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January 4, 2010

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Hooked on just roughing it

A US university student slaps on the backpack and hits the road as soon as vacation starts, notching up visits to 25 countries during his degree studies, he tells Chen Ye in Shanghai.

A huge black-and-green camping bag with mountaineering equipment is all American backpacker Phil Norris, 24, takes wherever he goes.

Norris, born in Topeka, the capital of Kansas, started his backpacking trips in 2004 during study at Washburn University in his hometown.

"I leave school on the first day of vacation and return on the last day," says Norris. "I like to spend my holidays traveling to different places with my backpack."

Norris is different to those who travel to charming tourist locations with quality accommodation and service. He prefers to explore the unknown.

"I like adventure instead of just a vacation," he says.

Norris has visited 25 countries in his university vacations, including Canada, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Ireland, China, Mongolia, Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, Fiji, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Tanzania, Congo, Honduras, Guatemala and others.

"I was once attacked by a camel in Mongolia," he says.

Adventurous journey

The incident occurred when he agreed to help a Mongolian man grab a baby camel to take back home. He became so excited by touching and communicating with it that he didn't see its mother getting angry and she finally charged him.

He eventually befriended the camel family and was invited by locals to dine in their tent home.

"I want to ride a horse crossing Mongolia and say hello to my baby camel friend again in 2010," he says, explaining he plans to work there as a language teacher or volunteer.

Recounting other tales of dodging bullets in Cambodia and becoming seriously ill in Africa, he recalls dancing Michael Jackson-style in China's Tibet Autonomous Region and broadcasting it on YouTube.

Norris says when he was a child, he regarded Indiana Jones as a superhero and was determined to start his own journey to explore the world.

"This is my second time to Shanghai," says Norris who has been to many other areas in China. "I like Beijing most, because of the time-honored history and ancient, majestic architecture.

"But I gave Shanghai a second chance, because I think it is modern and charming and I will enjoy the nightlife," he adds.

"In some rural areas in China, people are interested in talking with laowai (foreigners)," Norris says. "They get excited and want to take a picture with me, though they have no idea who I am."

Such worldwide travel is normally very expensive but Norris has found his own way to enjoy a cost-effective journey.

"My student ID card saves me a lot and I usually find local part-time work. Luckily I have many friends around the world, so I don't have to worry about accommodation.

"Also I have my sleeping bag and tent. The best thing is enjoying the natural environment by camping," he says.

Norris defines himself as a "facebookaholic," uploading his tour photos to share the experience with friends and fans.

"Every time, I visit a new place, I take a photo of myself with a different background." It represents his own way of celebrating each step he takes during his adventures.

"After I graduate, I will do more backpacker travel around the world, and I plan to visit places like Egypt," says Norris who's hooked on backpacking.


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