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  • Subject area(s): Hospitality
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  • Published on: 15th October 2019
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The term ‘backpacking’ is controversial and can lead to a lot of different definitions. But in general, most of the definitions state the same. For example, Hannam and Ateljevic define backpacking as following: ‘travelling independently for several months and only staying in budget accommodations’ (2008). Most of the people that go backpacking are generally the young budget travellers whose trip is seen as an extended holiday. The most of these young budget travellers want to ‘exit’ their normal life, separate themselves from their family and usual environment to go into an unfamiliar environment abroad.

Since the 1980s, the term backpacking has applied to a comparatively adventurous, young and low-budget segment of travellers who travel independently, often for extended periods of time, in a particular region or regions and their trips have adventurous, spiritual or self-developing purposes. The term ‘backpacker’ is coming from the fact that the backpackers carry all their belongings in a backpack with them. Most of the contemporary backpackers are Western youngsters.

Backpackers are often characterised as self-organized pleasure tourists on a prolonged multiple-destination journey with a flexible itinerary, arranging their route by themselves instead of booking their trip through a travel agent or tour operator and are generally able to get in touch with the local people. Being both an individual perception and a socially constructed identity, “backpacker” is more a social construct than a definition (Sørensen, 2003). There are more criteria needed to define a backpacker. First of all, while backpackers see themselves as the ‘real’ travellers against the mass tourist, they are mostly denounced for their appearance and behaviour. Second, some backpackers look at their ‘backpacker ideology’ as an anti-tourism ideology, as their travel behaviour is more culture and authenticity oriented than what ordinary tourists seek for on their holiday, as is the case of the ‘sunlust’ of the mass tourist. This so called ‘backpacker ideology’ consists of five elements:

1. Travel on low budget

2. Meet different people

3. Be free, independent and open-minded

4. Organize the trip individually and independently

5. Travel as long as possible

Third, backpackers undertake a broader variety of activities than the average tourists. Backpackers combine their specific backpack activities such as observing wildlife and nature and doing extreme sports, with similar ones undertaken by the ordinary tourist, such as cultural sightseeing and walking around.

Fourth, backpackers don’t just go to their destination, but want to see more on their way. So that’s the reason why the make use of four travel patterns, which are the following:

1. The ‘en route pattern’

o In this pattern the backpackers has one final destination, but has several stops on the way before getting to the final one.

2. The ‘base camp pattern’

o Here is one main destination, but the backpackers has several stops in destinations surrounded.

3. The ‘regional tour pattern’

o In this pattern the tour in general is the destination, so the backpacker does not have a specific destination to start or to end in and might adopt a thematic character.

4. The ‘trip chaining pattern’

a. It has the same multi-destination structure as the ‘regional tour pattern’, but does not necessarily have a thematic character.

And at least, backpackers travel to ‘enclaves’, a bounded area positioned within the boundaries of another, also called ‘tourism bubble’. A destination or region becomes an enclave when there exist relative uniformity and when it is a homogenous tourist space. An ‘enclave’ could also be seen as a cultural home away from home for the backpackers, containing a temporary social network. These backpacker ‘enclaves’ can be found all over the world, whether it is in a big, crowded city or in the middle of nowhere with low accessibility. They can also be long-termed or temporary.

Short-term backpackers

There are also the so called short-term backpackers. These backpackers travel backpacker-like, but their journey fits in the limits of their holiday time. They behave the same as ‘normal’ backpackers, but do not cover the same ground during their trip. Doing a backpacking trip like this is not a new phenomenon. But recent research indicates a strong growth of this kind of backpacker tourism. This could be explained by the increasing prices of tickets for long-haul flights, what makes it easier to go to a far destination for several weeks. Often, many of these short-term backpackers have experienced a backpacking trip before and know how it works, and are therefore able to switch more quickly to the backpacker way. This type of backpacker tourism will have a similar strong growth in the coming years.

A lifestyle

Lifestyle travel is seen as subtype of the backpacker tourism industry. It is a phenomenon that illustrates a dedifferentiation of everyday life and tourist experiences. There are people that look at backpacking as it is a lifestyle. These travellers make an everyday practice of tourism through the ongoing mobility of backpacking. Lifestyle travellers define their way of life as a combination wherein they defined travel as his or her lifestyle and had been on multiple backpacking trips for over a longer period. Often tourism is an escape for these people, because they experienced a great feeling of alienation at home. They also don’t look at their backpacking as casual backpacking tourism, but as movements imbued with purpose and meaning.

Lifestyle travel is a nuanced phenomenon in backpacking tourism that differs its travellers from the ‘casual’ backpackers. Most backpackers are seen as young, low-budget travellers who are in a transitional phase in life, but the lifestyle travellers really have developed their own social identity by making backpacking their lifestyle.

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