Summer has come to an end, and while some people are packing their bags to make the big trek back to campus, you’re packing your bags for a much different adventure — you’re going abroad. That’s right. You’ve been bitten by the travel bug, and you’re using this time to take a gap year — 12 whole blissful months off to see all that the world has to offer.
Travelers are an incredibly diverse species, but spend enough time in enough hostels, and you’ll come to realize that there are certain types of people who you are guaranteed to come across during your adventures abroad, no matter where in the world you are visiting. Having spent a tremendous amount of time skipping around the globe myself, I’ve had the unique opportunity to observe these intrepid wayfarers in their natural habitats. Some are inspiring, others annoying, but all of them will teach you something, both about the world and yourself.
Whether you’re planning a whirlwind trip around the world with friends, are venturing out solo, or plan on taking time out to live and work overseas, here is my travel-watcher’s guide for spotting the eight different types of people you will inevitably meet on the road.
1. The Gap Year Traveler
Like you, the Gap Year Traveler is the 18-to-19-year-old explorer who is taking a year off. Most of these wanderlust enthusiasts seem to work for six months after high school, and then travel for six months before going off to start coursework at university. Young and innocent, sometimes loud and loose, the Gap Year Traveler will usually tell you they are trying to "find" themselves before being forced into the structured rigors of academia. And honestly? Why not? You're young and have nothing tying you down. You might as well sneak in a little adventure while you can.
2. The Hippie
The hippie is easily identifiable by a few distinguishing features: no shoes, dreadlocks, a bandana, and hemp. I find that the hippie is seldom properly showered, and is permanently sporting a particular eau-de-backpacker scent that is the lethal combination of scorching hot days, rooms with no air conditioning, nights spent on buses and trains, dirt roads, and lack of soap. Though at times a little far out there, the hippie is always an easy person to be around. This person may not have any real direction, but they also aren't in any rush to get anywhere soon, which makes for stress-free company.
3. The Inspirer
This is my favorite traveler, because the Inspirer is the one person I meet on the road who keeps me wanting more. I often find that Inspirers tend to come in two different types: they are embarking on the kind of round-the-world trip that you only read about in books, or they are living and working overseas, completely embedding themselves in the different cultures they encounter for extended periods of time. The first people I met who truly inspired me to travel were two girls from the UK who were taking a year to see the world, and I remember thinking to myself, "I want to be brave enough to do that." No matter what your own travel story or experiences, the Inspirer always fuels your fire and passion to keep the adventure going.
4. The Partier
Like the Hippie, the Partier is easy to spot. Banged up and bruised with remnants of neon paint tattooed on his or her skin, the Partier often looks like he or she needs a break from a break. This person is often wearing bracelets up to his or her elbows that can be seen as a rite of passage in the traveling community. They could be a rainbow of rope bracelets acquired from days spent tubing on rivers, or a carnival-like collection of festival or club bracelets. They are badges of honor to some, a warning sign to others. One thing is certain — this person is always having a good time.
5. The Know-It-All
The first time I met the Know-It-All traveler, I was in a hostel in Thailand and everything she said irritated me to no end. The Know-It-All is the person who lives to show off their wealth of worldly knowledge acquired throughout his or her adventures. This person is always the first one to jump to answer a question that probably wasn't even directed at them, and is always offering unsolicited advice. This is also the person who, in my opinion, feels he or she has come to understand exactly what the world is all about and, since they have it all figured out, they're ready to dispense opinions passed on as facts to anyone willing to listen.
6. The Competitor
The Competitor is almost as bad as the Know-It-All, and coming across the two of them at once is my worst nightmare. The Competitor treats traveling like a sport to see who is the best and the smartest when it comes to globe-trotting. Oh, you stayed at a hostel for 2 dollars per night? Well, we are on a serious budget, so we pitched a tent behind the public toilets on the side of the garbage-filled road. Didn't cost us a penny!
7. The Flash-packer
There are backpackers, and then there are flash-packers. Though the Flash-packer loves to travel, the nitty-gritty of backpacking does not interest him or her; instead, the Flash-packer's style of travel is more luxurious than what suits the backpacker's budget. This is the person who will stay in the more boutique-like accommodations and is almost always willing to shell out a few extra dollars if it means more comfortable lodgings, better beer and meals not eaten on the go. The Flash-packer packs decent clothes, is always clean, and is rarely shy about his or her desire to travel in style. Don't get me wrong, the Flash-packer loves to travel, but you won't see this person roughing it up at budget hostels. Ever.
8. The Free Bird
The Free Bird category refers to someone who has tried the whole "working a 9-5 cubicle desk job" thing and wanted — no, absolutely needed — to escape. The Free Bird is definitely a seize-the-day kind of person — someone who realizes that life is for living and that time is a precious commodity not to be wasted. This type of traveler is simply taking things as they come. They may not exactly have a plan, but they are having the best. Time. Ever.
So go forth and see the world! No matter where you end up, you're sure to meet a ton of new and interesting people, and will probably end up adding a few more characters to this list who you encounter on your own. After all, that's part of the beauty of taking a little time off to travel. You never know what — or who — you'll come across along the way.