While on the road, I’d met a couple of travel snobs – travelers who consider their travelling style better than others. In their opinion, backpacking is real travel, the best way to experience a country’s culture. They tend to belittle other forms of travelling (luxury, tour package, flashpacking) and think of themselves as the ‘better’ traveler.
To that, I’d like to ask: Does that mean a luxury traveler who visits more museums than jungles know less of a country than you do? Does it mean that a flashpacker who stays at a hotel is less adventurous and experiences less than you do? On the contrary, aren’t backpackers staying in a hostel interacting with only fellow travelers rather than locals? Everyone has his own travel style and who are we to say which is better than the other?
Snobbish Behaviour on the Net
Gary from Everything-Everywhere wrote an amusing and honest piece ‘I Don’t Give A Damn How You Travel’ in response to a reader’s comment. The reader condemned Gary on his visit to Taipei, saying ‘there is little point in travelling if you’re only going to hop from one big city to the next’. Gary made his point with the title of his post.
My previous post on recent blogging disputes resulted in more bickering and even personal attacks from the parties involved (read the comments section) . From this episode, you can clearly see that even travelers with the highest profiles in the industry are pulling rank, comparing who’s the “better” traveler.
BootsnAll published a rather provocative piece written by Paul Dow, ‘Is Flashpacking Killing the Art of Backpacking?’ He clearly offended many with biased opinions like ‘Flashpacking seems like a style of traveling to simply “tick the box” and to be able to say “I’ve been there“, which completely misses the point of independent travel.’ Inevitably it sparked tons of negative feedback from readers, debating on whether there is any superiority in different traveling styles.
One of the readers commented,
It almost seems like you identify “Real Backpackers” as this elite group to strive to be a part of. Will we be shunned by the “Real Backpackers” if we choose some creature comforts from time to time? Will we be told that we’re “doing it wrong” because we take our photos with a $150 digital camera and share some over e-mail with our family and friends? (and are therefore apparently “Flashpackers”?)
That seems kind of unwelcoming… Everyone chooses to travel in a different way. Isn’t that what it’s all about – to blaze your own trail? Why is there a need to label someone who does things in a different way?
I’m a backpacker myself, and I travel this way simply because I like it. I love eating at a street food stall, I enjoy chatting up the locals and I don’t mind sleeping in a cheap hostel (that’s ‘cos I’m broke). But that doesn’t mean other traveling styles are in any way inferior. There is no wrong way to travel.
Tourist vs Traveler
It all started with the age-old discussion of tourist vs traveler – Do tourists really get a sense of a country while toting suitcases and living it up in luxurious hotels? Travelers learn more about a country talking to the locals, trying local food and adventures; while tourists don’t.
I’d admit I used to be one of the ‘self-acclaimed’ traveler who thinks little of tourists. But having met lots of people on the road, getting to know different cultures, mindsets and behavior, I’ve grown and come to learn that you can’t generalize people like that.
There are always tourists who are more adventurous than anyone – my parents who never in their lives have picked up a backpack, would dare eat a balut (egg with semi-developed foetus in it) from the street stalls in the Philippines – I’d like to see you try that!
On the other hand, I’ve met many backpackers who think they’re way cooler than others just because they’ve meditated in an Ashram in India. Bring them to a Hindu temple where you have to go bare-feet on an oily ground – just see their reaction! Some don’t even dare step in!
It just all boils down to different personality. Some tourists might get more of a trip than a hippie just because they experience it in their own way. Similarly, the hippie got to see a different side of the country which he truly relished. Screw the differences, we’re all out to see the world, so why can’t we start thinking as one?
Different Traveling Style – Different Impact
First of all, some travelers need to face the fact that they’re not the only ones who like traveling. There are millions of people out there who has an equal passion for it. Whether they are independent travelers, tourists on a package or road trippers, there are so many out there just like you. So stop thinking you’re more experienced or better than anyone else.
Secondly, I honestly hate categorizing people, although we all do that unknowingly. How do you define a backpacker – so someone who takes local transport, eats street food, sleeps in hostels but carries a Samsonite suitcase cannot be considered a backpacker?
In Jordan, we befriended an old Aussie couple, who were absolutely friendly, humble and just open-minded (more so than many others in their 20s) – the retired pair were going on an RTW trip. They were staying in nice hotels (they could afford to) but when we met, they were sleeping in this Bedouin camp in the middle of the desert just like us – no toilets, no electricity or any luxury. And they were happy, no complaints. Does that mean they’re luxury travelers or backpackers? I’d let you judge.
On another occasion, we were staying at a big backpackers hostel in Tulum, Mexico, and we hung out with several travelers from Sweden and the U.S. These travelers were aiming at spending no more than $10 a day, so they ate only sandwiches, didn’t do anything else but spend all their money on beer. Right, you’d call them backpackers, but did they explore much of Mexico? Did they even bother learning Spanish to speak to the locals? Did they even try local food (plenty of them on the streets) – I’d dare say no.
We’ve been debating on this topic for far too long, and to be honest, I’m sick of it. I’d rather let this reader’s comment (from Paul’s article) speak for itself,
When you enter a new country, what do you fill in that “reason for entry” question on the immigration card? Backpacker?
Traveller? Flashpacker? Or like everyone else do you write “tourist’”?
Which in the end, is that not what we all are?