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. Backpackers tend to be from Europe, the English-speaking world, Asia, or Israel.
- Traveling mostly via public transport.
- Using inexpensive lodging such as hostels.
- A longer duration trip when compared with conventional vacations.
- An interest in meeting locals as well as seeing sights.
- An interest in meeting other travelers.
- Use of smartphones and online resources for planning.
- Carrying belongings in a backpack. Backpackers have traditionally carried their possessions in 30 liter to 60 liter backpacks, but roller-wheeled suitcases and some less-traditional carrying methods have become more common, and there has been a trend towards keeping pack weights under the 8-to-10 kilogram carry-on limit of most airlines.
- Backpacker tourism may also include working in various countries for short stints, depending on work permit laws. It can also be undertaken by digital nomads, people who work using technology while living a nomadic lifestyle.
- A sense of authenticity. Backpacking is perceived not only as a form of tourism, but a means of education. Backpackers want to experience what they consider the "real" destination rather than a packaged version often associated with mass tourism.
People have travelled for thousands of years with their possessions on their backs, but usually out of need rather than for recreation.
In the 17th century, Italian adventurer Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri was likely one of the first people to engage in backpacker tourism.
The modern popularity of backpacking can be traced, at least partially, to the hippie trail of the 1960s and 1970s, which in turn followed sections of the old Silk Road. Some backpackers follow the same trail today.
Since the late-20th century, backpackers have visited Southeast Asia in large numbers
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.
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. businesses that cater to backpackers are usually locally owned and profits tend to be retained within the country rather than flowing overseas to international hotel groups.
Effect on culture
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.
Lack of cultural immersion
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".
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.
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. The trend has drawn criticism for taking money away from people in actual need, with one known begpacker barred from entering Singapore. Begpacking is most common in Southeast Asia and is a growing trend in South America.
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- 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.
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- Bernstein, J.D. (2019). "Begging to travel: Begpacking in Southeast Asia". Annals of Tourism Research. 77: 77, 161–163. doi:10.1016/j.annals.2018.12.014.
- "Notorious begpacker barred from entering S'pore, goes around the world begging". April 13, 2017.
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