In her first book, It’s Only the Himalayas and Other Tales of Miscalculation from an Overconfident Backpacker, Sue Bedford does a phenomenal job keeping her readers guessing about what awkward and embarrassing misadventures she’ll get into next. If you’ve backpacked around the globe, It’s Only the Himalayas will remind you of your backpacking adventures. And if you haven’t yet, it’ll give you lots of insights on the challenges that may lie ahead.
It’s been a long time since I laughed-out-loud while reading a travel memoir and there were plenty of times when I had to ask myself, how did Sue come up with such funny analogies and descriptions! Not only did this page turner make me laugh, it also made me think.
It’s Only the Himalayas not only reveals the less glamorous side of backpacking around the world, but more importantly, it shares one’s journey of self-discovery. It questions the expectation of “finding yourself” while on the road and the effects of comparing yourself to others.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Sue Bedford, an indie backpacker who has backpacked over 50 countries. She calls Toronto, Canada her home base and she is a columnist for Outpost Magazine. We talked about the strange experiences she encountered on the road, the benefits of traveling with parents and so much more.
“Congratulations to Brandon S. for winning a free copy!”
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You spent a year and a half saving for your RTW trip, what are some money saving tips that you can share for anyone who is thinking about planning a similar trip?
I lived with my parents, which was exasperating in the sense that I was 23-years-old and still being lectured for not finishing my Brussel sprouts, but I saved a ton of money. I wish I had some “life hack” tip to conveniently save hundreds of dollars every pay-cheque, but really all I did was not spend money. I didn’t shop. I didn’t drink. I didn’t go to yoga or dance class—which is probably why I had the constitution of a wet cookie when attempting to trek in Nepal. It made for a dull 18 months, but the subsequent trip was worth every boring, penny-pinching second.
What was the strangest experience you had on your trip? Perhaps the bathroom break in Tibet?
Yeah, that was definitely a weird moment. For your blog readers who haven’t yet checked out the book: our bus stopped for a bathroom break at the side of a Tibetan highway next to a peculiar wooden platform elevated on stilts. While most of us scratched our heads, one woman in the know immediately scampered up the ladder, squatted behind the half-wall, and dropped a deuce twelve feet through the air where it splattered onto the same dirt it would’ve landed on had she merely crouched down. Before you ask: I have no freaking idea.
Another strange experience was the traditional Dayak funeral ceremony in a Bornean longhouse. The skulls of the relatives of the deceased are exhumed, displayed and even presented with lit cigarettes; any skulls not yet satisfactorily decomposed for the event are replaced by coconuts with faces drawn on them. I was invited to partake in the dancing—although I didn’t know the steps and so I panicked and did the Time Warp instead. Hey, at least it wasn’t the Macarena.
Half way through It’s Only the Himalayas, you were staring at the Taj Mahal but felt miserable. How do you get through those difficult days while on the road?
Traveling is physically and psychologically exhausting. All travelers have moments where they know they “should” be having fun but they’re too burnt out to appreciate their surroundings. One benefit of backpacking in pairs is that you keep each other stoked. In any event, there are days when you need to just hang out on the beach, or in a coffee shop, or at the mall, and recharge by recreating whatever your normal would be at home.
You often say, “Imagine the Facebook status?”. What role does Facebook play in your travels?
Social media has a curious effect on backpacker culture. On the one hand, it allows travelers to share their experiences and motivates others to venture into the yonder. However, it can also over-glorify life on the road as many people choose to share only their sunniest moments—rarely do you see photos of backpackers throwing up into a squat toilet due to “Delhi belly.”
After eating noodle soup and getting sick, you and your dad had a very sentimental moment. How did trekking with your dad change your trip for the better?
Trekking with Dad was the first adventure we had as equals—we wheezed, ached, cursed, vomited and ultimately succeeded together. Of course, he still lectures me to finish my Brussel sprouts, but I guess some things never change.
Why should we travel with our parents?
Traveling with your parents allows you to build a friendship by sharing exciting experiences, unexpected challenges and those stupid jokes that transpire during really, really long bus rides.
At the end of the book, you realize that having the expectation of finding yourself in a year was grandiose. What’s some advice you would give to travelers who are looking to find themselves while traveling?
There is no clandestine wisdom tucked beneath an African dune or nestled within a Mayan ruin that will suddenly bequeath you with whatever ambiguous insight you feel you’re lacking. Wherever you go, there you are—but cut yourself some slack because you’re probably capable of more than you think.
What are you up to next?
I’m currently the indie travel columnist for Outpost Magazine and a yoga instructor—which probably comes as a shock to everybody who read about my misadventures in the ashram in the India chapter. See what I mean about being capable of more than you think?
You can also find Sue Bedford on social media:
Thanks again to Brindle and Glass for sending me a free copy of It’s Only the Himalayas for me to enjoy and review! Of course all opinions are my own.
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