How Backpacking Through Southeast Asia Changed Me

6 min read

Photography from Giulia Cipollina

When Giulia Cipollina embarked on a trip to Southeast Asia, she had no clue how it would change her perspectives on life. Giulia is a 28 year old from Italy. She’s a woman with many talents; she graduated in Psychology and has had many roles including being a photographer, teacher, and now a writer. Her goal is to continue to hike, trek, and camp in beautiful places across the world!

In this guest post, she looks back at her backpacking trip to Southeast Asia and how her curiosity led her to a different way of living. Giulia pushed herself to go out of her comfort zone and she hopes to inspire you to do the same. Enjoy!

From December 2016 to January 2017, my boyfriend (Simone) and I joined some friends on a trip to Southeast Asia. We visited the northern parts of Vietnam and Cambodia and rented motorbikes to travel through the little villages. After a few days abroad, our friends’ journey in Asia came to an end while Simone and I continued our travels. We visited Milan and departed from there to Hanoi, Vietnam where we made our way to Phnom Penh in Cambodia. One month and four days later, we left Phnom Penh and began our journey home. Flying to Asia was my first long trip and international flight. Our trip consisted of five planes (to and fro), one train, two boats and an infinite number of buses.

This story is not about my trip in Asia, but rather about what I learned throughout the way.


My journey began when Simone and his friends planned to go backpacking through Vietnam. When asked if I wanted to go, I simply let my curiosity overcome every other feeling, and said yes. Lately in my life, I found that I have a tendency to jump at new opportunities (backpacking, camping and so on) with a crazy attitude. I do everything to see if I’ll like it, often with no preparation. I don’t even care if I’m not good at it because there will be time to learn and become better. I don’t know if it’s the right attitude, but I’m sure that nothing bad can happen to me from trying new things. I think that the most honest way to do things is with an open mind. So I always jump at opportunities.

So when I heard about the backpacking trip to Southeast Asia, I jumped at the opportunity to go.

We decided to travel with just our backpacks. This was definitely the best choice to travel so we can move easily along a lot of countries. To be honest, I wasn’t afraid of backpacking even though many friends was surprised by this choice (Oh my goodness, you? With just one backpack? I couldn’t do that!), but I had no fears. Simone already had experiences with backpacking, so I trusted him. Mostly, I was curious of what it could mean to travel with only a backpack. I have traveled a lot (almost all of Europe) but I am used to trolleys – and I like high heels. So a pair of sneakers and a 40L rucksack was a big jump for me! I embraced the experience with an open-minded attitude.


What could possibly happen to me traveling with nothing but a backpack? I left Italy with nothing more than the wish to see everything. I was curious and excited to discover the country while backpacking, travel in a place I’ve never been to, and to do it all in good company. I was curious to meet people and learn about their cultures.

We traveled lightly with our luggage composing of: one cotton t-shirt, a pair of pajama shorts, three shirts, two pants, two sweaters, my sleeping bag, a net tent against Mosquitos, flip-flop, a light towel, a couple of underwear changes, a poncho, a down jacket (because in the North, it was chilly!). Ah, and a bikini of course!

Halfway through the trip, I found out that (surprise!) my belongings were too plentiful for the trip. We shipped our sleeping bags back to Italy and I threw a couple t-shirts away because who needs all these clothes? Not me! Not anymore! Despite the very small quantity of things I had, I still managed to lose track of my belongings INSIDE my backpack. There were lots of “oh man, wait a minute, I don’t remember where *this or that* is” moments. All those moments made me realize (very slowly, I admit) that I needed to pack smarter.


My mother (obviously) was afraid of my trip because of all the diseases I could contract in Vietnam. Me, otherwise, I had no fears about malaria or dengue fever, even if I didn’t get vaccines And you know what? Nothing happened. I mean, nothing bad!

I had no makeup with me and soon I discovered how good I look without eyeliner. I got suntanned real quick and my new brownish face looked so nice! I had tan lines on my arms and legs (I had them for months!). I learned that nobody actually looks at my clothes. Really, nobody. I constantly wore my white linen shirt and my trekking pants – the ones that can be converted to shorts with a zipper around the knees – and a long scarf that I used to tie around my head on sunny days. We spent three days on a wonderful island in Cambodia (Koh Rong Samloem) where I went up and down the beach wearing my bikini and my pajama short pants. I didn’t care what anyone thought. They were pretty, printed and colorful, so to me they were perfect.

And since we washed our clothes every day, I can safely say that I have never been so clean and fragrant as in that month. Except after the Angkor Wat tour; it was so freaking hot that day, even my eyeballs were sweating, I swear!

The most important thing that my curiosity and open-minded attitude taught me was that I can easily live a satisfying life with nothing more than the essentials. I recently read a book by Clara Bensen entitled No Baggage and in her book she basically says that “When you have nothing, you desire nothing”. I realized that travelling with just a few clothes, some money and a loved one by my side was more than enough for me.


While returning home with a single backpack and Simone beside me, I felt what Clara described in her book. I had my heart full of love for everything I saw and for all the moments I shared with my loved ones. Suddenly, I didn’t feel the need for anything else. By jumping into this intriguing adventure, I found that there’s nothing more frightening than the fear of trying something new because you can learn a lot about yourself by trying new things. I am planning a new trip now. Oh, and I don’t wear makeup anymore, I like my face all clear, just like my heart.



Giulia is a writer and photographer based in Italy.
You can follow her story on Instagram @giuliacipollina9988 or on her website, I am the Odd Number.

This article was written by a guest author. Learn more about the author in the details above. If you’re interested in contributing, head over to the Share My Story page for details. We’re always open to wonderful collaborations!



  1. Wonderful article Giulia!! This is an amazing example that a trip can change not only your mind but also self-esteem and yourself!!

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