Along the Gringo Trail: Backpacker Stereotypes

As transient visitors, and consequently checking in and out of hostels constantly, any backpacker can tell you the chances to observe people are endless. Hostels truly are one of the best environments for people watching, and with a trenchant eye, it makes for an amusing sociology experiment.

I have encountered many types of travelers, and all though stereotypes are generally frowned upon, the fact of the matter is, sometimes, people really can be put into a category.

1. Let Me Guess? Your boyfriend/girlfriend/wife/husband cheated on you?!

You see this guy or doll, at first, sitting alone. They are easily approachable, as well as eager to approach. They are some of the most entertaining, and consequently some of the biggest lushes. However, they are capricious creatures with more mood swings than Van Gogh, due to the recent tragedy of their significant other cheating on them.

And trust me-they won’t let you forget about it- Especially after a night of drinking.

During the day it’s all rainbows and unicorns- the conversation flows from the birds, to Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, to hell, Snuggies. But once the drinking begins, they can’t seem to shut up about their ex. At this point, everyone in the hostel knows every detail to the story. Even the name of their “song” is common knowledge. Well, what it was before that dirty *#(@&$*# cheated, that is.

It’s getting to be pathetic, and everyone genuinely feels sorry for the poor fellow. We all offer advice, an ear, a shoulder, and/or common stories to attempt to relate. Because lets face it- backpackers are sentimental folk, and most of us have been there at one point in our lives.

But in the end, the beauty to traveling is that by this time, when everyone is closely approaching the peak of annoyance….

It’s time to migrate to the next city along the bus route and start fresh at a new hostel.

2. Everyone Wants to Be Like Christopher McCandless

You see this lad or lassie in every town you pass, whether it be for one day or one month, and all though they are disillusioned into thinking they are one of a few to accomplish such a feat, they are indeed one of many “complicated” soul searchers in the Fishbowl.

I am talking about the “Christopher McCandless Wannabes”.

*Disclaimer* I am not picking on these people in their entirety. I have found that most, if not all of them, are interesting, kind, genuine, and extremely deep individuals. It just so happens that their dream of exploring the world with nothing but a biodegradable sack to hold the bare necessities (which usually includes a copy of Toltstoy’s War and Peace), is all too predictable, and frankly, played out.

All though an admirable path, these backpackers need to grab a machete (metaphorically speaking) and start clearing the brush in order to create a path of their own.  It’s okay to have inspiration, but leave it at that.

3. The Itinerary Junkie

We have all met this Buck or Doe, and it doesn’t take much to spot one as they are making their way along the Gringo or Banana Pancake Trail, what with their noses forever buried in their guide books or hidden behind a camera lens.  An aura of chaos seems to be constantly hovering in their midst, as they are eternally spinning in and out of a bus’s revolving door. Consequently, they typically have that “I’m a day behind on rest” sort of look, making one want to give them a big hug and urge them to breathe.

No doubt their voracious appetite for travel is genuine, but what these Type A personalities have yet to realize is it is all about quality over quantity. It seems that these ambitious creatures have become more obsessed with the idea of crossing a location off their bucket list rather then traveling for the pure sake of enjoyment.

And that is why these “Itinerary Junkies” have simply lost sight of what it is all about.

Yeah, so you saw seven epic cities in twenty-one days? Who cares.  How much of the scenery, culture, and nature did your five senses really capture?  Trust me; it is exponentially more enlightening to cut down a bloated itinerary to a humble two or three stops in order to soak up the surrounding world in her full form.

So yes, an “Itinerary Junkie” might have a token photo from every place to prove they have been there and done that, but do they have the stories to back them up? Tales of hitchhiking, eating a home cooked meal in a local’s house followed by getting tipsy on moonshine, playing a game of hop scotch with local kids, getting lost in a market only to find their way to a secret spot in town that is off the beaten path, and surprisingly *gasp* nowhere to be find in Lonely Planet.

And that’s it folks. The hokey pokey of traveling-what it is all about.  On my first backpacking trip, I found myself in Costa Rica.I was a novice traveler at this point and was guilty of being somewhat of an “Itinerary Junkie.”  However, I will never forget the day when I stumbled upon a sign in Puerto Viejo that stated, “a true traveler has no plans.”  So friends, throw away the itinerary, quit the guide books cold turkey, allow yourself to get lost for a bit, and breathe.

4. The Walking REI Ad

Friends, meet “The Walking REI Ad”.

The polar opposite of the “Christopher McCandless Wannabe,” and consequently, usually a member of the “The Itinerary Junkie” species, this type of traveler is always prepared. He or she likes to think of themselves as the MacGyver of Travels, an Inspector Gadget if you will.They are graffitied with the brand names of Marmot, Chaco, Patagonia, North Face, etc., looking as if an REI ad vomited all over them.It is not surprising that a hot topic of conversation is how much their REI member rebate will be in March.

Anything less then $100 is clearly unacceptable, and therefore offers no bragging rights.  So we get it. You are outdoorsy and clearly love adventures.  You are eagerly cautious that we don’t forget this by suiting up in a uniform consisting of your weather proof jacket, convertible quick- drying pants, high-tech altitude watch, top of the line hiking boots, topped off with a sun proof hat, all the way down to your $30 quick drying underwear.Hell, this person could practically be a spokesperson for Patagonia.

Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being prepared. And I am certainly guilty of owning yuppie outdoor gear as well.  But sometimes, it’s rather comical to see someone trekking up a volcano on a one day hike, clad in armor as if the extremities of Mt. Everest lay ahead.

Have you ever noticed the footwear tour guides wear in other countries?  Flip Flops, old sneakers with holes in them- I’ve seen a couple of pairs of Tom’s that were most likely donated.  I wonder what they think of the hoards of foreigners waltzing in with their hundred dollar special outdoor shoes, GPS watches, power lock trekking poles, and freeze dried provisions, as if their survival depended on it.  We must look like pompous assholes. I can’t help but wonder, what in the world did explorers do back in the day without these go- go gadgets?

Yes, efficiency is key, and more importantly, quality is imperative, but is all this really necessary for your jaunt down the Gringo Trail?  Seriously, I can see a Shell station across the street. So have no fear, I don’t think we have lost touch with all civilization quite yet.

So please, do yourself a favor, unload the provisions of canned foods, and take a load off your back, literally, and metaphorically. As I see it, moderation is key. And no, I am not suggesting going technophobe like our dear friend Chris, but don’t go all glut either.

Let’s be honest, all he needed was a map.

5. That Creepy Old Guy

Mixed dorm rooms are always a wild card, and although usually a safe bet, there is always the rare occasion that you will find yourself on the short end of the stick. Consequently, some of you have been unlucky enough to find yourself sharing a dorm with “That Creepy Old Guy.”

You have all met one- the misplaced, middle aged man-boy who is backpacking around trying to fit in with the mid- twenties folk.  It wouldn’t be so bad if he just wasn’t so creepy.  However, he is often found perving on girls young enough to be his daughter.
Typically around 50 years old, he is oddly enough the first to instigate a game of beer pong. How the hell does he even know what beer pong is? And furthermore, why is he insisting on acting like a freshman in college? Did he miss his chance to do the whole “dorm thing” in college, or is this simply a pathetic attempt to relive his frat boy days?

My guess is his wife cheated on him….most likely because he never grew up.

6. The Couple

We get it. You are in love. But try to stop being so damn cute, because it’s making the rest of us nauseous.

7. The Blogger

Most often heard saying something along these lines:  “Wow. That was the coolest waterfall I have ever seen! I have to get back to the hostel to blog about it”.

So in the end, no matter what your reason for picking up and leaving your world behind, and regardless of what category you belong to, the most important thing is that you are traveling.

Therefore fellow wanderer, I salute you. And most likely, you are the type of person I would like to sit down and share a beer with. Cheers.

Photo credits:  michaeldorokhov, ex_magician, P.falterman, mudei


Filed under: 170, Travelers