I have a confession to make: I’m not a ‘hot’ traveller. I’ve never properly backpacked in tropical climes. My blood is too thick. My skin is too fair. When I think of India’s sticky streets and south-east Asia’s steamy jungles I shudder at the thought of tortuous temperatures, crippling humidity and sweat-soaked clothes.
So I’ve never thrown on the backpack and visited places like Cambodia. I’ve never delved deep into the Amazon. I’ve never drunk Um Bongo in the Congo. And I thought I was more or less alone. Everyone wants to visit these places, don’t they? Everybody wants to experience the exotic temptations of Thailand, or the romantic lushness of Latin America?
Two types of traveller
Well, it turns out I’m not alone. After talking to fellow backpackers it seems there are plenty of travellers out there who feel the same; they shun the heat and embrace the cooler climes. Mostly it’s the sheer humidity we’re scared of – that moist heat draining our energy and sapping our adventurous spirit. We imagine ourselves melting in a pool of perspiration before collapsing into a puddle of lethargy and finally evaporating altogether.
But then I started talking to backpackers that felt the opposite. For them, the idea of travelling through cold countries sent shivers down their spines. They imagine themselves wrapped up in layer after layer of North Face threads. Shaking in their sleeping bags. Succumbing to frostbite from the Argentinian winter. Literally, they shiver about the possibility of shivering.
So it seems that, previously unbeknownst to me, there are two broad types of backpacker. Two factions of travellers: Team Hot and Team Cool. Both groups have a large area of the world to play in, but who gets the better deal? Which team wins?
Let’s draw up the boundaries
Let’s start with geography. How do we divide the world between humid and cool? Equatorially is how. The countries that lie around the planet’s circumference experience the enthusiasm-draining humidity dreaded by Team Cool but embraced by Team Hot. This collection includes central Africa, Central America, northern South America and, well, most of south-east Asia.
Conversely, outside this region lie backpacker destinations loved by alpine-appreciating Team Cool and feared by frost-phobic Team Hot. Just some of these areas include southern South America, southern Africa, Europe and Australasia.
So who’s got the winning backpacker trails and who’s got the raw deal?
What does Team Hot get?
Well, Team Hot has the sunny picture postcard classis: Asia has the archetypal gap year routes, the Buddhist caves, the Hindu spirituality, the palm trees, the Thai beaches, tubing in Laos, Sumatran tigers, eclectic spices and flavours of curry, scuba diving lessons in Malaysia, and the orangutans. Never forget the orangutans.
Then there’s Central America and northern South America. Which means Team Hot takes Mexico, Mayan temples, coca leaves, the Amazon, and the volcanoes and turtles of Costa Rica. And they’ve stolen Carnival from under our noses; pilfered the light and colour and magic of Rio de Janeiro and claimed it for themselves. Well, they’ll learn that two can play at that game…
Thankfully for the cool noodlers, the lovers of hot, hot, heat have struck out with central Africa. Ok, apart from the mountain gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda. That’s not to disparage the wonder and beauty of the region and its people; it’s just not a classic backpacker-friendly area of the world.
What does Team Cool get?
Ok, so the hot heads get the humid beaches and coasts, but Team Cool can still enjoy some nice dry heat – the beaches of California and Australia. In fact, we get all of Australia. Except the subtropical parts. Too muggy. But that still leaves a lot of Oz, which is a lot of awesomeness. And the Great Barrier Reef.
South Africa has some great backpacking for warm-but-not-humid fans; so has the USA and southern Europe. But it’s the properly cold climes where Team Cool excels; skydiving in New Zealand, the Fjords of Scandinavia, ski instructor courses in Canada, Kodiak bears, vast plains of Patagonia, the Andes, the Incas, the remote and isolated beauty of Tibet and Bhutan, the enigmatic experience that is travelling through China …
Team Cool also arguably has the cooler cities – America and Europe have a lot of the most sophisticated urban sprawls, with Europe especially featuring magnificent metropolises packed tightly together and easily explorable by InterRail.
So which team is winning?
Obviously, I’d probably claim that Team Cool is the victor. We don’t need sexy Thai beaches and Orangutans. We’re perfectly happy sitting and look at a pretty Fjord in Norway looking pretty.
But in a spectacular display of fence-sitting, it honestly depends on your preference; mountains and cities appeal to some, jungles and rainforests appeal to others. Some people are more naturally suited to humid environments and some adapt better in the cold, but in truth if you’re really passionate about the stuff in your less suitable climate, you’ll put up with the drawbacks.
While it’s fun to argue about which team is the winner, ultimately there’s so much richness, diversity and adventure in the world across both climates that to rigidly stick with one and write everything else off just makes you a loser.
So I’m off to book a trip to Cambodia.
Which team do you belong to? Tell us on Twitter using the hashtags #TeamHot and #TeamCool!
About the author
Andrew Tipp is a writer, blogger and editor. He has spent more than a year volunteering and backpacking around the world, and has previously worked as a travel editor for gapyear.com. His favourite part of the world is South America, particularly Bolivia and Peru. One day he will travel through Asia. One day.