Backpacking versus Expat Life – Which do you prefer?

As with many things in life, we all have different tastes. Some are morning people, while others prefer the thrill of night life. Some prefer the country, others the city. Blondes versus brunettes, nerds versus jocks. The list goes on.

When it comes to long-term travel, I feel like there’s two particular categories people fall into. The backpackers versus the expats. Both are great, and I’ve experienced both. I loved backpacking through Australia, and I’m currently living as an expat in Germany. As both experiences are so different from one another, it’s hard to choose a favourite!

In Australia, I loved having total freedom and being able to travel across the country with ease. The easy lifestyle of beaches and parties was something I could definitely get used to! On the other hand, while living and working in Germany brings lots of responsibilities, having my own apartment, groups of friends I see regularly and a steady relationship, makes me feel right at home (but in a way that’s much, much more exciting).

Here’s my list of the pros and cons of both travelling experiences. Which one do you prefer? What are your thoughts about the two?


“The Beach” – backpackers in Thailand

The backpackers are the ones who love the idea of visiting as many countries as possible. Having a round-the-world ticket is ideal, and the thought of spending each day in a new and unexplored place is a thrill. While backpackers may pick up odd jobs here and there, most do not stay in one place for more than a month. Backpacking is an amazing experience to see as much of the world as possible, and whether some choose to backpack through one country or several, making friends will always be easy, and finding a party even easier!

– There’s lots of freedom in your schedule since you don’t have the burden of “normal life routines” such as work or school…you can pretty much get up and go to your next destination whenever you feel like it!
– Since most backpackers live in hostels, you’re meeting new people regularly, and it becomes super easy to make as many friends as possible
– Because you’re constantly travelling and doing something, you can easily experience more life-awakening or changing experiences in a week than some do in a lifetime!

– When you’re only in a place for a few hours to a few days, it’s difficult to experience it in full
– Goodbyes are always hard no matter how often you have to do it – friendships are difficult to maintain long-term, and romances you have tend to be short-term flings
– Backpacking can be a lot more costly, as most backpackers save up and opt out of working while travelling. And for those who do find temporary jobs, most employers are skeptical of hiring backpackers, so the jobs available tend to be pretty gruelling!

Expat Life

The Fitzgerald’s in “Midnight in paris”
photo cred:

By living in one place for a prolonged period of time, it allows you to do things most travellers can’t – such as living like a local, and living a somewhat normal life, but with the thrill and excitement of being immersed in another culture. (Seriously, even seemingly mundane tasks such as grocery shopping becomes an adventure) It’s definitely a new way of seeing the world, and an ability to make a second home for you, somewhere in another part of the globe. It’s an inspiring way to live, so it’s no wonder so many artists and writers choose the expat life!

– The ability to have a second home abroad…no matter how far away it may be
– you can live like a local and see a city better than any traveller
– It’s possible to maintain long term friendships and relationships…lots of expats tend to get married abroad too.

– Adjusting to a new country can be difficult, and having to deal with things such as visas, bank accounts, apartments can be painstaking. Friends might also be more difficult to make, and there might be language barriers, or social etiquettes you’ll have to learn.
– Traveling to other cities and countries tend to be limited to short weekend trips
– Sometimes, you may not have a choice as to where you’d like to live, and may totally hate where you are, but are forced to maintain there for a certain amount of time.



  1. January 24, 2013 / 6:38 pm

    Great post. I’ve lived as an expat in Germany for almost 18 years now, and I’ve often thought of wandering the globe as a backpacker. The two lives laecheln mich an. I hope to do an extended backpacking tour before I get too old and feeble to do so.

    • Michelle
      January 25, 2013 / 11:19 am

      Yes I would definitely recommend it! Maybe you can even start off small and do a backpacking trip across Europe first and test the waters 🙂

  2. January 24, 2013 / 9:18 pm

    the phrase “variety is the spice of life” comes to mind. I think a little bit of both is a good idea.

  3. January 25, 2013 / 2:27 am

    I’ve never done backpacking – it’s something I’ve wanted to do, but I’m not sure there’ll ever be a great time for it. You have to leave a job and have enough money to sustain you for a year. That’s another pro of expat life – you are making money to fund your travels! Maybe even saving! I enjoyed my year as an expat and plan to do it again as soon as I can. I love the idea of spending more time travelling, but then you can just think of your everyday life as extended travel – you just have to spend some hours at work. Though those were the hours I probably learned the most about the new culture I was living in, so it’s all part of the experience too!

    • Michelle
      January 25, 2013 / 11:22 am

      Yea I totally agree! I had to save up quite a bit for my Australia trip! I loved it though and believe it was worth every penny. I’ve love to do a round the world trip too, but I don’t know when since that would take ages to save up! I love that about expat life as well! I always have time to travel during the weekends! 🙂

  4. January 25, 2013 / 9:38 am

    I definitely prefer the expat life. While I enjoy a good backpacking trip, I love having a place to go home to, relax, and use as a base for planning my next adventure. Even with Expat life, travel is way more affordable than it was at my base in the US. Backpacking life is exhausting and as much fun as it is to meet new people all the time, there’s nothing quite like a steady crew. However, even with expat life, people come and go and those goodbyes have certainly been the hardest.

    • Michelle
      January 25, 2013 / 11:25 am

      I agree! Although I found backpacking through Australia quite relaxing even though there were always lots of things to do! However I can imagine backpacking through Europe pretty tiring if you’re jumping from one city to another!

      I haven’t had to say any goodbyes yet, but I’m already thinking about the summer when I’m going back to Canada for a few months. That will for sure be a hard time…

  5. January 27, 2013 / 8:23 am

    Ooh interesting thought! I think I can agree with you, exchange life is just the perfect existence. You can have the best of both worlds with travelling and expat living.

    However if I had to choose one or the other… I’d probably pick expat life. I think there is just so much more scope to fall in love with place! Plus… I think I’d find 40 months of non-stop travel exhausting!

  6. January 28, 2013 / 4:21 pm

    I would definitely prefer to be an expat on a country I would love to live in… like Germany, Japan, Philippines, … backpacking seems to be quite exhausting after a while.

  7. Amanda
    May 2, 2013 / 3:28 pm

    I have yet to try either experience (though I have traveled to the UK a few times) but just reading through the articles here, I find it hard to resist a summer backpacking! I’d probably prefer living/working somewhere in the long run, but to even go out and see Europe (for a start) sounds amazing 🙂 I feel like I’m in the same boat as you in the beginning, small north-of-the-GTA town with little adventures, ones I can’t wait to start on

  8. Ben
    October 20, 2013 / 5:24 pm

    Great post, good question and good comments 🙂

    I experienced the backpaking lifestyle for 7 months in south east asia, accross 7 countries with a friend. Since 3 months I came back to my (boring) ordinary life in France.
    Backpacking is so exciting for all the reason you wrote above, but I agree about 2 things. Backpacking can get very exhausting after some months, and personnally I really miss to have time for living the local lifestyle and make “long” term relationship. I really missed it during my trip.

    Personnaly, my “problem” is that trying to become an expat, but Iam not sure about the destination. Because I love Indonesia, but I also love Cambodia or Thailand 🙂

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