The problem with backpacking



Here I am, stuck. Unable to go anywhere for a while. Yes, it seems that for the rest of the year, I won’t be able to travel. Too busy, too poor, too… out of ideas. So what does one do when one is unable to go anywhere? You pretend you’re going somewhere by watching travel programs and browsing travel sites. Look at all that sun coming through my tv screen. It’s just like the real thing. During my pretend travels however, I noticed a few things; things concerning backpacking.

Why do people backpack as opposed to traveling the regular way? The three main reasons seem to be:

  • You want to undertake something on your own.
  • you want a real traveling experience, or
  • You’re broke, but still want to travel.

So what counts as backpacking? Normally it means:

  • Travel by local form of transportation.
  • Travel as cheap as possible.
  • Travel independently, or at least not with an organization or tour group.
  • Experience an authentic journey.

Seems fair enough. But traveling has changed, backpacking today isn’t the same as it was 20 years ago, yet the whole idea still seems kinda stuck in the past.


People save money to go backpacking… the idea of backpacking was traveling without saving for it.

Using local forms of transportation seems fair enough, right? Well, these days a lot of places have great forms of transportation (especially places popular among backpackers), used by more than just the locals. Sure you can travel around by donkey and cart, but if you do, chances are this is something the people are capitalizing on, so it’s not that authentic at all. Cheap? Sure, maybe. I saw a program about backpacking recently and they gave some awful advice about transportation. Good job suckering people into paying the full price for the “backpackers’ way” when they could have taken the actual form of local transportation.

Then there’s hitch hiking. Definitely cheap, but it doesn’t make the journey authentic, just more inconvenient, and awful. Me? I’m a critic, finding the awful things is what I do. You? You just want to travel, skip the awful parts when possible.

Now, let’s talk about money. Admittedly, I’m more broke than a broke broker with a broken back, so I might not be the best expert when it comes to this particular subject. Now, when you think about sleeping places when backpacking, you’ll most likely think about places such as hostels. Hostels are awful. Hotels these days are really cheap, not as cheap as hostels, but generally more convenient, and so provide much more value for money. A good night’s rest is your best friend when traveling, and as a backpacker you’ll be doing a lot of traveling. Go ahead and take that domestic flight if you can afford it, it exists for a reason. It means you’ll have more time at your destination, and you’ll preserve more energy when taking the train (unless that’s your thing).

So it all boils down to independence and authenticity. But how authentic and independent are thing really? Thanks to the internet we can books months in advance in hotels we never would have heard of otherwise. Everyone has this ability at their fingertips. We no longer have to rely on agencies and organizations like we did 40 or 30 years ago. All of us are independent travelers now. And I’m not just talking about sleeping places. There’s tons of information available for even the most obscure and far away places. Information is key in having a great vacation. Backpackers do a lot of research, they have to. But if they do, they’re not really independent. They read what others have done and took the next step.

And because all of them obtain the same information they all end up doing the same thing, going to the same places, and mostly hang out with other backpackers. So much for authenticity. It’s not wrong or bad, mind you, but it’s not that different from what “tourists” do. So please, stop pretending it is. You want authenticity? Then go somewhere, and don’t bother with research. Just see what happens.

Backpacking can be amazing. You can end up in places you otherwise wouldn’t. You can see things you otherwise wouldn’t. It potentially could be a way to save money on your trips. But it doesn’t mean you get see more, or that it’s better, or that it’s the “real travel experience.”

We all experience things our own way. We all have preferences. If you want to backpack, go for it. I highly recommend it. Prefer your trip to be more luxurious and convenient? Go for that as well, it’s in no way a lesser experience. Just not one I can afford myself. :sadface: