Czech ‘BackPackLady’: Travelling in Asia on 14 dollars a day

Michaela Bugrisová, photo: archive of Michaela Bugrisová

In her late 20s Czech traveller Michaela Bugrisová aka. BackPackLady spent more than six months travelling in Asia in 2016 - visiting some eight countries including Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam. The travel writer’s motto is not one step without a backpack, meaning travelling on the cheap, getting to know locals and the local culture. Now back in the Czech Republic she writes about travel, regional cuisine and more.

Michaela Bugrisová,  photo: archive of Michaela Bugrisová
She began by telling me about how her view on travel changed.

“I travelled to Asia twice before: my first contact with Asia was in 2013, just a regular two-week vacation or holiday. At that time I travelled like a tourist: I bought a one-day trip somewhere arranged by a travel agency. Today, I travel much more free, hitchhiking, by motorbike, so it is very different. Now I travel with very little money. Because I am not rich, it was necessary to figure out how to travel on a meagre budget.

“Travelling is a big passion for me, it is my life, and if you want to travel often you have to figure out how to do it low cost. I am not rich, so I had to find a way to travel cheaply. My six-and-a-half month travel across Asia which I did last year, I budgeted 10,000 crowns per month for everything: travel, the plane ticket there, accommodation, food and so on.”

That’s roughly 400 US dollars, which would be a poverty wage in the Czech Republic, but it’s possible to live off that in parts of Asia…

“Travelling is a big passion for me, it is my life.”

“Yes, it is. People in some areas live off the equivalent of 2,000 crowns per month, so it is possible. You don’t want to travel as a tourist unless you want to pay ten times as much as locals, for example, for a ticket to see a temple. To keep costs down, I also began hitchhiking and learned to ride a motorbike.

“The first time I ever hitchhiked was in Malaysia. It was super easy there, a paradise for hitch-hikers, they speak English very well and pick you up sometimes within a minute of sticking out your thumb.”

There’s a video you posted from when you were in Vietnam where you make a local dish at the roadside on an open flame…

“That was in a mountainous area where I stayed with a family for about two weeks, it was a small village. In Vietnam, I travelled on motorbike and I made it to this place late one evening and I had dinner at their stand and later asked if I could stay as it got dark very quickly.

Thailand,  photo: Michaela Bugrisová
“They were ok with it, a big family but they took me in and they had this street business. Because I love to cook and I love to eat, I asked if I could help out. So I helped them cook and because seeing a foreigner in such a village was so unusual, it attracted a lot of customers so for two weeks I became a local celebrity.” (laughs)

You mentioned the name of the dish… what was it?

“Bahn Xeo. They are kind of like spring rolls but made from rice flour, filled with vegetables, done on the flame, then you add oyster sauce. Very cheap, very delicious.”

In the clip, one of the women comes in to help for a moment as you are cooking to help a little and then disappears…

“They enjoyed it. They had a lot of fun.”

“In Vietnam, I learned how to ride a motorbike. At the first the traffic looks crazy, but when you are in the middle of it, you get used to it.”

Cuisine was an essential part of your experience, wasn’t it?

“Absolutely and the very best dishes were in Vietnam. Also, Malaysia was great for Indian food.”

One of the things about travelling is the reflection period, when you get back, these memories of places you saw, people you met, come back. Are there moments that come back toy you now, when you think of your trip?

“Certainly, there are many. When I was there, I travelled every day and if I liked it somewhere I stayed for maybe a week. I miss the adventure now. Every day now is a bit stereotypical, the same thing, one place. So I miss it.”

At what point did you come up with the nickname or moniker ‘BackPackLady’ Did you make it up or did a friend? It is very catchy…

Vietnam,  photo: Michaela Bugrisová
“It was my idea because at the time that is who I was: the girl, or woman, with the backpack all the time. I wrote under the name to blog on facebook. Every day I shared my experience on my travel prolife and write articles, including for a regional newspaper. So people know me as the BackPackLady now.”

What are you doing now? Are you working, studying?

“I am working. I cooperate with Czech Railways, writing about travel and regional foods, which I enjoy, and I give public presentations about travelling abroad. And of course I dream about travelling again; at the moment I would be very interested to visit Russian-speaking countries which have good food and are low cost and are good destinations for backpackers.

“I am interested in seeing Russian-speaking countries next.”

“People, I think, when they follow their dream, and it doesn’t matter if it is travel or cooking or whatever, but if they focus on what they want to achieve, they have a good chance of being happy in life and that is what I am trying to do, myself.”

I agree with what you are saying. Certainly, when it comes to travelling as a backpacker, it must be very liberating. It must be very important to get out of the comfort zone. It changes you.

“In many ways and you learn many things. In Vietnam, I learned how to ride a motorbike. Now, if you see the scene of traffic from above in a city, it looks crazy. But once you become a part of it, it is not so difficult.

“Although I was away from home, because Asia has great internet, I could stay in touch with my mother every day. And I was happy like that!”

Burma,  photo: Michaela Bugrisová
Being able to be online wherever, whenever really has changed everything, hasn’t it?! In the old days, when I travelled somewhere I took 20 rolls of film, nobody knew where I was for a month-and-a-half, which had a mystique to it but certainly afterwards there was no place… or you could go to a travel club and pin up some photos but it just didn’t have the reach. You can really share your experience now in a way that was not possible 10, 15 years ago.

“Everything is possible. I met a monk in Cambodia and we meditated together in his room and on his wall there was a notice board and something on it which read something like ‘Nothing is impossible. All barriers are in your head.’ I try to be a bit like that: to look at things as possible.”