Backpacking (travel)

Backpacking is a form of low-cost, independent travel. Once considered a marginal activity undertaken by society’s drop-outs, it has gradually entered the tourism mainstream.[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. Backpackers tend to be from Europe, the English-speaking world, Asia, or Israel.[2]


Backpacker tourism generally, but does not always, include:[3][4]

  • 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.[5]
  • 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.[6]
  • Backpacker tourism may also include working in various countries for short stints, depending on work permit laws.[7] 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.[8] Backpackers want to experience what they consider the "real" destination rather than a packaged version often associated with mass tourism.[9]


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.[10]

The modern popularity of backpacking can be traced, at least partially, to the hippie trail of the 1960s and 1970s,[11] which in turn followed sections of the old Silk Road. Some backpackers follow the same trail today.[12]

Since the late-20th century, backpackers have visited Southeast Asia in large numbers[13]


For participants

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.[14][15]

For communities

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.[16]


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.[17][18]

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".[11]

Transformation of localities

Backpacker tourism has been criticized for the transformation of some sleepy towns and the creation of the Full Moon Party on Ko Pha-ngan in Thailand, which includes "scores of topless teenagers urinating into the ocean".[19]


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.[20][21]

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.[22] The trend has drawn criticism for taking money away from people in actual need, with one known begpacker barred from entering Singapore.[23][24] Begpacking is most common in Southeast Asia and is a growing trend in South America.[25][26]


  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. Yin, David (December 19, 2013). "Out Of Israel, Into The World". Forbes.
  3. Kelly, Catherine. "Backpacker Tourism" via SAGE Publishing.
  4. 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.
  5. Dayour, Frederick (27 March 2019). "Backpackers' experiences with smartphones usage in Ghana". Anatolia. 30 (3): 390–403. doi:10.1080/13032917.2019.1597741.
  6. Catto, Susan (April 14, 2002). "PRACTICAL TRAVELER; The 'Pack' Of Backpacking". The New York Times.
  7. Victoria, Government. "Backpacker Tourism Action Plan". Tourism Victoria.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.
  10. "The Inventor of Traveling - The First Backpacker in the World?". July 2007. Archived from the original on 12 December 2007.
  11. Cohen, Erik (2003). "Backpacking: Diversity and Change". Tourism and Cultural Change. 1 (2): 95–110. doi:10.1080/14766820308668162.
  12. Conlin, Jennifer (February 11, 2007). "IN TRANSIT; Traveling to the Ends of the Earth, at Ground Level". The New York Times.
  13. "Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2018 South East Asia" (PDF). World Travel & Tourism Council. World Travel & Tourism Council.
  14. AVAKIAN, TALIA (August 3, 2018). "How a Backpacking Trip Could Make You a More Successful Person". Travel + Leisure.
  15. 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.
  16. Hampton, Mark (September 23, 2010). "Backpacker tourism can be beneficial for poor countries". The Guardian.
  17. MacLean, Rory (July 31, 2006). "Dark Side of the Hippie Trail". The New Statesman.
  18. MacLean, Rory (2009). Magic Bus: On the Hippie Trail from Istanbul to India. Ig Publishing. ISBN 9780978843199.
  19. Kingsley, Patrick (September 6, 2010). "Gap years: Wasted youth?". The Guardian.
  20. Groundwater, Ben (January 16, 2007). "Are you a backpacker, or a poshpacker?". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  21. "'Flashpacking?' Don't Forget you Still Need Room for Extra Socks". USA Today. Associated Press. June 20, 2006.
  22. 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.
  23. "Notorious begpacker barred from entering S'pore, goes around the world begging". April 13, 2017.
  24. Bernstein, Joshua D. (December 2018). "Begging to travel: Begpacking in Southeast Asia".
  25. "Young, entitled, and over there: The rise of the begpacker". The Guardian. July 22, 2019.
  26. Saidi, Majda (August 16, 2018). "Begpackers seen by a third-worldist". Medium.

The dictionary definition of backpacking at Wiktionary

Urban backpacking travel guide from Wikivoyage

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