Backpacking (travel)

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Backpackers in front of the Vienna State Opera in July 2005 Urban backpacking.jpg
Backpackers in front of the Vienna State Opera in July 2005

Backpacking is a form of low-cost, independent travel, which often includes staying in inexpensive lodgings and carrying all necessary possessions in a backpack. Once seen as a marginal form of travel undertaken only through necessity, it has become a mainstream form of tourism. [1]


While backpacker tourism is generally a form of youth travel, primarily undertaken by young people during gap years, it is also undertaken by older people during a career break or retirement.


Hostel in Mexico YouthHostelGuadalajara.jpeg
Hostel in Mexico

Backpacker tourism generally, but does not always, include: [2] [3]


People have travelled for thousands of years with their possessions on their backs, but usually out of need rather than for recreation.

Between 3400 and 3100 BCE, Ötzi the Iceman was traveling in Italy with a backpack made of animal skins and a wooden frame, although there are some thoughts that this may actually have been his snowshoes. In the 7th century, Xuanzang, a Chinese Buddhist monk, travelled to India with a hand-made backpack.

In the 17th century, Italian adventurer Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri was likely one of the first people to engage in backpacker tourism. [9]

The modern popularity of backpacking can be traced, at least partially, to the hippie trail of the 1960s and 1970s, [10] which in turn followed sections of the old Silk Road. Some backpackers follow the same trail today. [11]

Since the late-20th century, backpackers have visited Southeast Asia in large numbers. [12]


A 2018 study of over 500 backpackers conducted by researchers at Sun Yat-sen University and Shaanxi Normal University in China and Edith Cowan University in Australia showed that for Westerners, backpacking leads to acquired capabilities like effective communication, decision-making, adaptability, and problem solving, all of which contribute to an increase in self-efficacy, and for Chinese backpackers, acquiring skills like time and money management, language development, stress management, and self-motivation provided the biggest increase in self-efficacy. [13] [14]

Mark Hampton of the University of Kent, writing for The Guardian , argued in 2010 that for many low-income communities in the developing world, the economic benefits of hosting backpackers outweigh their negative impacts. Since backpackers tend to consume local products, stay in small guest houses, and use locally owned ground transport, more of their expenditure is retained in-country than in conventional mass tourism. [15]


Backpacker tourism of the hippie trail has been criticized for possibly encouraging urban liberal minorities while insulting Islamic traditionalist theology, possibly leading to the Islamic reawakening in the late 1970s. [16] [17]

Even though one of the primary aims of backpacking is to seek the "authentic", the majority of backpackers spend most of their time interacting with other backpackers, and interactions with locals are of "secondary importance". [10]

Backpacker tourism has been criticized for the transformation of some sleepy towns, such as the creation of the Full Moon Party on Ko Pha-ngan in Thailand, which includes "scores of topless teenagers urinating into the ocean". [18]


Flashpacking and Poshpacking refer to backpacking with more money and resources. The words combine backpacking with flash, a slang term for being fancy, or posh, an informal adjective for upper class. [19] [20]

Begpacking combines begging and backpacking in reference to individuals who beg (ask directly or indirectly for money), solicit money during street performances, or vend (sell postcards or other small items) as a way to extend their overseas travel. [21] The trend has drawn criticism for taking money away from people in actual need, with one known begpacker barred from entering Singapore. [22] [23] Begpacking is common in Southeast Asia and is a trend in South America and South Korea. [24] [25]

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tourism</span> Travel for recreational or leisure purposes

Tourism is travel for pleasure or business; also the theory and practice of touring, the business of attracting, accommodating, and entertaining tourists, and the business of operating tours. The World Tourism Organization defines tourism more generally, in terms which go "beyond the common perception of tourism as being limited to holiday activity only", as people "travelling to and staying in places outside their usual environment for not more than one consecutive year for leisure and not less than 24 hours, business and other purposes". Tourism can be domestic or international, and international tourism has both incoming and outgoing implications on a country's balance of payments.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ecotourism</span> Tourism visiting natural environments

Ecotourism is a form of tourism involving responsible travel to natural areas, conserving the environment, and improving the well-being of the local people. Its purpose may be to educate the traveler, to provide funds for ecological conservation, to directly benefit the economic development and political empowerment of local communities, or to foster respect for different cultures and for human rights. Since the 1980s, ecotourism has been considered a critical endeavor by environmentalists, so that future generations may experience destinations relatively untouched by human intervention. Ecotourism may focus on educating travelers on local environments and natural surroundings with an eye to ecological conservation. Some include in the definition of ecotourism the effort to produce economic opportunities that make conservation of natural resources financially possible.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hippie trail</span> Overland journey from Europe to Asia

Hippie trail is the name given to the overland journey taken by members of the hippie subculture and others from the mid-1950s to the late 1970s between Europe and South Asia, mainly from Turkey through Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, to Nepal; an alternative route ran from Turkey to the Levant. The hippie trail was a form of alternative tourism, and one of the key elements was travelling as cheaply as possible, mainly to extend the length of time away from home. The term "hippie" became current in the mid-to-late 1960s; "beatnik" was the previous term from the later 1950s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hostel</span> Cheap, sociable lodging

A hostel is a form of low-cost, short-term shared sociable lodging where guests can rent a bed, usually a bunk bed in a dormitory, with shared use of a lounge and sometimes a kitchen. Rooms can be mixed or single-sex and have private or shared bathrooms. Private rooms may also be available, but the property must offer dormitories to be considered a hostel. Hostels are popular forms of lodging for backpackers. They are part of the sharing economy. Benefits of hostels include lower costs and opportunities to meet people from different places, find travel partners, and share travel ideas. Some hostels, such as Zostel in India or Hostelling International, cater to a niche market of travelers. For example, one hostel might feature in-house social gatherings such as movie nights or communal dinners, another might feature local tours, one might be known for its parties, and another might have a quieter place to relax in serenity, or be located on the beach. Newer hostels focus on a more trendy design interior, some of which are on par with boutique hotels. Some may cater to older digital nomads, global nomads, and perpetual travelers that prefer slightly more upmarket private rooms or a quieter atmosphere.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Khaosan Road</span> Street in central Bangkok, Thailand

Khaosan Road or Khao San Road is a short street in central Bangkok, Thailand constructed in 1892 during the reign of Rama V. It is in the Bang Lamphu area of Phra Nakhon District about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) north of the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Backpacking (hiking)</span> Outdoor recreation of carrying gear on ones back, while hiking for more than a day

Backpacking is the outdoor recreation of carrying gear on one's back, while hiking for more than a day. It is often an extended journey, and may involve camping outdoors. In North America tenting is common, where simple shelters and mountain huts, widely found in Europe, are rare. In New Zealand, hiking is called tramping and tents are used alongside a nationwide network of huts. Hill walking is an equivalent in Britain, though backpackers make use of a variety of accommodation, in addition to camping. Backpackers use simple huts in South Africa. Trekking and bushwalking are other words used to describe such multi-day trips.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Adventure travel</span> Type of niche tourism

Adventure travel is a type of niche tourism, involving exploration or travel with a certain degree of risk, and which may require special skills and physical exertion. In the United States, adventure tourism has grown in recent decades as tourists seek out-of-the-ordinary or "roads less traveled" vacations, but lack of a clear operational definition has hampered measurement of market size and growth. According to the U.S.-based Adventure Travel Trade Association, adventure travel may be any tourist activity that includes physical activity, a cultural exchange, and connection with nature.

A global nomad is a person who is living a mobile and international lifestyle. Global nomads aim to live location-independently, seeking detachment from particular geographical locations and the idea of territorial belonging.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Sustainable tourism</span> Form of travel and tourism without damage to nature or cultural area

Sustainable tourism is a concept that covers the complete tourism experience, including concern for economic, social and environmental issues as well as attention to improving tourists' experiences and addressing the needs of host communities. Sustainable tourism should embrace concerns for environmental protection, social equity, and the quality of life, cultural diversity, and a dynamic, viable economy delivering jobs and prosperity for all. It has its roots in sustainable development and there can be some confusion as to what "sustainable tourism" means. There is now broad consensus that tourism should be sustainable. In fact, all forms of tourism have the potential to be sustainable if planned, developed and managed properly. Tourist development organizations are promoting sustainable tourism practices in order to mitigate negative effects caused by the growing impact of tourism, for example its environmental impacts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Female sex tourism</span> Female tourists who travel to engage in sexual activities

Female sex tourism is sex tourism by women who travel intending to engage in sexual activities with one or more locals, usually male sex workers. Female sex tourists may seek aspects of the sexual relationship not typically shared by male sex tourists, such as perceived romance and intimacy. Women who fit this profile – especially wealthy, single, older white women – plan their holidays to have romance and sex with a companion who knows how to make them feel special and give them attention. The incidence of female sex tourism is reportedly lower than male sex tourism.

Although Kyrgyzstan’s mountains and lakes are an attractive tourist destination, the tourism industry has grown very slowly because it has received little investment. In the early 2000s, an average of about 450,000 tourists visited annually, mainly from countries of the former Soviet Union. In 2018, the British Backpacker Society ranked Kyrgyzstan as the fifth best adventure travel destination on earth, stating that the country was an adventure travel secret that is "bound to get out soon."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Banana Pancake Trail</span>

"Banana Pancake Trail" or "Banana Pancake Circuit" is the name given to growing routes around Southeast Asia, and to some extent South Asia, travelled by backpackers and other tourists. The Trail has no clear geographical definition, but is used as a metaphor for places that are popular among Western tourists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Homestay</span> Form of hospitality and lodging

Homestay is a form of hospitality and lodging whereby visitors share a residence with a local of the area (host) to which they are traveling. The length of stay can vary from one night to over a year and can be provided for free, in exchange for monetary compensation, in exchange for a stay at the guest's property either simultaneously or at another time, or in exchange for housekeeping or work on the host's property. Homestays are examples of collaborative consumption and the sharing economy. Homestays are used by travelers; students who study abroad or participate in student exchange programs; and au pairs, who provide child care assistance and light household duties. They can be arranged via certain social networking services, online marketplaces, or academic institutions.

The Gringo Trail refers to a string of the places most often visited by "gringos", Canadians, Americans, other budget travelers, vice tourists, backpackers, Anglo-European, Dutch, German heritage foreigners in Latin America.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cannabis in Malawi</span> Use of cannabis in Malawi

Malawian cannabis, particularly the strain known as Malawi Gold, is internationally renowned as one of the finest sativa strains from Africa. According to a World Bank report it is among "the best and finest" marijuana strains in the world, generally regarded as one of the most potent psychoactive pure African sativas. The popularity of this variety has led to such a profound increase in marijuana tourism and economic profit in Malawi that Malawi Gold is listed as one of the three "Big C's" in Malawian exports: chambo, chombe (tea), and chamba (cannabis).

Tourism brings both positive and negative impacts on tourist destinations. The traditionally-described domains of tourism impacts are economic, socio-cultural, and environmental dimensions. The economic effects of tourism include improved tax revenue and personal income, increased standards of living, and more employment opportunities. Sociocultural impacts are associated with interactions between people with differing cultural backgrounds, attitudes and behaviors, and relationships to material goods. Environmental impacts can have both direct effects including degradation of habitat, vegetation, air quality, bodies of water, the water table, wildlife, and changes in natural phenomena, and indirect effects, such as increased harvesting of natural resources to supply food, indirect air and water pollution.

Sensory tourism is a form of tourism, that caters for people with vision impairment. Those suffering from vision impairment face many difficulties based around mainstream tourism such as access to information, navigation, safety and the knowledge of others around them. This has caused the visionless members of society to travel much less than those with no vision impairment. Combining the theories behind tourism in terms of its psychology and its relation to the senses, an inclusive experience for the visually disabled was developed. Sensory tourism engages the physical and multi-sensory aspects of tourism, enhancing the tourism experience specifically for those with, but also benefitting those without vision impairment.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Regina Scheyvens</span> New Zealand development academic

Regina Aurelia Scheyvens is a New Zealand development academic, and as of 2019 is a full professor at Massey University. Her research focuses on the relationship between tourism, sustainable development and poverty reduction, and she has conducted fieldwork on these issues in Fiji, Vanuatu, Samoa, the Maldives and in Southern Africa. She is also very interested in gender and development, sustainable livelihood options for small island states, and in theories of empowerment for marginalised peoples.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Travelfish</span>

Travelfish is a travel website covering Southeast Asia. It was founded in 2004 by an Australian couple, travel writer Stuart McDonald and journalist Samantha Brown, and operates out of Sydney. The website carries guidebook-style recommendations written by its staff and paid contributors, and is recognized as a major online travel resource for the region.

The Black Travel Movement is a socioentrepreneurial phenomenon that pursues social change by developing travel-related businesses that encourage Black people to travel. The movement emerged in the 2010s, but in the United States its historical roots go back to The Negro Motorist Green Book and to historically Black resorts.


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