A BootsnAll post ran a few days ago questioning if “flashpacking” is killing the art of backpacking. It pissed me off. Here’s a few highlights:
• “Flashpackers… often avoid public transport and opting for hotels over hostels”
• “By researching and booking things online it takes out much the challenge of trying to cope with the unknown.”
• “Flashpacking for me, seems like a style of traveling to simply “tick the box” and to be able to say “I’ve been there“, which completely missing the point of independent travel.”
• “Traveling without taking local transport carrying laptops and expensive gadgets means that you can’t be as adventurous.”
Allow me to be annoyed:
First of all… the “art” of backpacking?! As in there is a right and a wrong way of doing it? This reeks of the worldlier-than-thou snobbery which is one of backpacking’s worst habits. I’ve done this, this and this… aren’t I bloody amazing and spontaneous?!
What a load of rubbish. If my years of backpacking have tought me anything it is that people travel many different ways…and, frankly, as long as they aren’t doing anything abusive, good luck to them.
The “flashpacker” the writer describes is someone who goes to hotels. Isn’t that just going on holiday? Surely the “packer” bit entails budget accommodation….specifically hostels? Yes, the flashpacker might prefer to stay in the burgeoning breed of boutique hostels and travel with a laptop, but still, this is hardly swinging around on yachts. And what’s more…so what if someone wants to stay in a hotel? Does that automatically disqualify them from having a “real” experience? Of course it doesn’t.
Research is not the enemy
Whenever I go away I look to do things in the cheapest possible way, and in a way that will maximise my experience. I want to find the best located hostel or guesthouse, and the best little neighbourhood eatery, the most exciting gallery and so on. Yes, this has a lot to do with the fact that it is my job. But nothing pisses me off more than finding out that I’ve missed something truly special. Let’s say I went to a cruddy bar that wasn’t very interesting instead of the brilliant local tasca where the visitors get drunk and sing fado together…then I would have missed a truly cultural experience. And for what? So I can say that wherever I lay my hat is my home?
To plan and not to plan
Planning and not planning are not mutually exclusive. Just because I’ve planned a lot in advance doesn’t mean that I will follow a concise itinerary 24 hours a day. I will make sure I hit certain spots, and then see what happens thereafter. What’s wrong with that?
Don’t fear the WiFi
The gadgets bit really slays me. Mobile web has revolutionised the way I travel. When I’m at a loose end, I’ll nip into Google Maps and find a cracking local cafe, as recommended by local reviews. If I find something interesting, I can Google it and learn more about it. It enhances my experience. It makes me learn more. It helps me understand the local history better. Which makes striking up a conversation all the easier…
But that’s just the way I choose to do it. I have also done the opposite, which is excellent too. But one way is not better than the other. Applying some kind of experiential grading system on travelling is a very silly idea indeed.