Backpacking is a form of low-cost, independent international travel. It includes the use of a backpack that is easily carried for long distances or long periods of time; the use of public transport; inexpensive lodging such as youth hostels; a longer duration of the trip when compared with conventional vacations; and an interest in meeting the locals as well as seeing the sights. It is typically associated with young adults who generally have fewer obligations and thus more time to travel.
Visa laws in many countries such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom enable backpackers with restricted visas to work and support themselves while they are in those countries. These countries in turn benefit from a flexible youth workforce that contributes significantly to the local economy.
Backpackers typically are price-conscious but due to the length of time they spend in particular countries many services and the economy as a whole benefit. Backpacking may include wilderness adventures, local travel and travel to nearby counties while working from the country in which they are based.
The definition of a backpacker has evolved as travellers from different cultures and regions participate. A 2007 paper said "backpackers constituted a heterogeneous group with respect to the diversity of rationales and meanings attached to their travel experiences. They also displayed a common commitment to a non-institutionalised form of travel, which was central to their self-identification as backpackers." Backpacking as a lifestyle and as a business has grown considerably in the 2000s as a result of low-cost airlines and hostels or budget accommodations in many parts of the world.
While people have travelled for all history with their possessions in packs they carry on their backs, the concept of modern backpacking can be traced, at least partially, to the Hippie trail of the 1960s and '70s, which in turn followed sections of the old Silk Road. In fact, some backpackers today seek to recreate that journey, albeit in a more comfortable manner. Seventeenth-century Italian adventurer Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri has been cited by some authorities as one of the world's first backpackers.
Over the last few decades,[when?] backpackers have descended on South East Asia in huge numbers[clarification needed] with popular Thai islands such as Koh Pha Ngan and several previously sleepy towns in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos being totally transformed to accommodate the sudden influx of travelers. Backpacking in South America and Central America has also become more popular and there are several well-trodden routes around the world that backpackers tend to stick to.
Technological developments and improvements have also contributed to changes in backpacking. Traditionally, backpackers did not travel with expensive electronic equipment like laptop computers, digital cameras and PDAs because of concerns about theft, damage and additional luggage weight. However, the desire to stay connected, coupled with breakthroughs in lightweight electronics, has given rise to the flashpacking trend. And not only is there a shift in what backpackers carry now, there is also a change in what they use to carry that gear: backpacking is becoming less and less reliant on the physical backpack in its initial form.
Of importance in backpacking is a sense of authenticity. Backpacking is perceived as being more than a holiday, but a means of education. Backpackers want to experience the "real" destination rather than the packaged version often associated with mass tourism, which has led to the assertion that backpackers are anti-tourist. For many young people in Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Israel, backpacking is often a rite of passage. It is less common among Americans, particularly when taking into account the large population demographics, but it is also gradually becoming more popular. In Canada, it is quite common for gap-year students to visit Europe. Backpacking trips were traditionally undertaken either in a "gap year" between high school and university, or between the latter and the commencement of work. However the average age of backpackers has gradually increased over time, and it is not uncommon to include travellers in their late 20s or 30s on an extended career break. Popular regions for backpacking tend to vary from country to country.
Backpacking has been criticised, with some criticism dating back to travellers' behaviour along the Hippie Trail. For example, the host countries and other travellers may disagree with the actions of backpackers. However, the perception of backpackers seems to have improved as backpacking has become more mainstream. Another criticism is that 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."
Planning and research
Planning and research is an important part of backpacking, aided by such publications as Rick Steves, Lonely Planet guides, Rough Guides and others. These books provide information about such topics as the language, culture, food and history of a given country. They also offer listings of accommodation and places to eat, together with maps of key locations. Digital format guidebooks are becoming more popular, especially since the advent of smart phones and lightweight netbooks and laptops. There are also many online resources aimed at backpackers as well.
Terms used to describe backpacking with more money and resources include flashpacking, a a combination of flash, as in fancy, with backpacking, and poshpacking, a combination of posh, an informal adjective for upper class, and backpacking.
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- Groundwater, Ben (2007-01-16). "Are you a backpacker, or a poshpacker?". blogs.smh.com.au.
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