Off the Beaten Path Tips from the road...for independent and adventurous budget travellers

Have I Sold Out as a Backpacker?

WORLDWIDE | Friday, 12 November 2010 | Views [2011]

I could have sworn I was a backpacker.

I thought I knew what being a backpacker was all about. I was dead wrong...

I came to this alarming realization just the other morning while staying in an extremely comfortable, uber-slick, state of the art ‘Flashpacker’ hostel. It was 7am and I’d be lying if I said that I wasn’t nursing the world’s worst hangover from the previous nights antics. After all I was hanging with some Irish backpackers, which was never going to end pretty. At this point I would have preferred to stick a dagger in my eye than get out of my absurdly amazing bed (with hotel quality sheets and a mattress better than my one at home), but alas the seal had been broken and I had no choice. So I rolled over and flicked the switch on the personal light next to my bed (which I thought was a novel idea because it meant that I did not have to disturb all the other sleepers). I then fumbled around for my keys and proceeded to open up my sumo-wrestler-sized locker. I fumbled around in there for what seemed to be hours, trying to navigate my way around this monstrosity (which reminded me of an air hanger) so as to find my door key-card. The previous day I had made the schoolboy error of going to the bathroom without it, which is a no-go, and worse yet it meant I couldn’t get back into my room. This inevitably led to an excursion to reception in my undies during peak checkout time. So I was looking for key in my locker which I found under my laptop next to my iphone. These were both charging simultaneously from the 2 power sockets that this locker was equipped with. I thought this was just brilliant because it meant that I could sleep peacefully on my absurdly amazing bed, (with hotel quality sheets and a mattress better than my one at home), knowing that not only would I still have my iphone and laptop in the morning without a worry… But they would both be fully charged! 

So I made my way towards the bathroom, without any flip flops might I add – which is something I don’t really take to lightly since attracting Tinea on a number of occasions while backpacking. I passed the plush leather sofas and sophisticated Internet terminals, swiped my key card to enter the bathroom (an important security measure, because these days you just never know what kind of person will try to use the toilet). This was a bathroom fit for a king and after draining the pipes on the entire keg I had consumed the night before I went to the basin to wash my hands. Now another gentleman already occupied this basin. What I noticed next was one of the strangest and most unusual things I have ever experienced in all my backpacking years. The dude was not shaving, nor was he brushing his teeth and he was certainly not washing his hands either. He was straightening his hair with a GHD (I looked up the name. Really.) hair straightener!

I was Gob smacked! It was at this point that it all finally hit me. Backpackers have changed. Backpacking has changed.

Have I changed?

It all came rushing to me in one foul swoop! What the hell has backpacking become? Isn’t backpacking about dirty underpants… cheap alcohol… brown soles of your feet… rucksacks not suitcases… 3 minute showers and 2 minute noodles??

So I got back into my absurdly amazing bed, (with hotel quality sheets and a mattress better than my one at home) and despite feeling clean to the point of sterilization I suddenly felt really dirty.

I began to self reflect. Was I enjoying these comforts too much? What did this mean? Had I ‘sold out’ as a backpacker? Had I become a ‘Flashpacker’? I have always been accustomed to putting my head on the dirtiest of pillows, Showering with thongs, squatting when going to the toilet and cooking in seedy kitchens.  I would typically choose to stay in the quirky, different and artistic type of hostels for the very reason that they often attract people with those exact traits. I thought that this is what usually made the experience for me and began to question whether this is what backpacking is all about? Was I now trying to replicate the comforts of my normal life, within the context of a backpacking environment? Since when did I ever make a decision on where to stay based on ‘comfort’ especially at the expense of going wherever the best party, atmosphere and vibe is? I also asked myself whether this was about the money? I personally don’t think it is. Even when I was the brokest of Brokepackers and barely scraping by on 2 meals per day I would do my very best to stay where all the best action and vibe is. For me it has always been about the ‘value’ (which I reckon is part price, part experience). Perhaps the bar has been raised in terms of the value that backpackers have now come to expect?

Does it really matter?

Then it dawned on me that this hostel actually had a great vibe and party atmosphere! It was a little different to what I was accustomed to… but nevertheless it was still bloody awesome! This made me think that perhaps it is just different. Not necessarily better, not necessarily worse… just different.

You don’t need to contract some form of hepatitis in order to be a real backpacker.

I have absolutely no problem with sleeping comfortably, eating well, partying hard and even if you want to straighten your hair! What I do have a bit of a problem with are hedonistic backpackers who are only interested in doing what they are accustomed to doing when at home. So if all of these comforts come at the cost of you gaining the greatest local experience you possibly can have then I say its time to get back to basics! At the end of the day, who gives a bloody damn about the amenities, the comforts and even the partying if you ultimately miss out on what you set out to experience… a different culture. What’s the point, you may as well have stayed at home and got drunk in your own comfortable bubble.

One final point to remember is that no matter how flashy, comfortable and how many bells and whistles your accommodation comes with or how absurdly amazing the bed is… There is no escaping annoying dorm-mates ruffling plastic bags at 8am in the morning!

Related Articles:

Backpacking Checklist: Do's and Dont's on the Road

From Apartment to Backpack: 11 Different Ways I Got Rid of My Possessions

Behind the Backpack

Kevin Lippy and Dean Ginsberg are broke backpackers who decided to start a website called Brokepacker.com which is all about discovering the best ways for backpackers to maximize their experiences within the limits of their budgets! They live and travel by the principle that every single dollar saved is a dollar that can contribute to another experience, another adventure and ultimately another day.

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Tags: backpacking, hostels, off the beaten path, partying, travel

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