Backpacking (travel)

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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.


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

  • Traveling via public transport, using inexpensive lodging such as hostels or homestays, and other methods of lowering costs.[4]
  • A longer duration trip when compared with conventional vacations.
  • Working in other countries for short stints, depending on work permit laws.[5] It can also be undertaken by digital nomads, people who work using technology while living a nomadic lifestyle.
  • A search for authenticity. Backpacking is perceived not only as a form of tourism but as a means of education.[6] Backpackers want to experience what they consider the "real" destination rather than a packaged version often associated with mass tourism.[7]
  • The desire to take part in or craft a narrative around traveling.[8]


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]


  1. ^ Caprioglio O'Reilly, Camille (2006). "From Drifter to Gap Year Tourist Mainstreaming Backpacker Travel". Annals of Tourism Research. 33 (4): 998–1017. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2006.04.002.
  2. ^ Kelly, Catherine. "Backpacker Tourism" – via SAGE Publishing.
  3. ^ Ooi, Natalie; Laing, Jennifer H. (March 2010). "Backpacker tourism: sustainable and purposeful? Investigating the overlap between backpacker tourism and volunteer tourism motivations". Journal of Sustainable Tourism – via ResearchGate.
  4. ^ CFEI, Libby Kane. "A 26-year-old explains how he travels the world on no more than $30 a day". Business Insider. Retrieved 2021-04-03.
  5. ^ Victoria, Government. "Backpacker Tourism Action Plan". Tourism Victoria.
  6. ^ Pearce, Philip; Foster, Faith (2007). "A "University of Travel": Backpacker Learning". Tourism Management. 28 (5): 1285–1298. doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2006.11.009.
  7. ^ Richards, Greg; Wilson, Julie (March 29, 2004). The Global Nomad: Backpacker Theory in Travel and Practice. Channel View Publications. pp. 80–91. ISBN 1-873150-76-8.
  8. ^ Bosangit, Carmela; Hibbert, Sally; McCabe, Scott (2015-11-01). ""If I was going to die I should at least be having fun": Travel blogs, meaning and tourist experience". Annals of Tourism Research. 55: 1–14. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2015.08.001. ISSN 0160-7383.
  9. ^ "The Inventor of Traveling - The First Backpacker in the World?". July 2007. Archived from the original on 12 December 2007.
  10. ^ a b Cohen, Erik (2003). "Backpacking: Diversity and Change". Tourism and Cultural Change. 1 (2): 95–110. doi:10.1080/14766820308668162. S2CID 144370135.
  11. ^ Conlin, Jennifer (February 11, 2007). "IN TRANSIT; Traveling to the Ends of the Earth, at Ground Level". The New York Times.
  12. ^ "Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2018 South East Asia" (PDF). World Travel & Tourism Council. World Travel & Tourism Council.
  13. ^ AVAKIAN, TALIA (August 3, 2018). "How a Backpacking Trip Could Make You a More Successful Person". Travel + Leisure.
  14. ^ Chen, Ganghua; Huang, Songshan (Sam); Hu, Xianyang (May 3, 2018). "Backpacker Personal Development, Generalized Self-Efficacy, and Self-Esteem: Testing a Structural Model". Journal of Travel Research. 58 (4): 680–694. doi:10.1177/0047287518768457. S2CID 150169280.
  15. ^ Hampton, Mark (September 23, 2010). "Backpacker tourism can be beneficial for poor countries". The Guardian.
  16. ^ MacLean, Rory (July 31, 2006). "Dark Side of the Hippie Trail". New Statesman.
  17. ^ MacLean, Rory (2009). Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India. Ig Publishing. ISBN 9780978843199.
  18. ^ Kingsley, Patrick (September 6, 2010). "Gap years: Wasted youth?". The Guardian.
  19. ^ Groundwater, Ben (January 16, 2007). "Are you a backpacker, or a poshpacker?". The Sydney Morning Herald. Archived from the original on November 9, 2016. Retrieved October 7, 2012.
  20. ^ "'Flashpacking?' Don't Forget you Still Need Room for Extra Socks". USA Today. Associated Press. June 20, 2006.
  21. ^ Bernstein, J.D. (2019). "Begging to travel: Begpacking in Southeast Asia". Annals of Tourism Research. 77: 161–163. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2018.12.014.
  22. ^ "Notorious begpacker barred from entering S'pore, goes around the world begging". April 13, 2017.
  23. ^ Bernstein, Joshua D. (2019). "Begging to travel: Begpacking in Southeast Asia".
  24. ^ "Young, entitled, and over there: The rise of the begpacker". The Guardian. July 22, 2019.
  25. ^ Gibson, Jenna. "'Begpacking' Phenomenon Draws Scrutiny in South Korea". Retrieved 2020-05-23.

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