The Evolution of the Backpacker

Written by Radha Vyas

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The Backpacker.

They have been at it for years and every so often there is a shift in their means, ideals and gear. From travel in the early 20th Century, where luxury items and the journey itself reigned, all the way to our 21st century must-haves of seamless experience and selfie sticks, there is always something new around the corner.

Whether it’s completing the travelling ‘rite-of-passage’ for a generation, the relentless quest for authentic encounters or an over-prescribed trend that is so last year, backpacking is an ever evolving experience. Here you will find the Evolution of the Backpacker; from its origins all the way to where it has arrived today… Enjoy!

1. Early 20th Century: The Pre-Backpacker

Evolution of the Backpacker - The Pre-Backpacker - THE FLASH PACK1

Before the birth of the backpacker with the hippie overlanders, a lot of the fun for early 20th century travellers came from the means by which they arrived at their destination. If you were packing some cash you could fly to your destination of choice in serious style. For others, a stylish train would do the trick – think Murder on the Orient Express à la Agatha Christie. Closer to home however, a stay-cation at one of our good old UK coastal towns would have been a fabulous excursion. A beautifully packed traditional suitcase with a pack of cards, a good book and some art supplies would be staples of entertainment in this travellers case.

Related: Are you a Flashpacker?

 2. Hippies: The Original Backpacker

Evolution of the Backpacker - Hippie Backpacker - THE FLASH PACK

Inspired by seeking out authentic travel experiences in a more adventurous form than that offered by mass tourism, the hippies were the first form of backpackers as we know of them today. With overlanding travel becoming more widely accessible in the 60s, alternative tourism flourished and the hippies broke out to explore the old silk trails of Asia and Europe. Interacting with locals was a key element that differentiated these travellers from the sight-seeing tourists. Minimal kit and laid-back robes were the name of the game for this travel tribe.

Related: How to travel the world on hand luggage only

 3. The Budget Backpacker

Evolution of the Backpacker - Budget Backpacker - THE FLASH PACK

As air travel became cheaper, more and more people were able to get out into the big bad world and discover their love of wanderlust. Word of mouth travel inspiration and the bible of affordable travel -Lonely Planet – was born with their first publication “Across Asia on the Cheap”, chocker full of backpacking ideas. These travellers would bed down in hostels and cheap hotels, if not camping out in the woods with tents and sleeping matt’s galore. The new metal-framed backpacks were all the rage and were filled with practical necessities and some seriously questionable shorts!

4. The ‘Gap Yah’ Backpacker

Evolution of the Backpacker - Gap Yah Backpacker - THE FLASH PACK

Of the Millennial generation, backpacking has become synonymous with taking a gap year – or should that be ‘gap yah’? Those that are lucky enough to take a gap year have been cast into the spotlight, taking more than one satirical punch over recent years. Who doesn’t remember the drawling verse of posh-boy Orlando from the viral YouTube video ‘Gap Yah’ – “I’m literally in Burma… and I just chundered everywhah”? And more recently the Inbetweeners 2 movie that poked fun at the ‘spiritual’ pre-university traveller. Gear included a backpack almost the size of your average 18 year old girl – excessive  strapping and zippy compartments included. Shoestring budgets remained, allowing for hostel dormitories, a couple of pairs of harem pants off of Kho San Road and a box of wine (aka Aussie goon), which once finished doubled as a handy wreaking-wine pillow – Mmm cosy!

5. The Flashpacker

Evolution of the Backpacker - Flashpacker - THE FLASH PACK

Like how camping developed into glamping, so has backpacking evolved into flashpacking. Changing travel styles, more disposable income and even the financial crisis has very recently spurred on a new breed of traveller that is travelling further, bearing the characteristics of being digitally wired-in, tech-savvy and time-poor. Flashpackers represent the wanderers of Generation X that crave adventure in more comfort – an ensuite bathroom, boutique hotel and, of course, authentic cultural experiences. The average flashpacker backpack full of the latest travel gadgets works out to roughly £3,500 worth of flashpacking gear: laptop, tablet, smart phone, go-pro & SLR cameras along with selfie sticks, a hair dryer, straightners and a pair of decent headphones. The bag itself is a hybrid brand, like an Osprey Convertible – perfect for off-roading or city wheeling.

Evolution of the Backpacker - Flashpacker Bag Contents - THE FLASH PACK

Related: Are you a Flashpacker?

The nature of backpacking has changed, and has changed for good. Technology, of course, has played a key role in driving this most recent jump towards flashpacking, but the core of the traveller remains the same; adventurous, free-spirited, and curious. A flashpacker is simply your traditional backpacker with new priorities that has found itself comfortably nestled in the scenery of this crazy digital age we live in. Let the good times roll on…

Do you reckon you’re a Flashpacker? Or perhaps you used to be a backpacker but don’t fancy the shared dormitories and buckets of booze on Koh Phangan anymore? Flashpacking is simply grown-up backpacking. Come and scope out the fun in Burma, SpainVietnam & Cambodia or on one of our epic 21 day adventures to South America or South East Asia with The Flash Pack!

Backpacker vs Flashpacker

For all you visual learners out there, here’s a cool infographic for your perusal…

Evolution of the Backpacker - Budget Backpacker - THE FLASH PACK https://flashpack.com/


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