Is a backpacking trip right for you?


Do you have wanderlust? Are you itching to venture off the beaten path, and maybe save some money on your travels at the same time? Consider a backpacking trip.

Alumnus and Honors College program coordinator Ari Sernik ’17 is a self-proclaimed “backpacking enthusiast” who’s lived on three continents and spent four months in 2013 traveling Southeast Asia carrying only a single bag. Sernik and fellow backpacker Suzanne Kerpel, who traveled the world for a year with her husband on a budget of $20,000, shared their experiences and traveling advice with FIU students during International Education Week, hosted this week by the Office of Global Affairs.

Here are some things to consider about backpacking, according to Sernik and Kerpel:

Ari Sernik ’17 on a backpacking trip in Thailand

1) Ditch the itinerary

Sernik says traveling without a set plan is fun because you have nowhere you need to be. When your schedule is free, you can take suggestions from locals as to which towns to visit, what activities to do and what food to eat. And it also allows you to stay in a place longer if you like it. Without a firm itinerary, he went from Thailand to Laos to Vietnam and ended up in Cambodia. “You can really get to know people and get immersed in the culture when there’s no rush,” Sernik says.

2) Be courageous

Sernik and Kerpel agree the best backpacking experiences happen when you let go of inhibitions and are willing to try new things.

Kerpel and her husband traveled only by hitchhiking for two months in Japan, and while it was nerve-wracking at first, she says they met some of the kindest people. In Sao Paolo, Brazil, they met a couple on the street on Christmas Day and shared lunch with them. When the couple found out the Kerpels needed a place to stay, they offered them the keys to their apartment for an entire week while they were away visiting family – after only spending an hour getting to know them.

In Asia, Sernik tried eating cockroaches, grasshoppers and snakes – foods that would make most Americans cringe, but that some cultures consider delicacies. But he was also introduced to many delicious recipes of fish, desserts and other foods.

“One thing that’s really going to be happy when you’re traveling is your tastebuds,” he says.

A sunset in Laos captured during Sernik’s backpacking trip across Southeast Asia

3) Disconnect to reconnect

It’s easy to disconnect from the constant buzz of social media, texting and the rest of the digital world on a backpacking trip. Sernik didn’t even bring his cell phone with him on his Asia trip; he just made sure to get to a computer every few days to email his mother and let her know he was okay.

“You’d be surprised, but even in the middle of the jungle there’s always a computer somewhere,” he says.

After stashing the smartphone, Kerpel says it was the “most connected to the world and to people” she’s ever felt. It freed her from distraction and allowed her to open her eyes to the tangible people and things right in front her.

4) Stay in hostels

Sernik recommends staying in youth hostels, dormitory-style accommodations that are often inexpensive for young travelers. In Asia, he stayed in hostels for as low as $5 per night.

“It’s very cheap, and you meet the craziest people,” he says. He once stayed in a hostel with a group of people who spent eight months riding motorcycles from Alaska to Argentina.

5) Travel smart

There are many organizations that help young people travel, often providing them with volunteer or work experience along the way. Sernik suggests checking out these organizations: FIU Alternative Breaks, Peace Corps, Remote Year, CHA Educational Tours, Operation Groundswell: Backpacking with a Purpose, Nyah Project

Visit the Office of Study Abroad for information on travel opportunities that fulfill class credit.

Be sure to stayed informed of legal and institutional travel requirements, as well as safety, health and other risks related to your travel destination. See FIU’s International Travel Guide for a pre-departure checklist.