By Julia Jarvis
I am meeting with Assja, who returned from a 10-week journey through Asia just a few days ago.
While still acclimatizing and all the memories are still fresh, she will tell us what is backpacking and about her impressions, gathered while traveling alone through Asia with just a backpack on her back.
“I left Bulgaria 15 years ago. I went to Germany to study Physics in a high-reputation university. After my graduation I found an interesting job and stayed here. Last years I was engaged in science and medical technology. I supported and trained neurosurgeons worldwide how to use medical equipment during surgeries. In my free time I am helping people as a volunteer in the Emergency Medical Services, I am interested in alternative medicine, healthy nutrition, meditation, yoga or just traveling.”
What is backpacking?
Backpacking is traveling with with one backpack (40 to 70 litres) on your back to different places around the world for unlimited time, spontaneously deciding where to head the next day. Some backpackers plan in detail their journey, have a return date; others just buy a one way ticket and know only their first destination, completely letting fate decide their path. Most backpackers travel alone, others are couples or in small groups. They spend the nights in hostels, equipped and adopted for such a standard all over the world.
How did you decide to embark on such a journey?
A few years ago, when I was in Asia for first time on a short vacation, I fell in love with this continent and decided to return for a longer period. Now, when it was time for me to change my job, I decided to fulfill this wish of mine and to do a backpacking tour. Then, when I wished to come back, I did not know I will return as a backpacker. And that this will turn out to be one of the most amazing experiences in my life.
How many countries did you visit during these 2 months?
Most of the countries in Asia are vast, so for 10 weeks I managed to visit 4 countries – Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. My initial plan included Laos as well, however later I decided to postpone it for next time. Instead I decided to spend that time in Buddhist monasteries in Thailand and Vietnam, living with monks and nuns.
Did you have an initial plan or a day-to-day program what to do?
I had a rough idea of the countries I wanted to visit and the order to do it – sometimes a bit of planning ahead saves time, money and energy. I had a airplane ticket with an open return date, but I did not have a strict plan and program, I decided spontaneously, based on reports I read or heard as recommendations from other travelers, whom I met along the way. Sometimes I decided to stay longer, sometimes lesser, depending on my inner feeling.
What kind of people did you meet along the way?
Backpackers from all of the continents, who travel around the world (English-speakers – North America, Canada, England, Ireland, Australia; Mid- and South America, Scandinavia – Norway, Denmark, Sweden, rest of Europe – Holland, Germany; Turkey, Russia, Israel, Africa), and are on the road from 2 months to 2 years. The so-called expat – resettlers, who live and work for short or long time in Asia, most of whom settled on a piece of paradise after a long trip. Local people or travelers from other Asian countries. Buddhist monks and nuns, whom I met in the monasteries, at which I lived.
Did you meet any other Bulgarians?
I was hoping to meet other Bulgarians and I would have been so happy, but unfortunately I did not meet any. All the people I met along the way exhaled: “O, Bulgaria – you are the first Bulgarian backpacker we meet – tell us more about your country.”
Are mostly young people doing this kind of tourism?
Backpacking is popular among the people between ages of 20 and 30, who have more spare time and who travel after graduating school or university. But there is no age barrier; I have met people of all ages. Anyone who has the opportunity, time and wishes to do it can do it. I even recommend this trip to be taken or repeated after turning 30 years old, then it will be a completely different experience, the world and the life will be perceived in a more beautiful way.
What kind of preparations must one make to get ready for such a trip to Asia?
Before I left, I collected information about the countries, which I was about to travel trough, such as recent local conflicts and how safe is the situation there, especially for a woman, traveling alone; what are the requirements for crossing the borders – visas and other documents; what kind of tropical diseases are present and how to protect myself – vaccinations, medication for emergencies such as high fever or food poisoning, spray and mosquito net – the only way of protection against malaria and dengue fever.
A list of all the necessary things and more details about the whole trip can be found in my online travel blog (listed below), which I currently migrate and update. It will take a while until it is completed, but I am working on it. If you have any questions you can reach me via the blog or email.
Which are the most important things to put in one’s backpack?
For me the most important thing was the backpack itself – it must be comfortable. Also comfortable shoes, the passport, all the necessary documents for getting visas, medical insurance, credit cards, mobile phone, which is used to link to local wi-fi – for getting in touch with the world, medication for emergencies, mosquito net and spray. All the rest can be acquired and bought on site.
Where was the nicest place and what was the highlight for you?
Everywhere was very nice, with lots of positive experiences. But a special time for me was the time spent in the Buddhist monasteries in the Asian mountains, with strict rules and discipline – a time for meditation and silence. Getting up in 3 a.m., feeding only twice a day – a ceremony by itself, singing mantras every night with 200 nuns, a life dedicated to the present and to the eternity at the same time. This part is so vast, that I will try to describe it with more details in my online blog.
What did this journey give you and what did it teach you?
This journey gave me so much and taught me so much that I can hardly explain and retell. I learned a lot about the world and the people. I learned a lot for myself too. I understood so much about the life, the food, the education, the culture and the religion, the flora and fauna of the countries I visited.
I learned a lot about all the other countries, viewed through the eyes of the other backpackers who live there, we had long discussions and stories about the local and the world politics, the problems and the positive things.
I saw and felt the universal laws in action – how the age, the sex, the religion, the colour of skin or the country you are from have no real meaning – we are all actually so alike and connected to love – we are happy when we love and be loved just the way we are. You really understand how huge the human heart is and how much you can love, and this universal love can be given to anyone who touches your life, even for a short moment.
One discovers the abundance of the world – there is actually nothing to divide, because there is enough for everybody – the fear, the hatred and the competition are absolutely unnecessary.
One sees the true nature of the world – the dynamics, the caducity and the eternity at the same time, which is today, now, at this exact moment.
I learned to let the faith and my internal voice to lead me with no expectations, just with trust in the people and the world, that everything will be all right and to know that everywhere around the world I am at home.
When one travels, the life is felt in full effect. Everything is possible, if you truly wish for it. There are endless possibilities, even for a long journey like this one. All these trivial truths, of which we hear and read, can be felt and lived so intensively and for a short period of time during this kind of journeys.
And now where to? Once a person has gone through such a journey is there a wish for more journeys?
After this journey the list of countries that I want to visit became longer, not shorter (she laughs). Yes, an experience like this gets you addicted and I strongly hope to have the opportunity to travel again for longer time around the world. For now the aim is Europe – it is closer, and there are destinations that I still have not visited. I traveled through almost hole of Bulgaria, even as a backpacker. Yes, the world is big and so small at the same time. Maybe next time it will be China, Tibet, Nepal, Australia or something completely different…
Blog and information about the travel: