Is backpacking or the gap year no longer about independent travel? Has backpacking become an industry?

Increasingly over the past decade or so there has been an explosion of companies and services aimed at backpackers, RTW tcikets, pre booked accommodation/tours/etc, even courses aimed at backpacker safety! (I’m looking at you STA Travel!)

These aren’t all necessarily a bad thing, not all of them anyway, but is ‘backpacking’ as a paradigm becoming less about independent travel and more like the pre packaged all inclusive holidays backpackers have traditionally scorned?

What do you all think?

Michael Huxley 25/06/13    General travel chat Link Report

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The independent travel ‘industry’ has made traveller choices less black and white than they used to be. Once upon a time, you travelled independently because you wanted to go somewhere ‘obscure’ or ‘exotic’ and the only way you could get there was off your own back – or by spending a ginormous amount of money. As footfall increased, the opportunity was identified to wring a bit of cash out of travel to these destinations. So now you can travel to these places the easy way (if you can and want to pay more) or the more difficult way (if you can’t or don’t want to pay more). Where independent travel was once a necessity, now it’s a choice.

Backpacking as a travel choice is now influenced by different things, among them time and opportunity, the changing cost of living in destinations and political (in)stability. But I think the same independent spirit and philosophy prevails – it’s just manifesting itself in a more diverse demographic. The most adventurous and intrepid travellers you’ll meet these days are likely to be pensioners, career-breakers (who have jumped or been pushed from the career ladder by choice or circumstance) or families. Which is tremendously heartening for those of us who still have a lot of world to see, but who are of a vintage riper than your stereotypical 18-year-old backpacker.

Clare Currie 25/06/13    Link Report

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  • Ah. and don`t forget the packaged volun-tourism outfits – Just 2000 pounds/fortnight for the privilege of sort-of saving the world.

    For the lazy, it`s oh so easy to see the “world”.

    PirateAt50 25/06/13    Link Report

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  • Ah sorry Clare, my mistake I read that a little wrong.

    You have an uncanny ability to get philosophical far earlier in the morning than I can manage! (Unless you’re in another time zone than I am in which case I retract my statement because that’s cheating!) ;D

    I would hope that too, unfortunately it isn’t always the case in my experience. People aren’t always that canny, and a string of conversations with ‘packaged independents’ (good phrase btw!) who basically could not see beyond the pre packaged route they bought in advance and quite literally could not imagine stepping outside of that comfort blanket but still considered themselves ‘independent gap year backpackers’ is what led me to ask the question.

    I mean are they? Really?

    But I agree wholeheartedly about others using the pre packaged routes and tours to dip their toe in the water so to speak and then get the bug. I have met so many people like that over the years (even encouraged a few of them to go it alone) and that can only ever be a good thing. In that respect I think places like STA travel and Intrepid and all the others have done a great service to the backpacking community, in one respect they could be seen as one of the factors that has led to the vastly changing backpacker demographic, but like you said it just feels like industry has muscled in a bit too much now to the point where the lines have blurred, maybe a bit too much?

    Michael Huxley 26/06/13    Link Report

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  • On the “expensive” thing, I meant that travel to obscure destinations was always possible if you either put in the effort (and travelled independently) or had pots of cash to throw at it (thus greasing your path with dollars). I agree that the independent route then and now is the more cost-effective option. And by putting in the effort to do your own research and planning you not only save money, you’re likely to learn something along the way.

    I hope that people are canny enough to see that by taking the route of “packaged independent” they could be trading experience for convenience. Possibly you do that once, then if you really get the bug it inspires you to cast off the safety blanket and go hardcore DIY? I take your point that an industry has muscled into what used to be a clear middle ground between packaged and independent and all of the lines are blurring. Without getting too philosophical, maybe it’s all about your own state of mind, your own self-perception and ultimately what you want to get out of it. I might lay off the coffee now, this is getting a bit deep…

    Clare Currie 26/06/13    Link Report

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  • Pirate don’t get me started on those damned voluntourism outfits! We’ll be here all night! ;D

    Clare that is an excellent point, I don’t agree that independent travel was always the more expensive option (I usually found the reverse to be true), but with everything else I agree. The backpacker demographic has changed wildly, and I too think that is amazing. I’m seeing more professionals, families and pensioners on the road now than I ever did in my early twenties, and that can only be a good thing. You are right in saying that ‘independent travel was once a necessity, now it’s a choice.’ The big problem with that that I can see is that the paradigm of backpackers (younger ones in particular) is starting to shift, where they see this vast ‘backpacking industry’ with its pre packaged RTW routes, insurance and visas included for a premium cost and a few added organised tours and ‘voluntourism’ (uurgh!) experiences thrown in, they think of THAT as independent travel and backpacking. Yes independent travel is now a choice, but how many new backpackers know that the choice is there, or even that it can be made?

    Michael Huxley 25/06/13    Link Report

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