Debunking the backpacker stereotype

I backpack because I like to travel on the cheap – not because I’m young, dumb and, um… you know the rest.

Nor do I do it because I like to party; although that is a definite bonus. Especially where the beer is cheap, like in Southeast Asia, where you can drink all night long for less than a just a couple of pints in a pub in central London would set you back.

The Khao San Rd in Bangkok, ThailandI don’t have flags all over my backpack, I don’t have dreadlocks, I don’t smell (I don’t think) and I’m not “trying to find myself”.

I do it because I love it. Pure and simple. I’ve said it before (see Why I backpack and you should too) and I’ll say it again: I backpack because I want to see the world now, not when I’m older and richer than I am today.

And few things in life bring me greater pleasure than the rush I feel waking up in a foreign country, thinking about how I’m going to spend my day. What is going to blow my mind today? What food am I going to try? Which cultural sights am I going to visit? Who will I meet?

You must admit, these questions are far better than the ones you might ask yourself when you get out of bed to go to work in the morning. Will my boss be in a good mood? Will I have a ham sandwich for lunch or chicken?

Just another beautiful beach in Asia - this time in Cambodia.

And I’m respectful of other cultures and of the environment. Most of the backpackers I’ve met are.

We’re not the ones who stay at fancy resorts that block out the beach – the ones in places like Koh Samui in Thailand, which have signs that read “no thoroughfare” and yet there doesn’t seem to be any public access to the beach anymore.

You’re more likely to find us budget travellers at a guest house a few miles away from the beach, supporting the working-class moms and pops and JRs of the world with much more meagre budgets than the cash-thirsty developers who block out the sun with their towering resort complexes.

That kind of thing is fine in Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam or Cambodia – but God forbid if we ever allowed developers to ever do that sort of thing in New Zealand. I’m just saying.

Funny backpacker picture.
Not my image but it illustrates my point wonderfully.

Admittedly, we are the budget travellers who’ve all-but taken over the Khaosan Road in Bangkok, Thailand, and in Vang Vieng, Laos, where you’ll be able to spot every backpacker stereotype under the sun.

But just as not every traveller is a flash-happy photographer with a bum-bag around their waist, not every backpacker is living a cliché.

I’ve read Alex Garland’s novel The Beach, too; we’re not all like the characters in the book – I promise!

What are some other backpacker clichés and stereotypes?

About Simon Petersen 296 Articles
Travel blogger, journalist, sports and movie fiend. Chronicling the life and times of a Kiwi at home and abroad.

7 Comments

  1. Hey Simon, I just discovered your blog and I’m loving it! I just read your article on why you love backpacking. I noticed you said you left your job to travel SE Asia. I have read a bunch of articles about people saying they quit their jobs to travel and find work abroad. Just wondering, do you work or make money while you’re travelling? Or how have you managed to support yourself on the road?

    I have done a lot of travelling but never a long backpacking trip. Everyday I want to take off and start my journey, but it’s hard to get started. (Always worrying about funds) I can’t imagine doing anything right now that would make me happier than travelling the world. Did you save for a few years or are you just living day to day trying to get by? Any budget advice or suggestions?

  2. Interesting, but I’ve never been able to figure out the true definition of a backpacker. I travel with a backpack but I am older and travel with my husband. I consider myself more of a flashpacker. Do you fit that definition?

    • Great comment. I guess I kind of see myself as a flashpacker with backpacker sensitivities. I’ll often go for the cheaper option but I do prefer a bit more comfort – ie. private rooms rather than shared accommodation – than the rest of the backpacker brethren.

      • I would agree with flashpacker with backpacker sensitivities for me at the moment too, but I think that’s because of my job and private rooms in China are pretty cheap! I’m looking forward to getting to more backpacker “standards” when I work and travel around NZ from September, although, as you mention, I wouldn’t say I’d want to fit into any kind of cliche!

        • Sounds awesome, mate! Haven’t been to China yet (well, not mainland China anyway) but I’ve heard it’s cheap and cheerful! Yep, you’ll find it a lot more expensive in New Zealand…

      • I just returned to this definition of backpacker because I have been thinking about the definition of a backpacker versus a flashpacker and where I fit – but, as I concluded after my analysis – perhaps I should just enjoy my travels and my writing and not worry so much about labels!

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