For any long time traveler out there, you will know exactly what it is that I am talking about. The Backpackers Big Four are those four big questions that all backpackers seem to ask each other as we live in this giant little bubble that serves to isolate us as we trek on down the road. A standard first conversation will generally go something like this….
Backpacker: “Hi! How are you? Where are you from?”
Backpacker: “Oh cool. How long are you traveling for?”
Me: “Don’t know. One way ticket.”
Backpacker: “Oh my God, that is so amazing! Like, so where have you been so far?”
Me: “From Mexico down to here in Costa Rica.”
Backpacker: “That is crazy! Where are you going next?”
Me: “Don’t know. Probably back to Canada.”
Backpacker: “That sounds so amazing!”
I don’t know about you other long term backpackers out there, but I have had this conversation about a million times. And as we would say in Australia, it gives me the shits! (No I do not have diarrhoea, this literally just means that it annoys me immensely).
The Backpackers Big Four Questions are:
“Where are you from?”, “Where are you going? “, “Where have you come from?” and “How long are you travelling for?”
Note that in among these questions, one of the most basic common courtesies gets left out. And that is the question “What is your name?”. Half of the time people don’t even ask. They just drop the big four and everyone goes off to the pub and has an awesome time.
There are multiple issues that I have with this standard structure of backpackers introduction. Firstly, it often does not allow for or lead to any kind of in depth discussion for the most part on deeper topics. Half of the people I meet traveling don’t even know where to take a conversation after the Big Four and this is frustrating because it never allows you to get to know a person with any kind of substance. You never really get to know a person at all based on these questions.
My second issue with this standard structure is that once you get off the road after a year and try and go back to normal society, you seem to lose your conversational skills. Meet someone in a bar that is kinda cute and you want to go talk to them…. well you can’t drop the Big Four at them, because we are no longer in ‘Travel-land’ so how do you go about this? Ummmm…. I don’t know…. I apparently lost my conversation opening skills…..
As a traveler/backpacker, I implore you to think outside the box. Try asking people about their family, their passions, their challenges. Talk about history, culture, scientific discoveries, current affairs. Talk about things that you are passionate about. Make a joke. Talk to locals about their lives and what is going on in the area. Discover. Or otherwise you are just feeding into the never ending cycle of tourists who go on these trips, spend their entire time on the road drunk, learn nothing about the people they are with or about life and think they know and understand everything about the world.
To grow, you need challenge. So think up some new conversation topics and give them a go. Try and try again. Develop your ability to have conversations with people in a rich and fulfilling way that doesn’t feel like groundhog day every time you set foot into the next backpackers hostel. Have conversations where you can learn something new and of substance. Have conversations that will challenge your ways of thinking about things and that challenge and change who you are. And better still, when you start these conversations, open with the most important question that you should ask every time and never forget….. “What’s your name?”