A recent guest post on Almost Fearless annoyed me to the point I had to write a response. Evan Carpenter, the author, makes the argument that befriending backpackers on your trip abroad is a no-no. For the remainder of this post I’m equating flashpackers with backpackers to include myself and the rest of the flashpacking community.Synergistic With Your Goals
Evan writes, “Hanging out with backpackers is antithetical to your goals”. He quickly throws out the idea of traveling with other westerners and focuses on goals such as doing something new, seeing a different culture and feeling a sense of wonder. I believe backpackers can meet all these goals and even share those experiences with others. Not one of these goals requires you go off on your own and avoid other travelers.
In fact, when backpackers are just starting to travel for the first time, everything seems new and full of wonder. Sharing those first time experiences with a group of backpackers you just met at the hostel is usually a highlight of a trip, not something to be avoided. In addition, other travelers have a way of pushing you and your trip in a different direction or motivating you to do things you never expected. On a recent month through China, I traded my original plan of going to Shanghai for a climb up Mt. Emei with eight others I’d been traveling with and it was one of the highlights of my trip so far. I wouldn’t have sought out that experience, but was thankful to have done it.Experience AND Destination
Evan’s second argument is that you can either experience a location through the locals OR see/experience the sites and attractions. These two things are not mutually exclusive. If you’re willing to spend time in a place, you’re going to have local experiences if you seek them out. On this point I agree with Evan, slow down and spend more time in a place for a more authentic experience. This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t have those local experiences while at the same time seeing the wonders of the world.
I was recently at a festival near Chiang Mai where I intended to spend the day photographing a few bands, eating organic food and maybe doing some yoga. Instead, one of the four people I was traveling with arranged a visit to a local’s house at a village 60 kilometers away. After a harrowing 90-minute ride through mountain roads in the back of a pickup, we arrived at a local village by the river. We all joined in the shopping and cooking, and later went for a dip near our host’s house. An amazing experience I wouldn’t have been privy to had I not been traveling with others.Have It Both Ways
The last section talks about trying to do just what I described above – have local experiences while being with other backpackers. While he mentions a few good tactics for having local experiences (I highly recommend and repeat his suggestion about http://couchsurfing.org) he says something here that really rubs me the wrong way. “Most backpackers aren’t that nice to or interested in the locals so the bar is set extremely low.”
I don’t know whom Evan has been traveling with, but with very few exceptions, the people I’ve met on the road have been absolutely incredible. Sharing the experiences I’ve had with them along the road has made my trip 10 times what it would have been had I avoided other travelers. Not one has been mean to or treated the locals in any other way than with respect and kindness.
Ultimately travel is about being open to new experiences and learning. We get out to see the world because we want to know what else is out there, and to share that with others of like mind makes the whole endeavor that much better. So, get out there and meet other backpackers/flashpackers. Go have those shared experiences and be willing to share your highlights with others along the way.