes are part of who we are, we use them to communicate to the world around us who we we are, or who we think we are anyway. For me at that time, that means vintage dresses, skirts, sandals and OF COURSE – heels. Within one week I had raided all of Sydney’s finest vintage shops and replaced my entire Asia-Wardrobe with new dresses and shoes. It was magical. I felt like a new-born. Now I could wander the streets and feel like a local. It was my own unique way of getting a small glimpse into what it might feel like to live in a place, rather than just passing through.

me backpacking through Chile (left) and India (no heels here though)

What I learned then, was that what was really cool was to be yourself all the way. If that meant eating banana pancakes, reading chick lit and wearing high-heels – so be it. If you can recognize, accept and appreciate who you really are, others will too and you’re likely to have the time of your life, no matter which country you’re in.

Happy travels,