Open main menu
Two Danish backpackers in front of the Vienna State Opera in July 2005

Backpacking is a form of low-cost, independent travel. It includes the use of public transport; inexpensive lodging such as youth hostels; often a longer duration of the trip when compared with conventional vacations; and typically an interest in meeting locals as well as seeing sights. Despite the name it does not have to involve travelers carrying belongings in a backpack, although that is a common practice.

The definition of a backpacker has evolved as travelers from different cultures and regions participate in the trend. A 2007 paper says "backpackers constituted a heterogeneous group with respect to the diversity of rationales and meanings attached to their travel experiences. They also displayed a common commitment to a non-institutionalised form of travel, which was central to their self-identification as backpackers."[1] Backpacking, as a lifestyle and as a business, has grown considerably in the 2000s due to low-cost airlines and hostels or budget accommodations in many parts of the world.[2]

Visa laws in many countries enable people with restricted visas to work and support themselves while they are in those countries.[3]


People have travelled for thousands of years with their possessions on their backs, but usually out of need rather than for recreation. Seventeenth-century Italian adventurer Giovanni Francesco Gemelli Careri has been suggested as one of the world's first backpackers, in the sense of extensive self-supported traveling for pleasure rather than profit. [4]

The modern popularity of backpacking can be traced, at least partially, to the Hippie trail of the 1960s and '70s,[5] which in turn followed sections of the old Silk Road. Some backpackers follow the same trail today.[6]

Since the late-20th century, backpackers have visited Southeast Asia in large numbers[7] which has caused popular Thai islands and several previously sleepy towns in Thailand, Cambodia, and Laos to be transformed by the influx of visitors. Backpacking in Europe, South America, Central America, Australia and New Zealand has also become more popular and there are several well-trodden routes around the world that backpackers tend to stick to.

Technological developments and improvements have contributed to changes in backpacking. Traditionally, backpackers did not travel with expensive electronic equipment like laptop computers, digital cameras, and cell phones because of concerns about theft, damage, and additional luggage weight.

Backpackers have traditionally carried their possessions in 30 litre to 60 litre 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 7-10 kg carry-on limit of most airlines.[8]


Of importance to some backpackers is a sense of authenticity. Backpacking is perceived as being more than a holiday, but a means of education.[9] Backpackers want to experience what they consider the "real" destination rather than a packaged version often associated with mass tourism, which has led to the assertion that backpackers are anti-tourist.[10] For many young people in Northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel, backpacking is a rite of passage. In Canada, it is quite common for gap-year students to visit Europe and Southeast Asia. Backpackers are less commonly from China, India, the United States, Japan, and South Korea, due particularly to their large populations, accounted for by visa restrictions; yet, it is also gradually becoming more popular among affluent people from those countries. Backpacking trips were traditionally undertaken either in a "gap year" between high school and university, or between the latter and the commencement of work. However, the average age of backpackers has gradually increased over time, and it is now more common to see people in their 30s, 40s, and even older to backpack during an extended career break. Some retirees enjoy backpacking.


Studies by Columbia Business School professor Adam Galinsky have found that the benefits of travelling to other countries include an increased "generalised trust, or... general faith in humanity", as well as a "creative boost", when there is true "multicultural engagement, immersion, and adaptation."[11]


Backpacking has been criticised, with some criticism dating back to travellers' behaviour along the Hippie Trail.[12] For example, the host countries and other travelers may disagree with the actions of backpackers. However, the perception of backpackers seems to have improved as backpacking has become more mainstream.[13] Another criticism is that 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".[5]

Planning and ResearchEdit

Planning and research can be an important part of backpacking, aided by such guides from companies like Lonely Planet and Rough Guides, books by travel authors such as Rick Steves, and various digital and online resources such as Wikivoyage. Resources provide information about such topics as the language, culture, food, and history. They also provide listings of accommodation and places to eat, together with maps of key locations. Digital format guidebooks are becoming more popular, especially since the advent of smart phones and lightweight netbooks and laptops.


Terms used to describe backpacking with more money and resources include flashpacking and poshpacking, which combine backpacking with flash, a slang term for being fancy, or posh, an informal adjective for upper class.[14][15]

Begpacking combines begging and backpacking in reference to individuals who beg (ask directly or indirectly for money), busk (perform while soliciting money), or vend (sell postcards or other small items) as a way to extend their overseas travel. [16] The trend has drawn criticism[17] for taking money away from people in actual need, etc.[18] Begpacking is the most common in Southeast Asia and is a growing trend in South America.[19][20]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Adkins, Barbara; Eryn Grant (August 2007). "Backpackers as a Community of Strangers: The Interaction Order of an Online Backpacker Notice Board" (PDF). Qualitative Sociology Review. 3 (2): 188–201. Retrieved 2007-10-29.
  2. ^ "Backpacker Tourism". Market Segments > Backpacker Tourism. Tourism New South Wales. Archived from the original on 25 March 2008. Retrieved 2008-04-07.
  3. ^ Victoria, Government. "Backpacker Tourism Action Plan 2009 - 2013". Tourism Victoria. Retrieved 10 February 2014.
  4. ^ "The Inventor of Traveling - The First Backpacker in the World?". July 2007. Archived from the original on 12 December 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-03.
  5. ^ a b Cohen, Erik (2003). "Backpacking: Diversity and Change" (PDF). Tourism and Cultural Change. 1 (2): 95–110. doi:10.1080/14766820308668162. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-02-28. Retrieved 2007-10-29.
  6. ^ Conlin, Jennifer (2007-02-11). "IN TRANSIT; Traveling to the Ends of the Earth, at Ground Level". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 31 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-29.
  7. ^ "Travel & Tourism Economic Impact 2018 South East Asia" (PDF). World Travel & Tourism Council. World Travel & Tourism Council.
  8. ^ Catto, Susan (2002-04-14). "PRACTICAL TRAVELER; The 'Pack' Of Backpacking". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 31 October 2007. Retrieved 2007-10-27.
  9. ^ Pearce, Philip; Faith Foster (2007). "A "University of Travel": Backpacker Learning". Tourism Management. 28 (5): 1285–1298. doi:10.1016/j.tourman.2006.11.009.
  10. ^ Richards, Greg; Julie Wilson (2004). The Global Nomad: Backpacker Theory in Travel and Practice. Channel View Publications. pp. 80–91. ISBN 1-873150-76-8.
  11. ^ "Why Travel is Good for You: 10 Surprising Benefits of Travelling". Backpacking Bella. Backpacking Bella.
  12. ^ MacLean, Rory (2006-07-31). "Dark Side of the Hippie Trail". The New Statesman. Archived from the original on 1 December 2007. Retrieved 2017-10-18.
  13. ^ 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.
  14. ^ Groundwater, Ben (2007-01-16). "Are you a backpacker, or a poshpacker?".
  15. ^ "'Flashpacking?' Don't Forget you Still Need Room for Extra Socks". USA Today. 2006-06-20. Retrieved 2007-10-29.
  16. ^ Bernstein, J.D. (2019). Begging to travel: Begpacking in Southeast Asia. Annals of Tourism Research, 77, 161-163.
  17. ^ "Notorious begpacker barred from entering S'pore, goes around the world begging". 2017-04-13.
  18. ^ "Begpacking".
  19. ^
  20. ^ Guardian: "Young, entitled, and over there: The rise of the begpacker"

External linksEdit

  The dictionary definition of backpacking at Wiktionary

  Urban backpacking travel guide from Wikivoyage