Like many spheres of life, the world of backpacking has evolved to include its own special and distinct language, with specific phrases and acronyms. With so many backpackers from all over the world interacting and mingling together, and more than a few strange looks when dozens of local dialects clash (just watch a British woman’s face when an Aussie asks them to kick their thongs off, priceless), and cultural misunderstandings with language barriers, it’s not really all that surprising. It helps backpackers bond as a group and a community.
There are many unique and specific terms and definitions that many long term travellers take for granted, but may be confusing to the first time backpacker dipping their toes into the waters of a new adventure. So here I will try and explain just a few of the basic ones so as you read this book, you can immerse yourself in our world just that little bit easier and prepare for your own journey that little bit better.
After Army: Often refers to young Israeli travellers who have escaped to travel the world after their military service, but can also refer to former soldiers of any nationality doing the same.
Backpacker: This is the basic most common definition of anyone who travels independently and on a budget, usually with the eponymous backpack over their shoulders. It can also be interchangeable with traveller.
Backpacker ghetto: An area of any given city or country that has an abundance of cheap hostels, a touristy market, a lot of bars and a heavy traveller infrastructure and is full of first time backpackers for this very reason. Khao San Road in Bangkok is an infamous example.
Banana pancake trail: An affectionate nickname for the common backpacker route through South East Asia, commonly but not always starting in Khao San Road in Thailand. It refers to the number of small guesthouses, cafes and eateries serving the eponymous and popular banana pancakes as breakfast.
Border run: Not a mad rush to the Mexican border after a bank job gone wrong, this describes a situation where a backpacker will get a cheap return coach or plane ticket to another country for a couple days before returning to the country they were in to begin with to extend their visa.
Couchsurfing: Not a YouTube video resulting in a painful and hilarious head injury, couchsurfing is a method for backpackers to gain free accommodation in a hosts home, and in turn hosting other backpackers in their own house when they aren’t travelling.
Flashpacker: This is a backpacker who travels in the same independent way as any traditional backpacker, but has a higher than average budget and stays in mid range to nice hotels and travels in more luxury and comfort.
Gap year: The traditional year out taken by many backpackers to go travelling.
Gringo trail: The traditional backpacking route through Latin America where the same countries or places in no particular order are visited by a constant stream of backpackers.
Off the beaten track: This isn’t a reference to some hardy back to basics camping adventure, this simply refers to the places many long term backpackers head to that tend not to have many – if any at all – other backpackers there, instead of heading to the usual places everyone else heads to.
Round the world (RTW): Pretty much what it says, this describes the traditional gap year backpacking trip, often – but not always – involving a single ticket with numerous stops on various continents.
SKIer: Stands for ‘Spending the Kid’s Inheritance’. A rather unflattering term for people who spend their retirement (and their probably ungrateful sprogs inheritance in the process) backpacking around the world.
Snap year: The increasingly common shorter version of a gap year, often between 1 to 6 months and taking in one country or one region.
The Bible: A nickname for a guidebook, typically Lonely Planet but is sometimes used for Rough Guides too. Often used by young, new first time backpackers who follow the ‘where to go and stay’ sections in these books slavishly (hence an overabundance of first time backpackers in the same hostel which invariably jacks it’s rates up).
Tourist trail: Simply describes places or things that most tourists and backpackers head to see, the major tourist draws like the pyramids or the Statue of Liberty.
Wwoof: Stands for willing workers on organic farms or worldwide opportunities on organic farms. This is a loose network of organisations that allow volunteers, or Wwoofers to work on organic farms for room and board. Wwoofing is a popular way for young gap year backpackers to extend their trip.
These are just a few of the terms and phrases I’ve picked up over the years. Some are in jest, others actually refer to something specific that can be useful for first time backpackers to know. I’m sure you’ve all heard many more and I’m sure more will be added as the backpacker vernacular expands!