Caroline Pangestu is a woman with wanderlust and a hard-core travel style. This 23-year-old backpacker has been exploring Indonesia since she was in junior high school, but instead of booking a hotel room, she brings a sleeping bag and focuses on soaking up her new surroundings.
Caroline has traveled from mountains in Central Java to islands in the Java Sea. She tells My Jakarta what it takes to be a backpacker, which destinations are her favorite and why the best souvenirs are often intangible.
Most people prefer to go on travel tours or luxurious getaways. Do you also enjoy that type of travel?
I like all types, to be honest, but there’s more to backpacking than just going somewhere and seeing the sights. It’s the survival aspect. You have to be mentally and physically prepared, otherwise it’s not going to work.
There’s so much more stuff going on when you’re backpacking — from the fun stuff of discovering something, to the risk of all the bad things that could happen when you’re traveling in a place you’re not familiar with, and you have to be ready if and when that happens. You have to be constantly aware of the things that are happening around you. Maybe someday when I’m older and I’m tired of backpacking, I’ll choose the tours.
What places have you visited?
When I was in high school, I mainly hiked mountains. I’ve been to Mount Sumbing, Mount Sundoro and Mount Merbabu [in Central Java]. Then I went to Kiluan Bay in Lampung to see some dolphins, and Krakatoa island. I just visited the Karimunjawa [islands in the Java Sea] with my high school friends. I’ve been to many places, but those were some of my favorite destinations.
What are the factors you consider before picking a destination?
It depends. I don’t really prefer one to the other. If I was in the mood to visit islands or beaches, then I would explore their coral or the marine life surrounding the islands. If I wanted to go hiking, then it’s more about the terrain. The local food is also one of the main factors to consider.
Does it ruin the experience if you take friends along?
I always go on trips with my friends. I don’t think solo backpacking is my thing. I like to have people to joke around with, people to enjoy the moments with. Plus you have someone looking out for you, and vice versa.
How often do you backpack?
Back in school, I used to travel a lot. I could be gone more than four times a year. Now that I have work, I can’t backpack as much as I’d like to. But I try to go on trips at least twice every year.
When did you first start backpacking?
I first started when I was in junior high school. My school had a Grapala [nature] club, and it was having this open backpacking trip so I registered, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Do your parents mind that you travel so much?
In the early days they were okay with it. And then as my traveling frequency increased, they tried to tell me not to leave too often. But once they realized that I’m very much into this, they eventually stopped forbidding me.
Does the hobby run in the family?
I think they are [interested], but they’re not as impulsive. If I want to go somewhere and I have the time and money to do it, I just go for it. I’ve never gone on a backpacking trip with them. I took a short trip with my sister to Pulau Seribu [Thousand Islands], but we didn’t stay for days. We just went there for the day.
What have you taken away from all your traveling?
I always feel such joy when I’m back home after a trip, and it never goes away, no matter how many times I’ve gone backpacking. It somehow makes me more appreciative of my family. The things I encounter every time I travel have molded me into the person I am today. I’ve learned to appreciate the differences of each and every local custom, culture, cuisine and language. I’ve learned to think efficiently. Nothing beats the feeling of being out somewhere, immersing yourself in a completely different place, and then being able to take some of that experience with you. I’m extremely grateful for that.
Caroline was talking to Marcella Sualang.