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What makes one a "backpacker" ?

Travel Forums General Talk What makes one a "backpacker" ?


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11. Posted by Utrecht (Moderator 5597 posts) 8y

Good point Sander. Basically, and I know that's sound weird, I don't know how to categorise myself when renting a car in a country. I don't categorise at all, but like the term 'traveler' mentioned earlier.
Almost all my trips are of the 'do it yourself' type, so not organised (did a few though, North Korea was difficult as a backpacker), but I don't see the idea of using differences regarding length of travel and amount of money spend a day.
I do see the difference of course with people booking package holidays or organised trips and travelling with suitcases, that is kinda different.

Probably the major point I want to all those people calling themselves backpacker and think that is the 'best' way to travel: grow up Mostly they tend to do exactly the same things then those big organised groups do. In a different way of course. But I have been in situations where the number of independent backpackers (travelling alone or maybe with a few people) tend to outnumber the ones travelling in far.

Just travel, enjoy, and don't talk too much about areas being to touristy and don't talk about money....another thing that annoys me

Edit out of respect to all travellers: That last sentence needed more info. I didn't mean you can't have opinions about it or can't travel cheap and do things your way....I ment, don't bother me with it People always tend to ask me: oh, and what did you pay for it.....aaarghhhh


[ Edit: Edited on Dec 18, 2008, at 7:19 AM by Utrecht ]

12. Posted by wotthefiqh (Inactive 1447 posts) 8y

What makes one a "backpacker" ?''


13. Posted by Chantelli (Budding Member 21 posts) 8y

Utrecht, you do make a few good points. We backpackers do tend to think it's the only way to travel and turn our noses up at our white-trainer- wearing, fanny-pack toting cousins: the tourists. ;)

Yes, backpacker and tourists both frequent the same sights and "tourist spots" (how can you NOT go to the Vatican when in Rome?). However, I do think that both breed are separate and distinct from one another.

Budget and mode of transportation have both been covered, and I find them too broad and have too many variables to define properly. You'd still be called a backpacker if you had a Eurail pass, and a tourist if you're flying on standby.

I guess, a backpacker is defined by the variables… or the embracing of variables. By leaving as many things open to chance, and a flexibleness that can be gained when it is just you, a passport, and ten pounds of smelly clothing strapped to your back. Your mode of transport, accommodation, and sights decided based on variables.

Speaking in broad and general terms, tourists tend to have their modes of travel, accommodations and company planned in advance. You, and a group of like-minded individuals, usually from the same country and area-code all stay in the same hotel booked by the same agency, or all board the same mass transportation and take photographs of the same place of “cultural significance” in unison. The majority of variables have been removed as definitive destinations; accommodation, meals and even company are preplanned. And there is something to be said about the comfort and ease of this type of travel.

Whereas, the biggest defining factor I’ve experienced backpacking is the randomness of it all. You may start out with a few travel buddies, but in the midst of desperately trying to catch that flight to Croatia, or during that 13 hour train ride with a broken IPOD, or over a too full pot of budget pasta – you’re company changes.

Instead of staying in the same location, or with the same unvarying society, backpackers have chosen to sleep 12 to a room with people from every time zone, language group, and background. A backpacker has the opportunity to come into close contact with different ideas, practices… smells. The variables, the mind-numbingly long waits for connecting flights, the panicked sprint through the Grand Central Station to catch that train, the poorly translated French, the nights spent sleeping in a McDonalds in Hungary (because you didn’t know 12 hours before that you’d be there and therefore have no place to stay or any Florint), delicious culture shock are the mark of a Backpacker.

Even if they DO have a suitcase on little wheels…

14. Posted by Piecar (Travel Guru 894 posts) 8y

At the end of the day, this debate is moot. Every travel website has the same conversation and no one ever gets anywhere. You travel the way that makes you happy and let the other travel the way they want and everyone gets to call themselves whatever they want to make themselves feel good. I try not to call myself anything. I just say "I´m lookin´around" and leave it at that. The backpacker/traveller/tourist/vagabond/ex-pat/vacationer debate cannot be won. It´s a mercurial concept.

15. Posted by tway (Travel Guru 7273 posts) 8y

I agree with Piecar. It's a totally moot point.

We just travelled for 3 or so weeks around South Africa and Mozambique. I packed a 30L bag with plenty of room and washed clothes a lot and had no makeup or hairdryer. Some people we were with had 3 suitcases and a few brought high heels for special occasions. We travelled the same itinerary and stayed at the same places and ate the same food. Who's the backpacker?

We also went on a guided tour with GAP Adventures. We hopped on a red Avis bus every other day. Tourist or backpacker?

We cooked meals on a fire half the time and ate at some really great, cheap restaurants other times. Tourist? Backpacker?

I brought conditioner with me. Tourist?

I wore the same 3 shirts over and over for 3 weeks. Backpacker?

The minute you start to label it, you label in your own favour. Which is unfair and disrespectful and elitest. And I happen to like my wheelie suitcase for big cities! It's a whole lot easier on the back than a backpack. I don't care if it makes me look like a hated tourist. I'm as happy to be travelling as anyone!

[ Edit: Edited on Dec 18, 2008, at 10:55 AM by tway ]

16. Posted by Sander (Moderator 4930 posts) 8y

See, I don't think of this as a "debate" (merely a discussion). I don't think there's anything to "win" (beyond greater understanding). I don't think it's "elitist" to say that some behaviours of travelling are what I think of when I say "backpacking", and that some aren't. I don't think one way is more "favourable" than another way (although when I try to describe a way, I do prefer to focus on the positive aspects of that way, rather than the negative ones).

We are all travellers. That's what matters. I don't think anyone has disagreed with that.

Yet sometimes when I travel, I behave in a way that I feel can be categorized as "backpacking". And other times I behave in a different way and don't think of myself as "backpacker". Other people have the same, yet none of us really have it clear wherein lies the difference. Maybe it's an essentially undefinable concept, and like Frederik Pohl says about science fiction, we have to say about backpacking, it "is what [backpacking] fans mean when they point to something and say 'That's [Backpacking]'". :)

But maybe not. And so I do think there's value to be had in understanding how everyone sees the concept. In understanding where people draw the lines. Those lines don't define us. We're travellers, shifting between and beyond categories and classifications in our own unique manner. But the lines do define (? or maybe not?) the categories, and allow us to grok the concepts more fully. That's worthwhile, imo. (Or at least as worthwhile as any online discussion is; none of it can compare to being on the road, of course, but hey, one needs to do something in between, even if all of it ends up being moot.) ;)

But maybe we can infer that part of being a "backpacker" is that people who aren't backpacking feel you're being elitist? ;) That you're being seen as looking down on people who travel in the way that makes us categorize those people as "tourists"? (And maybe that's not just a feeling, but the average backpacker really does?)

I imagine it can be hard, keeping a clear delineation between not being a fan of a way of travelling, and not being a fan of the people who happen to utilize that way of travelling. But I don't think anyone in this thread has really confused the two concepts yet, so maybe that shouldn't be guiding the discussion...

Tina: I have nothing but the highest respect for you. Your way of travelling isn't exactly mine. (I don't think anyone's way is, including my own from one trip to the next. We keep learning and discovering what works for us and what doesn't.) Same goes for my non-backpacking friends from home. That doesn't mean I feel "better" or "more elite" than you or any of them. I don't "hate" tourists, and I certainly don't hate you, nor my friends. I don't care what labels you give your travelling - you're still you.

But I do care about trying to understand this label that I occasionally give my own travels. I hope that's okay?

[ Edit: Edited on Dec 18, 2008, at 12:13 PM by Sander ]

17. Posted by tway (Travel Guru 7273 posts) 8y

Quoting Sander

Tina: I have nothing but the highest respect for you. Your way of travelling isn't exactly mine. (I don't think anyone's way is, including my own from one trip to the next. We keep learning and discovering what works for us and what doesn't.) Same goes for my non-backpacking friends from home. That doesn't mean I feel "better" or "more elite" than you or any of them. I don't "hate" tourists, and I certainly don't hate you, nor my friends. I don't care what labels you give your travelling - you're still you.

But I do care about trying to understand this label that I occasionally give my own travels. I hope that's okay?

Ooh, Sander! I was responding to the wheelie suitcase reply way up there somewhere! That'll teach me to try to reply between projects on a jam-packed day!

I guess it gets me goat because, when you have 3 weeks off a year, you can't be much else but what some people refer to as a "tourist". I love my job and have no plans to quit and see the world full-time right now. But I still like to think I can get a worthwhile travelling experience in what some may see as a limited amount of time.

Case in point: someone just commented on one of my recent blogs that, next time round, I should not blow through Africa but actually stop and visit. And I know they're simply sharing their enthusiasm and love of their country. And I agree! I'd love to stop and leisurely tour and get lost and take my time and go the back route. But until I work here 10 years - yes, 10 YEARS - I won't get more than 3 weeks off. So yes, I chose to tour this time round. Because that's the only way we were going to get the most out of our trip. And I loved it! Every minute. Even if it was the more sanitized version of southern Africa.

I don't like labels like backpacker/tourist because they're usually applied negatively to other people. I can certainly understand, though, that you're trying to figure out your own ways of travelling in order to reflect your experiences and speak about where you've been and what you've seen. I just think "backpacker" is a personal definition and no one should label other people's way of travelling.

[ Edit: Edited on Dec 18, 2008, at 12:21 PM by tway ]

18. Posted by ackers888 (Budding Member 7 posts) 8y

I would say it's as simple as someone who travels generally without using a travel agent or tour company (exscept maybe for the odd excursion whilst actually travelling), no pre-determined accomodation booked until the next step is made, no pre-arranged transport or particular destination other than generically a country.

19. Posted by ackers888 (Budding Member 7 posts) 8y

PS..I am "backpacking" but without a back pack.. I have one wheely bag and a guitar!

20. Posted by Cool Paul (Travel Guru 611 posts) 8y

a backpacker is someone that goes in with no plan and makes something of it playing it by ear...

If you have ever gone on an extended trip WITH NO ITINERARY and travelled around to different towns that most NATIVES to that country will never see that's probably a good definition. Someone that gets away from the resorts. and really gets into a country and just plays it by ear and stays for a while as opposed to someone just passing through seeing the big things.

tons of my friends go on vacation but they go to the bahamas and lay on the beach and never leave the resort...that's nice...don't get me wrong...but they are not backpackers.

I met tons of people on round the world trips that flew into sydney, auckland or wellington and stayed there for 3 days before flying to fiji or argentina...I wouldn't even consider them backpackers. They are travellers with an itinerary. sure they see the opera house, and the the skytower, and get on the cable car...but they're just scratching the surface.

I've hitch-hiked into cities with nothing but a bookings, no idea where to go to sleep, no numbers to call...I'd def say I'm a backpacker.