The Hippo


Jan 25, 2020








Meet Hannah Papp

Where: Gibson’s Bookstore, 45 S. Main St., Concord
When: Friday, Jan. 8, at 5:30 p.m.

How to go on a vision quest
Hannah Papp tells all with The Mystical Backpacker

By Kelly Sennott

If you’re still on the lookout for a New Year’s resolution, consider going on a vision quest — which you can learn how to do in Hannah Papp’s book, The Mystical Backpacker: How to Discover Your Destiny in the Modern World. She talks about it at Gibson’s Bookstore on Friday, Jan. 8, at 5:30 p.m.

The book combines memoir with details of the five months Papp spent backpacking around Europe in her mid-20s. It includes directions for how to go on your own modern-day vision quest, which is what this journey turned out to be. (In Native American cultures, young adult men went on vision quests to discover what they wanted to do with their lives.)
“Part of the story includes my own travel experience — and the important thing was that I traveled alone. … It really facilitated an inner journey, because I was by myself. It was almost like having two travel experiences at once, where I was traveling internally and externally at the same time,” she said. “It’s also a guide book or manual for how the reader can activate this inner journey in their own life as well. … So it’s not just my story, it’s also a call to action.”
When Papp decided to take this backpacking adventure, she had been working full-time (and overtime) at an English language publication in Budapest, Hungary, where she’d studied history. She had an art nouveau apartment with high ceilings and mosaic tile floors, and she took cobblestone streets and one of the best train rides in Europe to work every day. From the outside, it looked like she led a pretty charmed life.
“But I wasn’t happy. I didn’t feel I was in the right place, didn’t feel what I was doing was meaningful or fulfilling,” Papp said. 
After a nightmare day at the office, she decided to make a change. She gave her landlady notice, bought a railway ticket, and within a week, she was gone. She backpacked through Greece, France and Italy. When she ran out of money in Spain, she got a job as a steward on a yacht.
Papp said her own travel had been unplanned, happening spontaneously and organically, which was both scary and liberating.
“I was terrified. I was uneasy, and I had no safety net. I was not at that point anymore in my life where I could call my parents to come bail me out,” Papp said. “I was really afraid of traveling by myself, but I realized it’s not scary. It’s liberating. So much of travel is negotiation. … Where are we going to eat? What are we going to do today? Which train to take? Everything, when you’re traveling with people, is a single event, a discussion. When you travel alone, you only please yourself. And all of a sudden you will find yourself doing something you’d never go to do with people.”
Being alone, she said, helped her discover what she really wanted out of life. She was able to do whatever she wanted, whenever she wanted, and it eventually helped her decide what her driving desires were. 
“One of the things I talk about in the book is how most religions in the world afford this opportunity for people coming into adulthood. They all have a variation of it. But it’s missing from our modern culture. Most modern spirituality is conformist. It doesn’t support the individual,” Papp said. “What’s interesting is that what my odyssey yielded was essentially a list of the things that were my personal dreams that I wished to fulfill — the things that I understood that, at the end of the trip, would bring my spirit happiness.”
Since her quest 15 years ago, she’s done many of those things. She’s become a writer, started her own video production business, based in D.C., and got married and had kids.
The goal of writing this book, she said, was to help other people stuck in ruts. To coincide with the text, she created a website in the hope of building an online network of mystical backpackers who can talk and learn from one another. (It also has information like what to include in a backpacking journey, from travel towels and scarves with hidden pockets to inflatable neck pillows and versatile items like sarongs.) Since writing, she’s received lots of emails and messages from strangers and seen bumper stickers with her logo plastered on cars.
But that’s not to say hers is the only way to learn what it is you want to do.
“There are so many of us on this Earth. It is not possible to say there’s one solution for everybody. But it’s something that’s been celebrated by so many cultures, all around the world,” Papp said. 

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