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Two Danish backpackers in front of the Vienna State Opera in July 2005
A large internal frame backpack

Backpacking is a term that has historically been used to denote a form of low-cost, independent international travel. Terms such as independent travel and/or budget travel are often used interchangeably with backpacking. The factors that traditionally differentiate backpacking from other forms of tourism include but are not limited to the following: use of public transport as a means of travel, preference of youth hostels to traditional hotels, length of the trip vs. conventional vacations, use of a backpack, an interest in meeting the locals as well as seeing the sights.

The definition of a backpacker has evolved as travelers from different cultures and regions participate and will continue to do so, preventing an air-tight definition. Recent research has found that, "...backpackers constituted a heterogeneous group with respect to the diversity of rationales and meanings attached to their travel experiences. ...They also displayed a common commitment to a non-institutionalised form of travel, which was central to their self-identification as backpackers."[1] Backpacking as a lifestyle and as a business has grown considerably in the 2000s[2] as the commonplace of low-cost airlines,[3] hostels or budget accommodation in many parts of the world, and digital communication and resources make planning, executing, and continuing a long-term backpacking trip easier than ever before.



While there is no definitive answer as to the precise origin of backpacking, its roots can be traced, at least partially, to the Hippie trail of the 1960s and 70s,[4] which in turn followed sections of the old Silk Road. In fact, some backpackers today seek to re-create that journey, albeit in a more comfortable manner, while capitalizing on the current popularity of the green movement.[5] Looking further into history, Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri has been cited by some[6] as one of the world's first backpackers.

While travel along the old Hippie Trail has been rendered complicated since the early 80s due to unrest in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran that continues today, backpacking has expanded to most regions of the world. In recent years, the increase of budget airlines and low-cost flights has contributed to this expansion.[7] At present, new "hippie trails" are being formed towards Northern Africa in places such as Morocco and Tunisia and other destinations being reached by low-cost airlines.[8]

Technological changes and improvements have also contributed to changes in backpacking. Traditionally backpackers did not travel with expensive electronic equipment such as laptop computers, digital cameras and PDAs due to concerns about theft, damage, and additional luggage weight. However, the desire to stay connected coupled with trends in lightweight electronics have given rise to the flashpacking trend, which has been in a state of continuous evolution in recent years.[9] Simultaneous with a change in "what" they're carrying, backpacking is also becoming less and less reliant on the physical backpack in its initial form[10] although the backpack can still be considered the primary luggage of backpackers.

Types of backpacking


Flashpacking is a neologism used to refer to an affluent backpacker. Whereas backpacking is traditionally associated with budget travel and destinations that are relatively cheap, flashpacking has an association of more disposable income while traveling and has been defined simply as backpacking with a bigger budget.[11]

A simple definition of the term Flashpacker can be thought of as backpacking with flash, or style. One school of thought defines the flashpacker as a rapidly growing segment of travelers who adhere to a modest accommodation and meal budget, while spending freely, even excessively, for activities at their chosen destination. Another school of thought defines flashpacking as an incongruous mix of 'slumming it' and luxury; of adventurous travel with those on a budget by day and sedate dining and comfortable accommodation by night.[12] Flashpackers have been further defined as tech-savvy adventurers who often prefer to travel with a cell phone, digital camera, iPod and a laptop,[13] although none of these is required in order to be a flashpacker. As with other forms of travel, the term flashpacker is mainly one of self-identification. The origin of the term itself is obscure.

The term also reflects a growing demographic of travelers who are forsaking traditional organized travel, venturing to destinations once the reserve of more adventurous backpackers, and the increasing number of individuals who leave well paid jobs or take 'career breaks', using the time to travel independently, but with greater comfort and many of the gadgets they are accustomed to at home. As a result, hostels are evolving and offering more up-market accommodation and facilities to those still traveling on a budget[14] in order to obtain their business. Hostels have realized a need to evolve in order to meet the changing demands of travelers.[15]


"Gap-packing"[16] is a neologism used typically to refer to younger people, usually of European descent, who backpack to several countries in a short period of time whilst on their gap year between school and university, or between university and their first job.


Megaloping is a neologism to refer to backpacking using only public transit.


Of importance in backpacking is a sense of authenticity. Backpacking is perceived as being more than a vacation, but a means of education.[17] Backpackers want to experience the "real" destination rather than the packaged version often associated with mass tourism, which has led to the assertion that backpackers are anti-tourist.[18] There is also the feeling of "sneaking backstage" and witnessing real life with more involvement with local people[19]


Backpacking, like other forms of travel, remains controversial. Some of these criticisms date back to travelers' actions along the Hippie Trail.[20] Criticism comes from many sides, including the host countries and other travelers who disagree with the actions of backpackers although the perception of backpackers seems to have improved as backpacking has become more mainstream.[21] Erik Cohen notes that even though one of the primary aims of backpacking is to seek the authentic, the majority of backpackers spend most of their time interacting with other backpackers and interactions with locals are of "secondary importance".[4]

See also


  1. ^ Adkins, Barbara; Eryn Grant (2007-08). "Backpackers as a Community of Strangers: The Interaction Order of an Online Backpacker Notice Board" (PDF). Qualitative Sociology Review 3 (2): 188–201. Retrieved 2007-10-29.  
  2. ^ "Backpacker Tourism". Market Segments > Backpacker Tourism. Tourism New South Wales. Retrieved 2008-04-07.  
  3. ^ "The Netherlands" (PDF). Monthly Market Report. Tourism Australia. 2007-10. Retrieved 2008-04-07.  
  4. ^ a b Cohen, Erik (2003). "Backpacking: Diversity and Change" (PDF). Tourism and Cultural Change 1 (2): 95–110. doi:10.1080/14766820308668162. Retrieved 2007-10-29.  
  5. ^ Conlin, Jennifer (2007-02-11). "IN TRANSIT; Traveling to the Ends of the Earth, at Ground Level". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-29.  
  6. ^ "The Inventor of Traveling - The First Backpacker in the World?". 2007-07. Retrieved 2008-01-03.  
  7. ^ Budget Airlines spread their wings to Africa
  8. ^ Morocco's hippie trail
  9. ^ "'Flashpacking?' Don't Forget you Still Need Room for Extra Socks". USA Today. 2006-06-20. Retrieved 2007-10-29.  
  10. ^ Catto, Susan (2002-04-14). "PRACTICAL TRAVELER; The 'Pack' Of Backpacking". The New York Times. Retrieved 2007-10-27.  
  11. ^ "Flashpacking". Imagine.  
  12. ^ Miles, Paul (2004-06-12). "Best of Both Worlds". Guardian Unlimited.  
  13. ^ "The Flashpacker: A New Breed of Traveler". Hotel Travel News. 2006-03-24. Retrieved 2007-11-07.  
  14. ^ "Six of the World’s Finest Flashpacking Hostels".  
  15. ^ Shrimpton, James. "Flashy way to Backpack".,23483,19967555-5002900,00.html.  
  16. ^
  17. ^ Pearce, Philip; Faith Foster (2007). "A “University of Travel”: Backpacker Learning". Tourism Management 28 (5): 1285–1298. doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2006.11.009.  
  18. ^ Richards, Greg; Julie Wilson (2004). The Global Nomad: Backpacker Theory in Travel and Practice. Channel View Publications. pp. 80–91. ISBN 1873150768.  
  19. ^ Langston-Able, Nick (2007). Playing with Fire: Adventures in Indonesia. Freakash. pp. 30. ISBN 9780955340345.  
  20. ^ MacLean, Rory (2006-07-31). "Dark Side of the Hippie Trail". The New Statesman. Retrieved 2007-10-27.  
  21. ^ Caprioglio O'Reilly, Camille (2006). "From Drifter to Gap Year Tourist Mainstreaming Backpacker Travel". Annals of Tourism Research 33 (4): 998–1017. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2006.04.002.  

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