Is Flashpacking Killing The Art Of Backpacking?

Flashpackers are often simply affluent backpackers with larger disposable income. They choose to travel in more comfort than the average backpacker, often avoiding public transport and opting for hotels over hostels. Flashpackers are commonly quite tech-savvy and pack a variety of technological items including, mp3 players, mobile phones, laptops and digital cameras.

Backpacking doesn't always go to plan, but that's part of the adventure.

Things don’t always go to plan, but that’s part of the adventure.

With even many backpacking hostels adapting towards the trend of flashpacking, is the real art of backpacking suffering?

Before planning your own trip, here are some points worth considering if you are thinking of flashpacking:

Hotels vs Hostel

If you’ve got the money it may seem like a great idea to stay in hotels whilst traveling. The main problem with staying in hotels is that it really is restricting when it comes to being social and meeting new people. Meeting other backpackers with a shared common interest in travel is one of the great benefits of backpacking.

Public Transport

You'll find some interesting dishes dining at local eateries.

You’ll find some interesting dishes at local spots.

It might sound ideal to take the posh bus with the air conditioning, comfy seats and plenty of leg room but by doing so you are really missing the point of backpacking. You are traveling in a bubble without attempting to understand or experience what the country is really like.

Lack Of Adventure

Traveling without taking local transport carrying laptops and expensive gadgets means that you can’t be as adventurous. Part of the backpacking experience is being able to have the freedom to do what you want when you like. Loading up of technology not only increases the chances of you being targeted by thieves but just makes your traveling experience much less flexible. You’ll spend time worrying about the safety and security of your gadgets rather than just letting go and having fun.

Over Planning

Flashpackers are often glued to their laptops and as a result tend to book a lot of things way in advance. This again reduces the flexibility to change your mind on a whim. Flashpackers will research and read up on locations and sights before arriving via their laptop and internet connection. This might sound ideal but lacks the sense of adventure and randomness that comes from not quite knowing where you’re going and what you’re doing. By researching and booking things online it takes out much the challenge of trying to cope with the unknown.

Be adventurous take a spin in a tuk tuk - Bangkok.

Be adventurous take a spin in a tuk tuk – Bangkok.

Flashpacking for me, seems like a style of traveling to simply “tick the box” and to be able to say “I’ve been there“, which completely missing the point of independent travel.

There often seems to be a fear of experiencing things as they should be in exchange for the comforts of home. In my opinion you do not get the most out of travel by surrounding yourself with what you are familiar with, after all isn’t  part of the reason you are going traveling to experience (even if it’s just a glimpse) how people live their everyday lives around the world?

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Paul Dow is an English, optimistic, late sleeper, green tea drinker, writer, web developer, soccer fan and editor of TravMonkey.com, an online magazine for backpacking around the world. He is currently living in London after traveling solo for 22 months through Asia, Australia, New Zealand and South America.





Leave a Comment

  • Sharon Alexander Green said at 2013-01-13T20:16:32+0000: I too "over plan" for the sheer pleasure of it. I too am a single woman traveler. I feel I can go where I want to because I've created an information library in my brain that tells me what I might want to do and then I can improve from there. I find the research a way of traveling even before I can afford to or can get away. When my husband was still alive, I would plan for 3 or 4 months during the winter and spring and then we would wander around with some prearranged camping reservations about 7000 miles every summer starting as soon as I was through with school. Widowed, I still love putting in that kind of preparation because I feel like I'm already "on the road" just by getting ready.
  • Alaska Girl at Heart said at 2013-01-12T06:16:00+0000: I do a lot of research before I travel. Based on the view in this post that would likely be considered "over planning". I'd like to pose a different angle. I'm a single woman who usually travels alone. I do research before I travel to ensure my safety. Even with my diligence, I have at times wandered into areas I shouldn't have. I will always recommend research over just "going with the flow". There are always two sides to every story.
  • Sharon Alexander Green said at 2013-01-01T18:45:15+0000: Having an adventure has to do with spirited observation combined with a freedom for spontaneous conversation. It is not defined by the kind of place you stay or way you pack. If you have a fear of languages then a device for translation makes you free. If you wander where ever the road leads, then a map device or internet connection keeps you from being lost. See whatever you want. Speak with whomever you can. Discard inappropriate items. Buy what you need as you need it.

Older comments on Is Flashpacking Killing The Art Of Backpacking?

Eeva Valiharju
06 October 2009

Some good points for sure. In my case though, having a laptop is more for blogging and keeping in contact with family so they know I’m safe. And mp3 player and digital camera is just the same as the cassette walkman and film camera.

Shannon080
06 October 2009

I can’t say that I agree that flashpacking lessens it to that extent! I backpacked RTW with a laptop, camera, hard drive and more and yet still road local transportation, tuk-tuks, rickshaws, and more – like Eeva said, it’s more for blogging and staying on the road for longer – if anything I think flashpackers stay for longer in places because we move slowly enough to get some work done too!

Beachcombers
07 October 2009

I disagree with alot of what you are saying Paul! Sounds like you have a wee bit of a chip on your shoulder.

Just because someone has more money than the next traveller, does that then lessen their capability to have a worth while cultural experience?

Not everyone wants to stay in a hostel! There are plenty of opportunities to meet other travellers in other places. As we travel as a couple it is often just as cheap to stay in a motel/hotel then get a double in a hostel. Plus we get a on suite!

The “luxury” coach option vs the slow, dirty uncomfortable bus that saves me $2? Air con all the way, thanks. And it’s hardly “missing the point of backpacking”. What is the point BTW? To be some feral unwashed itinerant, that prides themselves on surviving on $10 a day and says “yeah, I lived in Koh Phangan for four months in a hut in the jungle. So I know what the real Thailand is like”?

Overplanning is more due to having a anal attitude, rather than being a “flashpacker”.

When you enter a new country, what do you fill in that “reason for entry” question on the immigration card? Backpacker?

Traveller? Flashpacker? Or like everyone else do you write “tourist?

Which in the end, is that not what we all are?

TravMonkey
07 October 2009

Hi guys,

Thanks for the comments!

Eeva – To be honest if you’re traveling around there are so many internet cafes these days where you can update your blog and contact people at home. There really isn’t a need to take a laptop unless you really need to or use it for work. (Here I’m talking about long term travel and backpacking, not a holiday/vacation.)

Shannon080 – How heavy and what size was your backpack? When you were traveling down a river for example on a tiny boat or traveling with your backpack on the roof of a bus – were you not worried about the damage or theft of your laptop, hard drive, camera etc? I’m just interested for future reference.

Beachcombers – I’m not entirely sure where to start with this one.

Firstly, I have no chip on my shoulder I am merely starting a debate on the subject and putting the point forward that by flash packing you don’t experience the same things as you do backpacking.

This also depends on your definition of flash packing, I wouldn’t class some carrying a laptop, staying in hostels and taking local transport as a flash packer.

It isn’t always about money either. I choose to travel in a backpacking style, not because I can’t afford to take the posh bus but because I know I’ll get a more interesting insight (in my eyes).
Sure, you’ll see the same well known sights but you won’t experience the country as it is for locals if you travel around in a way that the vast majority of the countries population couldn’t dream of affording.

“What is the point BTW? To be some feral unwashed itinerant, that prides themselves on surviving on $10 a day and says “yeah, I lived in Koh Phangan for four months in a hut in the jungle. So I know what the real Thailand is like”?”
To be honest I think that statement alone shows your own ignorance, labeling of stereotypes and a hint of disdain and if I may say so “A chip on the shoulder”.

The point of backpacking for me is to get away from the modern trappings of home to have the freedom to travel independently, to explore countries and cultures in this manner.

This does not mean that I am totally against staying in hotels now and again whilst backpacking but I feel that to travel in a way that you might at home
is missing the point as to why you are in a certain country when the majority of their citizens wouldn’t travel that way. Hence, why backpacking is different experience to flash packing.

Again my views are about backpacking and long term travel, not vacations.

Thanks,

Paul @
TravMonkey.com

Two Backpackers
07 October 2009

There is a lot about this article I disagree with, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have wrote it. It simply means that my opinion on the subject of flashpackers is completely different than yours. You have decided to write an opinion article based solely on your knowledge and experience as minimalist or traditional backpacker. Let’s use minimalist for this discussion. And let’s be honest with ourselves, you are creating your own stereotypes, which is also what an opinion article is all about.
Flashpacker is still a vague, often unable to be defined stereotype. We often associate flashpackers with more disposable income, more gadgets and a thirst for internet access. Innovation and technology gains have led to more useful gadgets. It can be simply understood as advancement. We drive vehicles now because they are available; we listen to iPods because we can. Some take pride in minimalism and I respect that choice, but please don’t criticize my choices. You also made very subjective statements in the following titles:
Hotels vs Hostel
Public Transport
Lack Of Adventure
Over Planning

How did you arrive at your opinions? Can you more visibly state that these are not facts and merely your beliefs? If you aren’t a “flashpacker” (in the way you describe them) how do you know what they choose? If you don’t stay in hotels how do you know who stays there? If you aren’t traveling on first class buses, how do you know who rides them? And look around next time you travel, internet access is changing the world. If all us “flashpackers” ditched our laptops and cameras, less would be shared with all those dreaming to travel.
I consider my self an inspiration to others and it’s my responsibility to share my travel experiences through my blog, photos and videos. I enjoy it very much, and in no way do I feel that I am ever superior to a minimalist backpacker. I respect their choice and don’t feel as though they might be missing out on something.
There are many factors that probably contributed to the development of the term flashpacker. Some believe it was born out of animosity from minimalist backpackers; those that truly want to escape the world and get off the grid. I don’t think this theory has much warrant considering the backpacking community in general promotes living life to your own personal desires. However, in the case of your article, I believe the term was used out of animosity. But, I think we can all agree, there is clearly a visible change in the appearance of many backpackers.
I would fall under the term “flashpacker” if it is defined as one with more disposable income, an iTouch, a laptop, a camera and a video camera. I run a travel blog that I am proud of and excited to share with my audience. While in Latin America I travel on local school buses, eat street food, sleep in hostels, journey with other travelers, socialize with other travelers and take wild adventures in the jungle. Right now I am heeling my badly cut heel and contemplating super gluing the veneer to my front tooth back on. I consider it an adventure in every sense of the word. You might not, and I respect that. Please be careful when you stereotype a group that has yet to be clearly defined, because you will upset people that just don’t fit the definition you so adamantly put forth.
Kudos for a great discussion piece.

TravMonkey
07 October 2009

Hi Two Backpackers!

Some great points there and I don’t disagree with many… and also I’m not entirely sure that I would class yourself as a flashbackpacker!

But I also sense a degree of fence sitting, after all whatever you voice is in effect your opinion.

Anything written is an opinion after all.

It would be good to hear from some real backpackers but the irony is that more flashpackers are likely to be replying to an online article!

Whatever you’re view… happy travels.

Paul @
TravMonkey.com

Beachcombers
08 October 2009

Hi Paul

You wrote

“It would be good to hear from some real backpackers but the irony is that more flashpackers are likely to be replying to an online article!”

Just for clarification, could you describe the criteria to be able to qualify as a “real backpacker”?

Two Backpackers
08 October 2009

The “Real Backpacker” label is what bothers me.

My stance on the fence is that I won’t declare one better than the other. I think that is the difference between you and I. You claim that a “flashpacker” by your definition, experiences less adventure. Adventure is in the eyes of the beholder.

We are all “Real Backapckers.” Some can be considered flashbackers, because they carry more gadgets, expensive equipment and look to have their possessions secure during their travels. Others can be considered minimalist backpackers because they carry only the essentials, are looking to escape the grid and choose to hitchhike or take local transportation. We are both real backpackers seeking great adventures… in our own ways.

I disagree with the article because you deem one better than the other. And I don’t think that is appropriate.

Beachcombers was right in categorizing us all as tourists. And every tourist has different interpretations of adventure.

lstunt
08 October 2009

Good discussion piece! I agree that many people who travel could benefit from going outside of their comfort zones. However, I think you are quick to judge and generalize.

It almost seems like you identify “Real Backpackers” as this elite group to strive to be a part of. On our upcoming year long trip through Central and South America, we will probably mostly stay in hostels and take local transport but are not “above” occasional hotels and nicer buses. I have spent years working saving up for this so if I want air conditioning every now and again, I will pay for it! Will we be shunned by the “Real Backpackers” if we choose some creature comforts from time to time? Will we be told that we’re “doing it wrong” because we take our photos with a $150 digital camera and share some over e-mail with our family and friends? (and are therefore apparently “Flashpackers”?) That seems kind of unwelcoming… Everyone chooses to travel in a different way. Isn’t that what it’s all about – to blaze your own trail? Why the need to label someone who does things in a different way?

In my experience as a backpacker, I never felt that hostels brought me especially close to local culture. I met a lot of awesome people with some great travel tips (all while speaking English, of course) but the hostel experience didn’t give me a whole lot of local insight. Perhaps staying in an “isolating” hotel would push one to go out and connect with local culture instead of staying in a hostel and going out with fellow backpackers. Just a thought…

You say: “The point of backpacking for me is to get away from the modern trappings of home to have the freedom to travel independently, to explore countries and cultures in this manner.”

This is the reason and way YOU travel. I respect it and share many of those sentiments. However, shouldn’t you respect that the reasons and ways others travel may be different from your own? How boring would it be if we were all out there for the same reasons and with the same objectives!!

busman7
09 October 2009

So what do you do when the hostel has no room? Get a hotel room or be a real back-packer & sleep in the park?

Why pay internet café rates to write your blog when you can write free on yopur own laptop & just pay the fee to download it? Actually just skimmed your article as it seemed kind of silly but wondered about those 2 points!

Carl Boyer
09 October 2009

Perhaps the real point of this article is that it made people think and aroused some discussion.

Shannon080
09 October 2009

Hey! Alrighty, well my backpack was 52 litres and very often not all the way full – came in at about 15.5 kilos on most days.

I carried my laptop and camera in a 30 liter Northface (7-9 K) that I wore on my front – this was NEVER full and I actually want to go much smaller in the future. But, I did zip down the Mekong in a speedboat with my bags and just held my laptop on my lap always. Big bag could be thrown from Indian bus roofs because nothing was in it but, well, everything except for electronics!

Yes, there were a certain level of precautions I had to take, but I accepted that it might get stolen before I left and told myself I would move on with life if it did! :-) …I also carried a PacSafe and that meant that I could ostensibly leave it at guest houses and not worry too much. I guess I was just resigned to eventually losing it and happily surprised when I didn’t. I kept it with me to blog but didn’t let it dictate my trip or what I did. :-) But I am a flash-packer, I admit it, lol, and you do have some valid points there. Cheers :-)

PhotoChick
10 October 2009

I’m not sure what to make of this article. Isn’t the point of travel to open your eyes to new experiences and be more integrated with the world you are passing through?

Craze_b0i
11 October 2009

This article is just an extension of the old tourist vs traveller debate which we have had a dozen times on the forum. One of the best arguments made was that from a local’s point of view we are all tourists. But, perhaps ironically for someone hardcore like yourself, it is the flash-packers who spend $100 a night on their hotel room who are doing more to support the local economy than the so-called ‘real backpacker’ who brings his own tent and sleeps in the jungle.

Of course none of that is so say that one way is right and the other way is wrong. Paul you have the right to travel the way that you prefer. But equally other people have the right to travel in the way that suits them.

For me your article comes across as very preachy and even a bit snobbish.

Among the replies you responded with:

“It would be good to hear from some real backpackers but the irony is that more flashpackers are likely to be replying to an online article!”

If you write any article there is always a chance people will disagree with your statements. So I find it a bit funny that you should respond by complaining about the quality of your readership…

Pharaonick
11 October 2009

Do I have to have a backpack to be a backpacker? What if I put all my possessions in a large, red and white spotted handkerchief and tie it to the end of a wooden pole?

Texas Lebenskunstler
12 October 2009

Pharaonick, Spotted handkerchiefs are no good. “Real” handkerchief travelers use striped ones. At least you’re using a wooden pole and not one of these new “flash-poling” aluminium poles.

I think it is important for the flash-polers to distinguish themselves from the rest of the polers. For example, if you were going to travel to the Antarctica (like I did in Feb 08), you would be a polar-poler. If you were a spielunker, you might be called a holer-poler. I’ll bet dentists make good molar-polers. If your gadgets are powered by the sun, then you would be a solar-polar.

davegsomething
12 October 2009

I’m not really a backpacker or a flashpacker but a motorcycle traveler.

The only time I’d go to a hostel is if I needed as escape from traveling and was tired of speaking local languages. With a hostel, you’re not forced to go out and find local food, you can cook what you like in the kitchen.. talk to other travelers who understand what you’re doing and don’t think you’re crazy and should use that extra money to have more kids and not travel.. figure out where to go next because locals hardly ever leave their village

davegsomething
12 October 2009

ack, I thought’d I’d get to preview before posting comment…

Anyway, my point is that it you’re traveling to understand how other people live, hosteling isn’t the way to experience it. When you stay at a hotel (granted, not the holiday inn, but a local hotel), you’re much more likely to meet other local travelers.

Even though it is _very_ difficult to talk to non-backpacker travelers because they’re traveling to get something done, not to hang out. But I think hotels are a great place to make connections for future parts of your trip. Several times I’d meet a non-international and get invited to their home a few hundred miles away.

Hostels always have a certain kinda feel. You never know what you’re going to get at a local hotel.

TravMonkey
13 October 2009

Hi guys,

Thanks for your comments. My main reason for producing the article was to stimulate some form of discussion.

I wanted to point out that there is a difference between flashpacking and backpacking. Yes, I do favour one over the other and when writing any article I believe it is important to have an opinion. It would be quite uninteresting if I were to sit on the fence.

I think this statement by PhotoChick kind of sums it up for me:

“Isn’t the point of travel to open your eyes to new experiences and be more integrated with the world you are passing through?”

Thanks,

Paul @
TravMonkey.com

Craze_b0i
14 October 2009

“Isn’t the point of travel to open your eyes to new experiences and be more integrated with the world you are passing through?”

Perhaps, but not necessarily. I think the point of travel can be anything you want it to be. Even if all you want is to do is go to Paris and take a photo of the Eiffel Tower.

MsTravelingPants
10 November 2009

The point was to draw discussion. And, certainly you did with this post.

I have done traveling both of the ways mentioned as well as corporate travel where you only see the inside of the airport, hotel room, & conference room.

I guess I would be of the position that no matter what way each decides to travel at least one is traveling. I certainly prefer a more local’s experience, but depending on one’s style I think it can be done in backpack or backpack with laptop or even in a more luxurious surroundings.

I have been stalled for a few months of all types of my travel so I am living vicariously through all of you as well as my past journeys.

Ms Traveling Pants

Melissa-307
10 November 2009

Pharaonick & Texas:
Thanks for making me laugh out loud first thing in the morning! :D Have a smile on my face to last the whole day now.
The other comment I wanted to make was that TravMonkey has given me a new viewpoint to consider and for that – thank you. :)

Mariette Kelly-McClintock
20 March 2010

I totally agree with this article. I am old school backpacker – ok yeah I am also way older than the current backpackers. I can not understand people with laptops or people sitting in internet cafe’s. Part of the whole backpacking is being by yourself. There is nothing so freeing as not having contact with your everyday live. Don’t get me wrong, my family/friends know where I am heading to, and then I will check in once every 2 to 4 weeks – mostly via postcard.
Backpacking is combination of many experiences and one of it for me is absorbing the experiences, chewing on it by myself, processing it etc – how can you do this if you on the computer bragging over your every mundane experience.

Christine Cantera
12 October 2010

I don’t think there is a “point of backpacking” to miss or get. People should just do what they want, you know? Why define it?

YearAroundWorld
23 February 2011

Is Backpacking Killing the Art of Hitchhiking?

Backpackers are often simply affluent kids with larger disposable income. They choose to travel in more comfort than the average hitchhiker, often avoiding walking or bumming rides from strangers and opting for fancy hostels with bunk-beds & full kitchens over sleeping in barns & fields.

Backpackers are commonly quite tech-savvy and pack a variety of technological items including: backpacks, shirts, toilet paper, and shoes.

Backpacking for me, seems like a style of traveling to simply “tick the box” and to be able to say “I’ve been there“, which is completely missing the point. Begging on the streets for months at a time, and getting beaten up for jumping freight trains is a much more “authentic” way to travel.

LilaBear
15 March 2011

I haven’t back/flashpacked yet, but when I do go next year I’ll be between the two. Probably staying in 1 or 2 star hotels, guesthouses, B&Bs etc or maybe private rooms in hostels. I’ll be booking some of our stuff ahead of time (probably not all) because we’ll be going for a limited amount of time and this reduces flexibility anyway.
The only ‘computer’ we are likely to take is an iPhone (*maybe* an iPad-type thing for updating blogs and storing photos etc but probably not). I have little interest in meeting other foreigners in hostel environments. Isn’t meeting other travellers missing the point of travelling to a location and meeting the locals? You say “Flashpacking for me, seems like a style of traveling to simply “tick the box” and to be able to say “I’ve been there“”. What a load of rubbish. Think about the percentage of backpackers that are just interested in partying, getting drunk, etc! The difference between flashpackers and backpackers is *how* they travel. Not where or why.

(While you clarify in a later comment you are referring to long-term travel and not vacations, this does not factor in to your original article. TBH, I think anyone who quits their job/ takes extended unpaid leave to travel extensively is obviously *not* going just to say “I’ve been there/done that”, regardless of how they travel.)

Tortuga_traveller
25 March 2011

Not sure if the article is 100% on target. When I travelled in Eastern Europe, hostels were far and few between, and i only found one in Georgia. I took hotel rooms out of lack of choice.

I don’t carry many electronics, true, but I have been known to carry a small laptop, and would do so again, they;ve gotten so small cheap, and to some extent, expendable.

I’d define flashpaking as more about ticking off destination points and hopping from place to place rather than where one sleeps. Does it matter where one sleeps if one never interacts with other hostel members?

I ran into this situation in NYC among other places, in the NY international Hostel, a huge place with over 40 rooms, lord knows how many.

Place was full of people I wanted to talk to, except, on a beautiful spring day in NYC, they all seemed to be talking to their more important others or surfing the net. They might as well have not left home.

So electronics do play part in ‘flashpacking’. I really think the poing of the article is that people who don’t interact with other backpackers by common modes of transport or places of lodging, who tick off lists, are flashpackers, while people who value human contact with other travellers and foriegners, who take common modes of transport and sleeping are ‘real’ backpackers.

That argument may be tenable, if thats how you want to define that group more tech savvy and home-conscious than travel, people, and place conscious.

There is a word for flashpacker. Flaneur- a tourist who gives gaze, but does not give or commit with their soul.
its probably one of the prime sins of many travellers, backpackers, flashpackers, or hotel/ package group tourist.

arcu-409
25 March 2011

Seriously this The Brave and the Free Backpacker thing seems totally over-hyped. Been travelling on and off for 30 years, but it seems most backpackers travel in bigger than ever packs, Lonely Planet in hand………….

chymali
14 April 2011

What’s wrong with planning? You’re implying that a true backpacker is someone that doesn’t have a lot of money to spare and I would think that by that, they would plan because it’s a lot cheaper to get things ahead of time.