Europe and Asia are obviously two large and diverse continents, each with their own varied and unique experiences. Distinguishing the differences between the two isn’t complicated either - you are never going to mix up China and France. With that being said, I am interested in highlighting the stark differences between the two that I have felt as a backpacker. Transitioning from clean and efficient Germany to a country like Nepal or India, where people use the middle of the street as a shower or a toilet, has really made me contemplate more about it. Even outside of the characteristics that might classify a country as first or third world, developed or developing, how does it feel different as a traveler?
I’ll be quite upfront when I say that the vast majority of our time in Europe felt like we were on vacation. Yes, we almost always stayed in hostels, had to ride on long, horrible buses, and walk around with huge packs in the middle of the summer heat. We had our fair share of trial and tribulations, certainly not everything came easy. But still we ate at great restaurants, spent a month bumming around on the beach, meandered around museums or historic sites, and enjoyed much of the finer things in life. Importantly, we did all these things while enjoying every western convenience. Even in Albania, which was by far the least developed European country we went to, we had every thing we have been accustomed to having in the US. We had basic needs like pharmaceuticals, toiletries and electricity along with what I would call travel luxuries like WiFi, hot showers and western toilets. I am very grateful we had all of these things, they made our lives easier while bouncing from place to place at a fast clip and allowed us to essentially be homebodies away from home. Still, during those four months in Europe I learned that maybe I don’t want everything to be as easy as it is at home. The most memorable parts of traveling can sometimes be the struggles you face or finally achieving your goal after putting in a great deal of work.
After experiencing China, Thailand, Nepal and now India firsthand, I’m starting to get a good feel of what life is like on the road in Asia. The bottom line is that everything is more difficult, but because of that the successes feel more rewarding. Long gone are the quiet walks through sleepy towns or relaxing mornings outside on the terrace of the local cafe. Now once we step out of our guesthouse we constantly need to be on the alert, whether it be desperately trying not to get run over by scooters and rickshaws or avoid getting pickpocketed by large swathes of children. No longer is there a DM or Spar on every corner, now when we need soap, deodorant or god forbid contact solution we have to hunt through bazaars checking all the shops to see if we can find any. Surprisingly one of the things I have found myself missing most about Europe is simply clean air and a blue sky - you will be hard pressed to find anything like that in the major metro areas of India and China. But when you do find those perfect places, everything feels that much sweeter. A quiet, hippie village in the jungle of Thailand, a lakeside restaurant in the Himalayas, or a small juice hut in an alley in Udaipur - anything to bring your mind and body peace in the midst of the Asian chaos.
There is a lot of travel left to go and I won’t make any claims yet as to where I have enjoyed spending the most time. I think the best kind of trips are the ones that strike a balance between a vacation and an adventure. I just hope we continue to maintain that balance moving forward and manage to take in all that these places have to offer.