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 and people going “Yeah, that guy over there? Definitely the partier.”
I’ve spent the last twelve researching this curious species, embedding myself in their culture and learning their curious ways. Here are some of the more common species of backpackers that can be found in a hostel’s jungle:
The Spiritual Traveler
Usually white, western, and sometimes young (though there are plenty that are still trapped in 1969), 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. He’s done Ayahuasca in South America. 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 forgo material possesions, except for their computer, which they use to blog about the healthy snacks they are eating and telling people how much freer they are now that they have been to six retreats in Bali and went on a juice cleanse. These backpackers are usually found in South America, India, and Southeast Asia.
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 on their Macbook and trying to beg for money to get to the next place. 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 (because they can’t afford anywhere else).
The 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 Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Australia. Gap Year travelers like to party a lot, 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.
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. Mostly found in “party destinations” like Amsterdam, Thailand, Barcelona, and Prague.
The backpacking couple spends most of their time sightseeing, touring, and doing activities. 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 Better Traveler
While sipping on a coke and eating McDonald’s in a hostel, 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.
The “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 Queenstown. He’ll talk about the time when he was the only person in Costa Rica or sailing the Amazon. When asked why he’s still here if he hates it so much, he’ll quickly change the topic. This depressing species can be found in the same destinations he says are ruined now.
The Digital Nomad
Traveler Flashpackasourus has evolved into a new species called Digital Nomadasurous. Usually in their mid to late 20s, this creature works online to afford their bills, clustering with others of his species in areas around the world like Chiang Mai or Medellin. Carrying laptops, cameras, video cameras, and iPads, they spend much of their time behind their computer touting their free lifestyle and/or recent start up. Their first questions is always about the wifi. They stick to themselves and make witty observations about cultures they haven’t really seen while also lamenting about how hard their “job” is. Found behind their computer, talking into their phone, and wherever there is Internet access.
Yes, life in a hostel on the backpacker trail sure is interesting.
Note: Single travelers aren’t here because they aren’t their own clan. They appear in all the above groups as do female travelers.