No matter what the stereotypical image of the modern day backpacker might be, we are not one indigenous group culture migrating around the traditional gringo and banana pancake trails. There are so many different types of backpacker now that to be honest the term itself defies stereotype. Backpacking has evolved as the demographics indulging in it have changed, and now there are backpackers of all ages, creeds and backgrounds, and many different subsets and tribes within those demographics too. Here is a slightly tongue in cheek look at the different types of backpacker just to give you an idea of what to expect on the road, as well as to get you used to some of the terminology that is springing up as backpacking becomes an industry in and of itself!
The gap yearer.
This is the group that most people generally associate with the stereotype of backpacking. This species of backpacker are either about to start uni or have just graduated, and often stumble around the usual gringo or banana pancake trail on a traditional RTW ticket, wide eyed, LP guide book in hand and oversized backpack permanently attached to their semi hunched spines. Usually found in the backpacker ghettos of Khao San Road in Bangkok or anywhere that is mentioned in the LP guidebook, they can often be found being really original by queuing up for the quintessential dreadlock hairstyle everyone else has and being chased by pushy touts and tuk tuk drivers.
The full moon partier.
What do you mean there are temples in Mexico? This subset of the gap yearer follows the party scene in every country they visit. Foregoing all the little inconsequential things most countries have to offer such as temples, history, gourmet food and culture, this group simply heads to the nearest backpacker bar and proceeds to drink it dry. Often plans a migratory route around the world based on the timings of the full moon parties in Thailand or the carnivals and festivals of South or Central America. They usually like to stay in major cities or chilled out beaches (as long as it has a few bars and a good party scene). This group is usually best observed early in the morning, when they are recovering from a hangover in the cheapest accommodation a particular place has. Occasionally returns home to visit an STI clinic or found in captivity on one of those banged up abroad programmes on TV after losing all intelligent thought after a few drinks.
The Chelsea traveller.
This relatively rare tribe of backpacker is epitomized by their uniform of rugger shirts and designer clothing from Jack Wills, their guffawing friends Tarquin and Rupert and the sincere expression on their faces as they mingle with the poor people in the developing world, usually by doing some form of voluntourism experience for a day or by dressing up in full traditional native dress for a photo op. These upper class buffoons are often found navigating their way around the old colonies on a sponsorship from mummy and daddy’s credit card, attempting to find themselves as they slum it by not eating in the fanciest restaurants.
Usually in their late 20’s or early 30’s, this group are often professional, probably on a career break, and have more money to spend than the average backpacker. Favouring boutique hotels and more comfortable accommodation and transport over the usual hostels and budget travel stops of the gap yearer or backpacker, their clothes are often branded and they travel with the latest pads, smartphones and technology to help ease them into their cultural immersion.
This sub group of travellers can belong to any of the traditional or emerging backpacking tribes. They travel in the same way as any other backpacker, and often for the same reasons, but due to career or life constraints they simply limit their backpacking travels to shorter month or two month trips, often staying in one country instead of hopping through a region. They can usually be spotted clustered around wifi hotspots with brand new iPads or the latest smartphone.
The solo female backpacker.
Solo travellers can appear in all groups of backpackers, but there is a very specific sub group within this solo tribe that deserve special mention, the solo female backpacker. It is important to note that not all female backpackers fall into this category, both men and women travel alone all the time, but it takes a very special breed of woman to belong to this very select group.
In reality there is absolutely no difference between the solo backpackers of either gender and the solo female backpacker, except in the solo female backpacker’s head that is. The solo female backpacker isn’t even any different to the other female backpackers they share hostels, backpacker bars and local transport with, apart from the fact that they wear their gender as a badge of honour, as if by the miracle of them happening to be a female elevates them above everyone else who also happens to be backpacking solo solely on the basis that they are female. That’s female, in case you missed it, and solo. These two salient facts are to be lauded above and beyond anything else they or anyone else does. The fact that they are travelling alone. As a female. ALONE. This is something that will be mentioned with great frequency.
This magical quality of being alone, and female of course, obviously makes travel much more difficult for them than their male counterparts – in their eyes at least – and they make sure everyone knows it by ensuring that their gender status is declared at every opportunity in an effort to show how brave and empowered they are for battling against the stereotype that women are weak and unable to handle the dangers of travelling. They are often completely oblivious to the fact that they are the ones reinforcing this stereotype, and no one else really cares anymore.
This epic group of legends are older travelers. Many of whom have retired and have decided to sod their ungrateful offspring and spend the kids inheritance (hence the name SKI’er), sell up and blow their savings on an epic trip or two! And why not? You’ve worked hard all your life, you’ve earned it! It is better to blow all your money now on something worthwhile before the government nicks it all to pay for your nursing home care when your mind is too far gone to realise what’s happening! Proof that you can backpack at any age and inspiration to us all! Go for it grandma!
The spiritual backpacker.
The modern version of the hippy, this long haired tribe of backpacker can be found boring everyone in the hostel senseless by waffling nonstop at how at one with the universe they are. Can often be found amongst the spiritual retreats of India or Asia, learning about the ancient traditions and religions of the world and trying to meditate.
The Eat Pray Love backpacker.
This sub group of the spiritual backpacker are predominantly middle aged housewives bored with their lives, worshipping at the altar of an overly saccharine paperback and bad movie adaptation. Descending on Ubud in Bali like a plague of locusts every tourist season, they come to reconnect with the earth and discover their inner selves. They mercifully disappear on a Yoga or spiritual retreat for most of the time, only emerging to sip their wheatgrass smoothies or Mocha coffees, wittering at how removed from it all they are before they stick their faces back in their brand new iPads and spend all day in a cafe with free wifi. This sub group of backpacker is well known for a complete lack of irony.
This type of backpacker can belong to any one of the other groups, but are identified by their strong air of pompous arrogance. It doesn’t matter where you have been or what you have done, they have been and done one better. They just have to turn everything into a competition instead of just letting people tell their stories and listening before telling their own.
The family packer.
This group of backpacker travels as a family unit, often one or both of the parents is an experienced backpacker in their own right before breaking off from their own tribe to form a little one of their own. Often found in family friendly tourist spots such as zoo’s or public parks in an attempt to appease the notoriously fragile and hard to please baby backpacker, the female of the species often carries a backpack with a specially adapted baby carrier on it, whilst the male of the species often wears a constantly harassed facial expression and is weighed down by up to six times as much stuff as he used to be as he carries the females and the baby backpackers belongings along with his own. He is also often accompanied by the cloying smell of baby sick and wears clothing covered with a variety of thrown food induced stains.
The Bear Grylls backpacker.
No offence to the great man himself here, I have a lot of respect for Bear Grylls. But this type of backpacker is often found running off into the nearest jungle or desert as far away from the touristy crowds as possible. They eschew tour groups with a vehement passion and are usually found looking for a beach or island that hasn’t yet been filled with high rise hotels or partying full moon worshipers. If hiking to Everest base camp in Nepal, this group of backpacker may have a tendency to run off when the guide finishes the trek at base camp and attempt the ascent to the peak on their own. The Bear Grylls backpacker can sometimes disappear for long periods of time and then be found weeks or months later emerging from a jungle or desert, having survived off the land and old ration packs and looking like an extra from an old Rambo movie. If you see this reclusive creature during this re emergence phase, they can be lured back to civilisation with the smell of a good meal and a mango juice or possibly a Tiger beer. They may or may not have a tendency to strip off and jump into an icy lake for no reason.
The stamp collector.
This peculiar group of backpacker is barely one step up from a package tourist. Considers even the slightest stopover in a country as having ‘done’ that country, and can put another tick on their list of countries they have visited. Usually starts every conversation with the number of countries they have visited and considers a brief transit time in a city airport to be sufficient to have a cultural understanding of an entire country. This species is under threat from unexplained bouts of irritable violence from other backpackers.
The born again tourist.
Usually followed by a chorus of ‘aww bless’, this slowly growing group of backpackers can be found emerging from their comfort zones as they are lured away from their air conditioned tour group coaches and all inclusive resorts by the promise of real travel and adventure. Having spent their entire lives on 2 week all inclusive holiday resorts, they see backpackers at some of the sites their tour group has been taken to and marvel at their ability to get there on their own, stay as long as they want and for a fraction of the price as they are herded back on the bus like sheep. Usually found trying to infiltrate themselves into one of the other backpacker tribes, they are often overly happy at how brave and independent they are being, but these imposters can be identified by their use of archaic travelers cheques and security bum bags. Very jittery and easily scared at first, these newly emerging backpackers occasionally scurry back to the comforts of a tour group and can often be found in a comfortable chain hotel. More often than not, full cultural immersion into one of the other backpacker tribes is attained with time.
With a complete lack of any irony, professional skills or qualifications, this naive group of backpackers still expect to travel the world and cuddle a baby member of an endangered species, teach underprivileged kids or perform open heart surgery on sick people in the third world. Can often be identified from the red stain on their shirts from a bleeding heart and an extremely patronizing, patriarchal view toward all the little poor people in the world.
They are perfect prey for the predators that lurk within the voluntourism industry, just waiting to pounce on these wide eyed, eager young pups as they emerge into the world of travelling. When these predators strike, they will relieve them of vast sums of money and drop them in the middle of nowhere and tell them to dig a ditch for a project that has absolutely no benefit to the local population, then ignore them as they complain that the camp has no hotel, hot running water or satellite TV.
On returning home this unfortunately large sub group of backpackers will promptly put up a new profile picture on all their social media of them cuddling a tiger or other endangered animal or posing with a group of poor children on their laps, and will bore everyone senseless by reciting at every opportunity about that week they spent helping out all the poor kids in the third world. Because that obviously makes them a much, much better person.
I hope this little list made some of you smile, you may even recognise yourself or someone you know in it! It was predominantly written with tongue firmly in cheek, but there is a little kernel of truth in each of them! Maybe you all know some more? The backpacker world is certainly large and diverse! Let me know below!