What Kind of Backpacker Are You?

You always hear about the distinction made between tourists and backpackers, but even among backpackers, we love to group each other into categories by who is the better traveler. Check into any hostel, and you will find a variety of different travelers wearing their distinctive tribal gear. Here are some of the more common that can be found in a hostel’s jungle:

The Spiritual TravelerThe Spiritual Traveler
Usually white, western, and sometimes young, traveler spiritus has come to find himself. Exploring local religions and customs, he spends his time reading books on Buddhism, Kabala, or Yoga and talking about how connected life is. Jaded by the materialism of his homeland, he has come to reconnect with the world, find inner peace, and learn some tantra among the tourist centers of India, the hill tribes or Asia, or the shamans of the world. They are usually found in South America and Southeast Asia.

The Hippie TravelerThe Hippie
Not wanting to be held down by the man, the hippie can be found wearing fisherman pants, dreadlocks, lots of necklaces with a distinct “I haven’t showered in two days” smell. Hippie travelers use local transportation, eat local food, and talk about cultural imperialism while watching the latest Hollywood movies. They usually avoid most tourist destinations or areas because “it’s too commercial, man.” This species is often thumbing a well worn book on social justice. Mostly found in developing countries.

BackpackersThe Gap Yearer
Traveler Gap Yearius is usually college aged, English, Kiwi or Aussie. This backpacking species tends to be traveling for exactly one year right before or after university. They follow the main round the world ticket route, spending most of their time in Asia and Australia. Gap Year travelers like to have a good time, see the main sights, sleep in dorms, and tend to stick to the beaten path. They also drink a lot. Found wherever a round the world ticket will take them.

Party TravelersThe Partier
Sporting sunglasses, shorts, flip-flops, and a beer logo t-shirt, the traveler partyoholic spends most of his time getting drunk in every country. Most of their day is spent nursing the hangover from last night while avoiding loud and lit areas. Very loud, these nocturnal creatures bounce from one party destination to the other. Females of this species tend to wear lots of make up and revealing necklines. Mostly found in “party destinations” like Amsterdam, Thailand, Barcelona, and Prague.

CouplesThe Couple
The backpacking couple spends most of their time sightseeing, touring, and doing activities. The older version of this species is usually in their 30s and taking a career break in order to explore the world. Participating in various activities along the way, they avoid most of the backpacker ghettos, parties, and tend to gravitate towards other couples or older travelers. The younger version goes the opposite route and tends to party a lot while breaking up about ten times on the road. They are found worldwide.

The TravelerThe Better Traveler
While sipping on a coke in an Internet cafe, this traveler will tell you how insincere and hypocritical all other travelers are and how they really are just tourists and not trying to find the local culture. He will speak about his experience, taking local transportation and living in a village for one day. He waxes on about the death of local cultures and how he’s really out there traveling to be part of the world and not force his culture down other people’s throats. This species is found being hypocritical in hostels all over the world.

TravelersThe “Remember When” Backpacker
Traveler living in the past-ius has been traveling a long time and usually to the same destinations. He’ll tell you all about how he remembers when the full moon rave used to be good and how Laos is too discovered now. He’ll talk about how Ios used to be quiet and no one had heard of Perth. He’ll talk about the time when he was the only person in Costa Rica or sailing the Amazon. This depressing species can be found in the same destinations he says are ruined now.

FlashpackersThe Flashpacker
Traveler Flashpackasourus can be spotted by their electronics and attire. Usually in their mid to late 20s, Flashpackers have managed to save enough money where they don’t want to penny pinch their trip. Carrying laptops, cameras, video cameras, and iPods while wearing nice watches and branded clothes, Flashpackers have set out to see the world on a budget but have no plans to eat pasta in hostels or sleep in 20 bed dorms. Found wherever there is Internet access.

Note: Single travelers aren’t here because they aren’t their own clan. They appear in all the above groups as do female travelers (I just shared a room with a female traveler in the Hippie tribe) and older travelers!

  1. Great list. Tried to think of additional types, but you covered the spectrum well! Maybe The Recluse? Seems like there was always a backpacker who didn’t talk to anyone, didn’t seem to be traveling with anyone, and was all around kind of a mystery.

  2. Mara

    So Matt – do you see a bit of yourself in each of these profiles? Or are you a category unto yourself – perhaps a Fraggle backpacker?

    I do like this post – has the ring of truth that can only come from true experience & observation.

  3. Interesting. I don’t know where I fit. None are quite feminine enough. I suppose I’m closest to a flashpacker also…but I’m definitely ok eating pasta in a hostel! :) Nice post. Thanks.

    • NomadicMatt

      I eat in hostels often but I didn’t travel all the way to a country to eat the majority of my meals there. A lot about culture is expressed through the food. It amazes that people spend time in France or Italy and rarely eat out because of the cost. Yes, it is expensive but italy without the food isn’t italy!

      • Haha! Yes, I see your point 100%. I usually try for the one meal in and two meals out each day. Italian food…mmmm….I’m hungry. I love food. Bon appetite! Itadakimasu!

    • Liz

      I’m with you on that one, Heather. I loved the “Found wherever there is internet access.” That’s me, all right. :)

  4. You’ve forgotten the Mom-packer! We’re found all over the world either lugging our offspring in a baby backpack or, if parent to older children, lugging around all their junk in a knapsack. You can recognize us by the weird stains on our shirts, the beleaguered expressions on our faces and the pervasive odor of apple juice and french fries.

  5. Hmmm….reading through everyone’s responses has got me thinking. Do you have to travel with a backpack to be considered a backpacker? If not, what’s the definition? Staying in a hostel? Traveling on a budget? Not taking a ‘tour’ vacation? Hmmmmm…..

  6. Monica

    I’ve haven’t backpacked yet but if I were to, I’d say I’d be The Couple Backpacker. I’ve been traveling with my boyfriend since I met him while studying abroad in Shanghai. I was 20 then.

  7. Jeni

    I love the one about the ‘better traveller’… not sure how many people would admit to being this species though!

  8. I was just catching up on my RSS feed after being offline for a week and got a good laugh reading this. In the hostel we’re in right now in Quito, we’ve got a good variety of types, especially the Gap Yearer and the Partiers. Earplugs come in handy when bunking with them.

    We’re definitely in the Couple/Flashpacker category – you can usually find with a beer in a hostel with free wifi.

  9. Great post, Matt. I’ve moved through several backpacking phases in the past seven years: a gap-year backpacker, a party backpacker and now a couple/flashpacker. And I think I’d have to agree with Dawn and her assessment of you – I’m basing it on our shenanigans in Taipei and all the Thailand status updates on Facebook this spring. :-)

    It’s interesting to note that there seem to be quite a lot of couple backpackers out there these days, certainly a lot more than ten years ago.

  10. Chris

    This reminds me of a picture in La Paz at the Pub Olivers Travels. They had a picture of a Guy and pointed out all of his “faults” as a back packer, seemed kind of mean so i asked the owner about it and he said it was in fact a real person and the most annoying person in the world. Nevertheless does anyone have a picture of this? Anyone who has been in there will know what i’m talking about.

  11. Lol, funnies, I think I must be a cross between a flashpacker and a couple.
    You missed one we saw a lot of though, the retired whinge bag packers. Lots of money but no cultural sense. Easily confused by something slightly different, and complain about the hotel rooms constantly, along with everything else. And they always carry tea bags and portable kettles, if *gasp, horror!* they should not have their cup of tea in the morning.

  12. You missed me! I’m an older backpacker – but not in my 30s LOL – older than that! And not inexperienced – I was a backpacker in the 80s I know what I’m doing, I don’t stay in dorms I stay in doubles, because I bring my partner along, I carry a netbook to take my business on the road, I laugh at the “gap yearers” who won’t go anywhere that isn’t recommended on Twitter or FB and I try to take government buses (with real locals on them) rather than the “backpacker circuit” travel deals flogged by the travel agents

  13. Matt, maybe you could include a category for ‘perpetual’ 😛 I’d fall into flashpacker with my dSLR, computer and i-toys & hopefully not too much of ‘the remember when’ type. Which of these categories do you find most annoying personally?

  14. Clarissa

    So good!

    But I do think there should be some sort of healthy balance between the ‘gap year’ group and the ‘better traveler’ group. =)

  15. hahahaha.
    I was once a backpacker couple, and yes, we did break up about 10 times. That’s how I managed to run away in Paris with some hostel boy. Great experience. Not sure what I am now…I guess partier, except I don’t wear a lot of makeup.
    This was a fun read :)

  16. Malc

    Well as a couple we started backpacking about 6 ago on the recommendation of our grown up children. We started with Burma went on to China, Ethiopia and Indonesia. Im 66 and my wife late 50s. We tend to keep to ourselves mostly but have met some really nice people from all over the world. Much prefer backpacking to tours which we have done for about 35 years. We have stayed in all sorts of place nothing from a 5 star hotel to. Tent in the African mountains.

  17. Wally

    Definitely The “Remember When” Backpacker. And don’t tell these idiots about Laos!
    Thailand in the 80s (gone and ruined) Vietnam in the 90s (gone) There’s always India. Stay away from Laos…how about Cambodia that’s nice go there.

  18. Wow I found this post really late. Where’s the “I don’t know what to do with my life so I’m going where the wind takes me and have no idea what I’m doing” backpacker? I’m that one, haha!

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