A few days ago I got an interesting e-mail from a reader: “You’re not a real backpacker, traveling with a laptop and an expensive camera goes against backpacking itself”.
What followed was a lengthy message about what constitutes as a real backpacker, in a few words, this guy’s romantic idea of a backpacker was of a perpetual vagabond that travels where his heart leads him and has no interest in visiting popular attractions or to take photos of his adventures.
Writing about the trip? Probably in a torn diary but never online. Yes, this reader was basically describing a hipster. The same type of person that skips the Taj Mahal for no other reason than because “it is too mainstream”.
What is a real backpacker?
While this reader’s e-mail was clearly biased against travel writers/photographers, his words sure got me thinking: Is the definition of “backpacker” now lost to general interpretation? If you’re a history buff, you probably know that the first backpackers were the hippies of the 60’s who followed the old-silk road of Asia with no material possessions other than their clothes.
Today? The typical gap-year student that drinks his way around Europe without immersing himself in the local culture can claim to be a backpacker. The professional travel photographer with a 2000 USD gear can also claim to be a backpacker. The expat that makes weekend getaways to nearby countries can also claim to be a backpacker.
In fact, I can claim to be a backpacker even though I hate backpacks and I always travel with a small wheeled luggage. I think that the point that this reader was trying to make is that in a world where everybody can claim to be a backpacker, it would seem that nobody is a real one.
Most people associate backpacking with budget travel in order to define it as the polar opposite of luxury travel but hey, that’s not entirely right since luxury travel can take many forms (to some people, first class is already luxury travel, to others, having your own private airplane is the real luxury travel) and it’s the same for backpacking.
Where do you draw the line for budget travel? Is paying less than 10 USD a day the real budget travel? Is working at the hostel for lodging and food the real budget travel? Is begging for money in the streets the real budget travel?
Who knows. Who cares.
Why you shouldn’t try to define backpacking
Traveling is your own personal journey of wonders and only you can decide what you want to be. Most people who claim to be “nomads” have absolutely nothing to do with the original definition of the word but in the end, I don’t really care about it and neither should you to be honest.
By defining a word, you’re limiting it. If you’re very stoic such as this reader, then you’ll have a hard time finding a “real” backpacker. To me, backpacking has no definition since it’s not a word, it’s a culture and there’s no way to define a particular culture.
There are backpackers who live to drink, backpackers who live to explore, backpackers who live to capture moments in photos, backpackers who cannot live without their smartphones, backpackers who cannot stand hostels, backpackers who go to Hard Rock Cafe, backpackers who document their travels in blogs such as this one and backpackers who simply cannot be defined.
Which type of backpacker are you?