The Evolution of Backpacking

Once upon a time in a land far away there was a group of backpackers from countries all round the world that would congregate in backpackers hostels and discuss life, politics, culture and important issues that faced them in this growing world. They would talk to locals about issues that faced them within their society. They would take an interest in volunteer projects, the environment and discovering the world around them. They were respectful of cultural differences and wanted to learn about how others live. They learned the languages of the people they were going to encounter so that they could communicate with as many people as possible in order to learn and grow within themselves…..

Unfortunately, this story doesn’t end with the happy ever after that most fairytales begin with, rather it continues with today’s generation making a mockery of the legacy that the founders of backpacking laid before them. Today backpacking has morphed into this disgusting display of cultural insensitivity as backpackers move their way from place to place on their Contiki tour bus with the main objectives being getting as drunk as one possibly can, getting high on cheap drugs and having sex with as many different nationalities as possible AKA the “International Whoring Mission” (or IWM for short).

Now while I won’t sit here and be a hypocrite and say that I haven’t engaged in some of these activities while I have been travelling, this does not shape my entire outlook of what it is that travel should be as it does for quite a large number of people. The amount of times I have met people who are all about getting smashed every night of the week and never actually make it out during the day time to experience their surroundings is huge. The only place they ever seem to go is the pub and when you ask them what good attractions there are to see around the place, the only thing that they can tell you about was ‘how cool the bar I went to last night’ was. They actually appear shocked when they ask how your day is and you tell them you just got back from surfing, rock climbing or caving and they want to know how you managed that hungover…. ummm… well I didn’t because “shock horror”, I didn’t drink last night! (OMG!)

Now while these people sit around nursing their hangovers, I generally scour the place for people to actually have an adult conversation with that aren’t sitting there with their heads buried so far into Facebook, their phones, some form of downloaded television or other technological device. It appears that the definition of being social these days has gone from ‘sitting around and actually talking to people’ to ‘sitting around and talking to people on the internet instead of the people that are sitting right in front of you’. I get so frustrated with this that I want to scream at people ‘put your goddamn phone down and actually be present where you are!!!’ It is annoying, it is isolating, and it defeats the entire purpose of travelling to meet people if all you are going to do is sit on your arse and type away to people at home.

Speaking of being present in your situation…. Back in the days where people didn’t have iPhones and digital cameras, they used to think very carefully about what they were taking pictures of and these were respected and valued. After they took their one photograph, they were present in their environment and what was going on around them. It is one of the most amazing experiences to “just be” and to let your eyes see and filter the spectacular things going on around you. It is in a way spiritual. In no such way does this spiritual event occur when you are living your life through a lens, which so many people today do. They just sit there taking photo after photo after photo and don’t open their eyes to actually see what is in front of them because it is more important to catch it on film so you can post it to Facebook or Instagram to show people how cool your life is in an attempt to gain as many ‘likes’ as possible for your own self gratification.

One of the biggest changes in backpacking between it origins and now is that key word ‘RESPECT’. Some people who read this may be like ‘what does she mean by RESPECT?’ Well here is what I mean…. Firstly, put some clothes on. If you are in a conservative country, the locals don’t care to see you running around with your arse hanging out of your shorts as you parade around in your bikini tops or boardies with no shirt on. If you want to carry on like that, go home. All it does is alienate the locals and make them hate tourists. Take Bali, Indonesia for example. Majority of the population there are Hindi and Islamic and quite reserved. And yet so many backpackers view this place only as a place they can go to get pissed cheaply every night and run around with no clothes on. Look at the locals. What are they wearing? Do they run around wearing practically nothing? If not, maybe you need to assess whether this is respectful and start dressing like the locals do when you are out and about in public.

Secondly,  I meet people who go travelling long term and still can’t speak a word of the language that the locals speak despite having been there for several months. I am sorry, but you can’t just go around expecting that everyone will speak English or your native language just to accommodate your needs as and entitled backpacker. It is just not on. At least make an effort. Get a phrase book, take a course for a week if you are planning on staying for a while and bother to make the effort. Not only will it endear you more to the locals, but they will be more likely to want to help you and get to know you if you actually show an interest in who they are, their language and what they are about instead of where it is you are going to get your next beer from. It is a part of the fun and challenge of travel. Get the brain flexing. Learn something. Start with the language.

Thirdly, I would like to address what is commonly known as ‘PDA’s’, or ‘public display’s of affection’. I don’t care where it is that you live in the world, nobody needs to see you groping and dry grinding another person in public. Yet for some reason when people find themselves overseas and on ‘vacation’ or ‘holidays’, this small courtesy to the rest of society seems to go out the window with the first vodka. And so begins the ‘right’ for drunk travellers to basically ‘do it’ wherever they are because that means you are cool and it is what everybody else does. Like, YOLO! (dripping sarcasm intended).

Next time you embark on a trip, seriously think about what it is that you are going for. If you are going somewhere merely to get wasted, hook up, behave poorly and disgrace yourself and your nationality, maybe you should consider staying at home instead because these are all things that you can do there. It is an embarrassment to the small minority of us left that like to travel like those of old with eyes wide open, hands to ourselves and in a conscious way that respects the cultures of the locals in the countries we choose to visit. It is a sad and sorry day for those who pioneered backpacking ventures so that we could explore our beautiful world, it’s surrounding and celebrate and share the differences between our cultures. It has now been molded into a giant drug and alcohol-induced orgy where people learn nothing about where it is that they have gone to visit. If you choose to behave like this when you travel, then maybe you need to consider a change in your perception and the ways in which you travel. Either that, or stop embarrassing yourself and just go home.

One thought on “The Evolution of Backpacking”

  1. An interesting perspective from a friend posted on facebook…..

    “As a veteran of the old “hippie trail”, the origin of the backpacking movement from the ’60’s-’70’s, it has been interesting to see the transformation of that sort of travel over the years. The constant connectivity is a huge difference. We used to write letters/postcards. There was a great perspective shift/ re-evaluation related to being completely unmoored/disconnected to home and embracing a new culture. I think that is lost when there is no mental distance from home/friends/family in today’s travel. Also, travel was much more difficult back then eliminating many of the superficial tourists from exotic areas. For example, it would require around a week to get money from home (paper-based bank transfers) and credit cards were rarely available to people of limited means and pretty much irrelevant since few remote locales accepted them. ATM’s have completely changed that. Today’s ease of travel has meant that people who are not really interested in local cultures have flooded once-remote areas. There are no longer the traditional barriers, impediments to exotic travel and now the casual traveler can easily go to places that would have been too difficult for them 25 years ago. Anyway, I think exposure to foreign cultures is overall a good thing and the more Westerners who experience that, the better. It is, however, much more tourist than traveler these days.” – Barry


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