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Flashpacker Defined! – The evolution of the Backpacker

Two backpacks I use for my flashpacking travels around the world.

There are numerous references to the term “Flashpacker” floating around the net and it’s high time we set a solid definition to this new way of travel.  After all, how can you call yourself a flashpacker if you aren’t really sure what it means?

Simply put, a Flashpacker is someone who travels like a backpacker but with a bigger budget.  That’s it.  We aren’t talking wall-street bonuses here, but flashpackers have enough to sleep well, eat out and spend some money on experiences backpackers skip.

Flashpackers are usually in their 20s and 30s, seeking adventure and new experiences, and have a bigger travel budget, usually from an established career.  How they choose to spend their money varies slightly, but one thing is for certain – they maintain the backpacker’s travel mentality.

Backpacker vs Flashpacker

Backpackers are independent travelers.  Opting for low cost destinations and lodging in order to prolong their travel, these travelers prefer to experience a destination rather than see it.  Flashpackers travel with the same approach, only now they have more money to spend.

Just like a backpacker, Flashpackers:

- still prefer hostels to traditional hotels.  Just because we travel with more money doesn’t mean we’re willing to spend it on a room we won’t be using much.  More importantly, a hostel is more conducive to meeting like-minded travelers and getting information on the types of local experiences we crave.

- are still more likely to use public transportation rather than rent a car.  This gives us another opportunity to meet and interact with local people and is usually less hassle than going the other route.  Besides, authentic local travel options are part of the overall experience.

- prefer long-term travel as opposed to a one-week vacation. A short trip simply isn’t enough time to really dig in and get to know a place and its people.  This long-term thinking also reduces the single biggest travel expense – transportation to/from the destination.

- pursue adventure and new experiences.  As far as experiences go, we are just as interested, if not more interested, in the local market or ramen shop as we are getting to the landmarks and popular site-seeing spots.  Time and time again, I’ve found my memories are of the people I have met and the things I’ve done during my travels, as opposed to the landmarks I’ve seen.

Gear

In addition to traditional backpacker gear, we’re also likely to be carrying a number of gadgets with us.  Laptops and digital cameras are high on the list, and you can also bet we might have an Ipod and cell-phone as well.

More and more people are carrying laptops or netbooks with them on the road, and the hostels are taking notice.  Today, many hostels provide their guests with more than just a couple computers in the common room.  They’ll often have WIFI and LAN cables as well.

Travel photography is also important to us.  Instead of spending money on trinkets to take home, we’ll put money into a good camera and use it frequently on the trip because we know the memories are far more important.

An ipod is more useful now on the road than you might expect.  Audio books or podcasts about our destination improve our experience there and music from back home helps reduce our level of homesickness or culture shock.  If you’re lucky enough to have a smart phone, things get even better with the number of great travel apps out there.  Don’t even get me started on the benefits of Google maps.

The evolution of backpacker into flashpacker isn’t going away.  Flashpacking is here to stay, there’s no doubt about it.   What do we want going forward?

We want all the pluses of the hostel experience.  This means security for our gear and small, even solo, rooms while maintaining the valuable social experiences that take place.  Needless to say, we would also like the costs to stay low.

We shy away from organized travel.  We want a local guide, not a tour group.  We want adventure and unique encounters, and we are willing pay for them.

Give us a trip to remember.

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  • http://travel2taste.wordpress.com/ Nadia

    Hi Travis – luv your site and especially the comparison between backpacking and flashpacking. Contemplating a around the world trip in the next year or so we’ve been referring to backpacking but at the moment are saving up for the trip so will probably fall within the flashpacking category.

    Only recently climbed aboard the whole crazy travel blog rollercoaster (speficially with the ATW trip in mind) and still have a lot to learn. Sites like yours really inspire.

    • http://www.flashpackerhq.com Travis Ball

      Hey Nadia,

      Thanks for the compliment! Great to hear you’re enjoying everything so far.

      Let me know if you’ve got any questions on setting up the RTW trip, as I’m in the middle of my own now. Hope the planning is going well and can’t wait to hear your travel stories once you get started!

      -Travis

      • http://travel2taste.wordpress.com/ Nadia Langenhoven

        Thanks Travis, will definitely take you up on your offer. Currently the D-Day is around mid January 2012 so we have to be patient! Looking forward to reading the new posts!

  • tim

    Any reason why Flashpackers can’t be in their 40s or 50s?

    • Anonymous

      No reason they can’t be, but most of them aren’t. If you’re on the younger side of the scale, you are probably going to trend towards backpacker where you’re heavily concerned about your budget and wont have the cash for, or aren’t willing to, carry a lot of gear. In my experience, the older side of the scale starts trending towards tourist – they’ll spend money on comfort and privacy. Again, nothing says you can’t be a flashpacker if you’re 18 or 60. If you fall into this category, how do you buck the trends?-Travis

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Our-Passport-Stamps-Travel-Page/100001490239378 Our Passport Stamps Travel-Pag

        Did you just use the T word to describe those of us in our 40′s???? I can’t believe you went THERE

        Listen, you little whippersnapper…

        Just Kidding, well at least about the whippersnapper part.  :) :)

        We are in our mid 40′s and believe in immersion travel. We remember our backpacking days, and most definately our flashpacking days. But now we can afford and embrace comfort and especially the privacy of our own bathroom. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t budget nor have we stopped being cognizant of a budget.   So let me explain….in our day to day we don’t have cable, we don’t eat out and we pack our lunch everyday. We don’t buy lattes everyday and I get my hair cut at Supercuts. After 12 years I finally got a “new” car..nothing fancy mind you..a year old Mini Cooper. My husband is still driving his 1st and only car a 1965 Mustang.

        This is just a few ways we spend our money…

         Balloon rides in Cappadocia, A Gondola in Venice, Fly from Seville to Lisbon instead of a 11 hour bus ride. Order steak Florentine in Florence, Have High Tea at Pera Palace in Istanbul which is steeped in history. Witnessed the Hawaiki Nui in Bora Bora, Night Dive with Manta Rays,  Hire a private guide for just the 2 of us for SEVERAL days in Egypt, St. Petersburg, Russia and Bosnia for 1 on 1 immersion and the list goes on and on. Keep in mind our guides have had multiple degrees in the Archeology and History of their countries. We are learning so much more than anyone ever will  just reading a guidebook or pamphlet picked up at the TI.
         
          After YEARS of land travel …
        Last October in conjunction with a land trip… we took an Azamara cruise for 24 days (this was 2 12 day segments)..before you poo-poo a cruise this one had extended and overnight port times. We saw more on this particular cruise itinerary than most land travelers. We booked an inside cabin. I can’t tell you how many people told us during these 2 cruises …that they wished they could afford to do a Back to Back cruise and then without missing a beat insisted that they would NEVER book an inside cabin. They chose their priority of comfort, we chose our priority to be travelling for an extended period of time

        This year we were back on land and we will be for next 3 years. 

        Just because we are in our mid 40′s and we are now more comfortable financially.

        Does not define us as  tourists.

        We will always be travelers in search of unique experiences while we immerse ourselves in local cultures and embracing the people we met along the way in our adventures. We respect the backpacking/flashpacking lifestyle…

        In turn you should offer up a little respect to your elders and not assume.

         Many of us have blazed those backroad trails waaaayyyy before you !!!!!   :) :) :)

      • Anonymous

        Of course, I never assume anything. That being said, the AVERAGE age tends to be in the 25-35 range. Most of the people I’ve met along the way have verified that number, but that doesn’t mean that everyone 36 and over is a tourist :P Gary from EverythingEverywhere.com is a great example of someone bucking the trend.

        I know that I’ll be following in your footsteps and stick to immersion travel as I get older.

        Thanks for setting me straight :P

        -Travis

  • Amescher

    Thank you for explaining this to me!!!! It came up during #TNI last Thursday and I didn’t know what the defination was. Thanks – Have fun and travel safe!
    @GoApril – ZipSetGo.com

    • Anonymous

      No problem Amescher!  Glad I could help :)

      -T

  • drstarbyte

    Well i am 65 and backpack all over the place I do carry a gps but all the rest of the gear I dont have it, I eat at the local places sleep in cheap hotels last year it was Malaysia, singapore bali for 3 weeks this year it was India and napal for 6 weeks traveling by bus and train i lost 35 kg in weight I did not eat enough rice and I dress very cheap looking I do not have mutch money all the beat in your travels.
    Cheers DRstarbyte

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  • http://quirkytravelguy.com Scott – Quirky Travel Guy

    Interesting, I had never heard this distinction. It seems kinda odd, though. If the only difference is budget size, why bother creating a new term? Why not just call yourself a backpacker? Is that term “backpacker” offensive to those who have more money? Just from reading the explanation, “flashpacker” sounds like an “elitist” term, which makes me dislike it. If I’m misunderstanding, please correct me!

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I hadn’t heard it until a couple years ago, when someone described it to me while in Spain.

      The only difference isn’t budget size, but that’s generally where things diverge. It’s the differences in travel that are caused by the bigger budget that warrants the new term. Just one example would be that hostels now offer WIFI and more private rooms.

      Where backpackers have extremely limited budgets and do whatever they can to stretch their money as far as it can go, flashpackers don’t have to go to such lengths during their travels. They do, however, have other concerns that backpackers don’t have to worry as much about – such as security for a laptop and/or camera.

      In my research, I found the term seems to have started in Australia with the travel industry wanting to distinguish between the two groups. It isn’t meant to be in “elitist” term as far as I can tell, and I wouldn’t hold one over the other. Both labels share so many similarities that people catering to one group are usually also catering to the other (tours, tourism offices, blogs, etc).

      Hope that helps…

      -Travis

      • http://quirkytravelguy.com Scott – Quirky Travel Guy

        Gotcha, thanks for the detailed descriptions. I can see why travel companies would want to cater to one group or the other.

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  • Neil

    “The evolution of the backpacker” – I like that.  Personally i think we each evolve from backpackers to flashpackers as we get that little bit older, or maybe thats just me.  I starting being a bit more ‘flash’ after i’d worked a few years and had a bit more cash,at 18 and staight out of school i was flat broke so had to go the cheapest route.  

    Great read, thanks for sharing!

    Cheers,
    Neil

    • Anonymous

      Hey Neil,

      Yeah, I think that a lot of backpackers naturally become flashpackers, assuming, of course, that they continue to travel.

      -T

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  • http://dearalisonfood.blogspot.com/ Georgia

    Hi Travis,

    Nice way of putting it. I guess my partner and I are flashpackers but only if you can add style to your list! We dress to impress all the time; I don’t care if I’m living out of a backpack, I wouldn’t dress like a slob at home- wherever that may be this year- why would I do so when travelling?!

    We also Couchsurf to make sure we have enough cash to be able to drink wine on a terrace in the evenings and eat whatever we want. It’s also the best way to make new, real friends and, if you are very lucky, to have your own local guide who knows where the best jazz bars and charcuterie can be found!

    • Anonymous

      Couchsurfing is an amazing way to travel and meet new people.  I highly recommend it.  In fact, I spent Christmas 2010 with about 30 couchsurfers in Bangkok and had the most amazing time.

      -T

  • Catherine Delgado

    I became just browsing here and there but happened to be you just look at this post.

    • Anonymous

      I hope it gave you a better idea of what a Flashpacker is.

      -Travis

  • Dee

    Really a good explanation about flashpacker, I’ve been looking for proper explanation and you did good :). I try to traveled in my free time, but I can’t skip long time from work max 10 – 12 days. I dont wanna be just “tourist” so I goes around with my backpack experience as much as I can but still have little luxury such as shopping. Do you consider it as a flashpacker ^__^?

    • Anonymous

      Yeah, I’d say that’s traveling in a flashpacker style. I think the biggest differences between a tourist and a flashpacker involve how you travel – independently, interacting with locals, staying at hostels, using public transport, etc etc. Just like how a backpacker is different from a tourist. The advantage is that your budget might allow for better accommodation and/or more interesting activities.

  • http://trainhornsdelivered.com Marc G.

    That is interesting, I’ve never heard of the distinction before

  • http://www.facebook.com/piyawee.ruenjinda Piyawee Ruenjinda

    We must meet, Travis.

  • http://www.facebook.com/piyawee.ruenjinda Piyawee Ruenjinda

    Hi, Travis.

    Love your websites (this one and Indie Travel one). When will you come to Bangkok again? Let’s meet up.

    -pw & Lub d Gang

    • flashpackerhq

      Hey Gang,

      I’m heading back out that way in November. Email me if you’re still around.

      - Travis

  • Josh

    Very interesting!. Page and comments.
    I have seen myself in your mirror…..even if I am 43.Planning a trip to Thailand as a flashpackerIn my case, I woud customize my flashpacker profile with a couple of extras: community based tourism and what we called “turismo solidario”.I am glad I found this link.

    • flashpackerhq

      Hey Josh,

      Nice! How is the trip in Thailand going so far?

      What do you mean by Turismo Solidario? :)

      - T

  • Apu

    Why flashpackers spend more money than backpacker?

    • flashpackerhq

      I think a lot of it comes down to being a bit older and (usually) having some sort of career before returning to the road. The backpackers have grown up and still want to travel in a similar style to what they have known, but will usually have more tech and want a little more comfort.

  • Marcel Gerber

    Nicely put. I just discovered the term in a magazine. I quite fit into this category of travellers!

    • flashpackerhq

      Hey Marcel,

      Yeah, the term is slowly moving around the travel circles but I felt the same way you did. Hence, this blog :)

      Welcome.

      - Travis

  • rossriver75 .

    Dear flashpacker HQ
    I think you ‘re missing out on what this really means – or should mean?
    Look. In the past 20+ years, hostels have been overrun by travellers that:
    1) don’t travel alone – would rather talk with friend/lover than meet new people.
    2) check the must see spots in a place and don’t even have the time to meet new people.
    3) have ruined the atmosphere of formerly sociable hostels by staying for 36.5 hours instead of several days or more like they once did.
    4) anytime they ARE in the hostel is spent either online with friends back home, online booking their next short stay – or watching a Hollywood DVD on the ubiquitous flat screen TVs that are found in every hostel now ( because … they’re not interested in meeting new people)
    5) money? Moot point, neither rich nor poor, BUT don’t have to worry too much because of backup from….PARENTS
    which leads to point number..
    6) they’re between 19-23
    And if you don’t know what I mean, well I guess YOU are a flashpacker and should study about the history of the hippie revolution and its spinoff – the backpack revolution.

    • Citizen smith 71

      I’ve now been on the road and around the world for 21 years although only 42. Ii was inspired from the start as a youngster by meeting the previous generations of travellers as in the late 80s and early 90s there were still many of the late 60s, 70s and early 80s tribes about though mostly in India, i also feel each of these decades produced different types of travellers. anyway rossriver, you are spot on. To travel is to blend into the countries one is travelling through, to not see other travellers for months, to interact with locals with just your thoughts on some nights with no electricity where you stay, not to have a computer or to be constantly in contact by them with friends and family. Stories should be shared on occasional meet ups like Istanbul, Marrakech, Kathmandu, Saigon, anywhere in India especially the himalaya etc.
      These flash packers all follow the same route from guide books. As I pass through South America and south east Asia (Thailand, laos, Cambodia and Vietnam we have lost to them) I constantly hear “we meet again, like, that’s like so mad, like.. like blah blah” and they actually have no idea they’re all sheep in their wife beater t shirts from Thailand, Laos etc.
      They travel only by tourist buses, only eat in restaurants from guide books never street or markets (they think k’san is real street food) they usually travel for just three weeks to six and claim to have seen “all of SE Asia” although most of the journey was spent drunk at bars and sleeping in the day instead of seeing temples, staying in jungles, deserts or villages.
      That’s a flash packer.

      • flashpackerhq

        Citizen Smith,

        I applaud your method of travel, yet I think there are actually MANY ways to travel. I love the idea of blending into other countries, but don’t see why you can’t do so with other travelers. Interacting with locals is fantastic and everyone should seek out a home-stay or some experience where all you have is that local interaction without speaking one word of the language. I’ve been there, but that doesn’t mean I think that’s the only way to travel. To each his own.

        What’s wrong with someone hoping online and sharing a story with a loved one back home? Do I think travelers should spend as much time as they do online? Of course not! But I have no issue with stories being shared with parents, friends, locals or other travelers – especially if it provokes more people to get out and travel.

        Backpackers have been following the same routes from guidebooks for years. Hell, that’s what we did on our first trip. That’s how you learn and how you get started. You only realize the things you SHOULDN’T do by doing them. You have to let everyone make those same mistakes and learn in the process.

        I’ll give you the same advice I gave to ross river above – grab ahold of these kids and share your stories. Pass along your advice on getting off the paved road, eating at the night market and immersing themselves in the local culture. Don’t shove it down their throats, but lead by example.

        I feel we should let each person we meet on the road travel the way they see fit but also educate them as to the ways we prefer to travel and hope that a little of that rubs off on them.

        To each his own.

        - Travis

    • flashpackerhq

      Hey RossRiver,

      I can’t begin to say what the hostels were like 20+ years ago as I would have been 17 back then and didn’t take my first trip until I was 21. What I do know is that during my first trip outside the US, I left with a friend and traveled with him off and on through Europe for about three months. We talked with friends AND we met new people. We saw the sights AND found new ones. We stayed at some hostels for weeks and some for only a couple nights.

      It sounds like what you’re complaining about is that the people who stay at hostels are becoming less social and more interested in their friends and or spending time online. I would agree with that, as I’ve seen the same thing happen in many of the hostels I’ve stayed at recently. However, I’ve also spent time with many with the “old guard” attitude (what you refer to as hippies) who are out to meet other travelers and spend time with the locals. They’re both at the hostel.

      I just don’t see what any of this has to do with your complaint about the definition of Flashpacker? In my mind, a backpacker is different than a tourist in that they’re more interested the local food, local transportation and local experiences than the tourist is. They spend more time in a single place and have longer to travel but usually have much less to spend on privacy or certain activities.

      A flashpacker is simply someone who travels with a similar mentality, but likely a bit older and less concerned with their budget. They still want the social and informational aspects of the hostel, but will opt for the private room instead of the dorm. They’ll head out to a local food cart instead of cooking pasta in the hostel’s kitchen. They might pay a local to act as a tour guide for the day instead of going their own way. Maybe they’ll even have funds to get scuba certified or take a train to an otherwise inaccessible locale.

      I see no issue with any of those things.

      The only advice I can give you with what you refer to in your list above is to latch on to some of these young travelers and show them the way. Have a discussion over dinner or drinks and open their eyes.

      - Travis

      • markingtime

        Flashpacker, Citizen smith 71

        (from formerly rossriver)
        Unfortunately, the detached quality of backpackers now has largely removed any expectation by the locals of meeting up, though in fairness it was always difficult on that point.
        I think some things just change with the times. There’s gotta be some good things about being old, and this is one – having experienced 1970s and 80s travel! The travel market is just plain flooded now, including a lot of people who aren’t even particularly interested in travel!
        Plus sides: Less likely to get ripped off by other travellers; they’re usually polite and decent. Less likely to get diarrhea because hygiene has improved.
        Polite, yes, though they do trash hostels ratings on the net sites, without giving those hostels enough time to show their charm. A lot of hostels used to have parties with the visitors. They can’t do that much now because no bonds can develop.
        Travellers are busy, I know. They have a SCHEDULE (terrible word in the former backpacker days). Also, I think it’s just the times. The techie pace. They bring their
        everyday life to the road.
        Now I have to also say that, unlike bygone days, backpackers do pretty much the same things as tourists do!! I see this in my old hometown, Toronto, Canada.
        (Yeah, I stay at hostels there too now when I go back). Young backpackers hit the same overcrowded trendy sightseeing locations the “tourists” do – just on a more cost-conscious budget. They never hang out where the locals do, and they never get the vibe of people who live there.

        So my solution to limiting schedules (i’m too busy now for long trips too) – I go to cities that aren’t especially famous or popular. I can get the living-there feeling better.

        Anyway, I do believe these millenials on wheels fit the name flash packers best.

        Note; I don’t mean there aren’t exceptions. I sometimes get very impressed by travellers who buck the trend.

      • flashpackerhq

        Markingtime,

        Interesting point. Most of the people I have met and traveled with at hostels travel much like I do – A mix of seeing the “trendy sightseeing locations” and going to cities and locations that aren’t famous or popular. As touristy as it is, I’d hate to go to Rome and not see the Sistine Chapel, for example. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t also spend time trying to have a conversation with locals at a cafe, wandering the outskirts of the city or getting lost off of a random bus and finding my way back.

        Skipping something because it’s defined as “toursity” so you can call yourself a true backpacker means you’re limiting your experience for the sake of adhering to some code. Ultimately, it means you’re missing out, just like the traveler who misses out on the local experience by sticking to their on group or spending too much time online.

        As far as I’m concerned everything is about flexibility and balance. Mix it up. Visit cities big and small, famous and not. Do the touristy sights but get lost as well. Spend time with your friends on the road but split off and have your own adventures. Sit with the other travelers at a hostel and then go out and do the same with a local over coffee or a beer.

        Variety is the spice of life, right?

        - Travis

  • David

    Sounds from the conversation that the one thing backpackers / flashpackers have in common is a level of elitism / snobbery, looking down their nose at other travellers that have different desires from their travel experience!

    • flashpackerhq

      Well, I’d obviously disagree :P

      I’d say people are like that at all levels of travel experience. I’d also say I’ve run into many more people like this online than I ever have on the road.

  • http://rameezusmani.com Rameez Usmani

    Nice post . very interesting definition. It seems I fall into flash packer category (although I do not travel too much).

    I also want to address an important thing that I have been reading in comments on this post (and on other places too) is hatred for “tourists”,”travelers” and “flash packers” by Backpackers. It seems like there is a war going on between backpackers and tourists. Let me put my point of view on some points against “tourists” or “flash packers”.

    1) They don’t travel alone

    So what ? If you are travelling alone that doesn’t mean every one has to follow your foot steps. Some people don’t find travelling alone to be fun.

    2) They follow guide books

    Well I guess even to go for off beaten path you have to read some information over internet. Like on my trip to Thailand in Bangkok I took a bus from Sukhumvit to Lat Krabang to meet someone. It was really a nice experience although I could afford a Taxi . But to know which bus will go where I used internet to figure out , it was following a guide book that which bus i have to take and what route it will take.

    3) They don’t mix with locals

    Not every one travelling has intentions to mix with locals. Some people even if travel for long time are just to see the places or experience local transports etc. Some people are not good at conversation with strangers but that should not hurt any backpacker.

    4) They spend time online and do not mix with people in hostels

    I think we all are sharing our views on internet ? Today it has become a norm to share most of your things online with your friends/family. May be they are in hostel just to save money or to experience how it feels to stay in a hostel. Leave them alone if they like to be alone. Why it hurts you ? Others can talk to each other without any problem.

    5) They spend money

    I do spend good money while travelling because I am well established. I have no problem with a person who don’t visit a place just because he can’t afford entry ticket but why that person has problem with me if I can spend money to buy the entry ticket ? This point of money I believe ( I may be totally wrong) comes out of jealousy from “few” backpackers just because they cannot afford many things on their trip.

    Backed up by parents ? If my parents can raise me why they can’t give me money to help me travel with good budget.

    To be honest I will not give up my comfortable lifestyle just for the sake of backpacking and to live on a budget where I cannot afford to eat out in a restaurant or I have to skip some nice spot just because I cannot afford to travel there. I don’t want to spend thousands of rupees to take a flight for a country where i will sleep on roads because I don’t have money for hotel/hostel. But I don’t have problem with backpackers doing the same

    6) They travel for short time

    This has many reasons. Everyone is not comfortable in leaving their hometown for a very long time. Most of the people have 9-5 job to sustain themselves and everyone is comfortable in giving up their job and go travel long term. This also has to do with culture, like in my country we don’t have any freedom to spend our money . We have to take care of our parents and other family members. If I tell my parents that I am giving up my job and going long term travelling probably they will get a heart attack because they don’t have any other source of income. In my country govt do not give any sort of financial support. Secondly we live in so strong family bonds that for 99% of people leaving their family just to fullfill their desire is a nightmare (except if they are getting good job overseas).

    I have no problem with backpackers or any other traveller. To each his own. Every one has their own way to do a thing. I hope my comments didn’t hurt anyone :)…..

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