Guest Editorial by Matador member Matt Kepnes

Somewhere before my bus broke down in Australia, I was called a flashpacker. Despite being on the road for 18 months, it was the first time I’d heard the term.

What is a Flashpacker?

“Flashpacker (def): Someone usually in their mid 20s to early 30s, who travels like a backpacker but has more disposable income, as well as electronics such as a camera, Ipod, or laptop. Flashpackers also expect better accommodation and amenities.”

Neither fully backpacker nor tourist, flashpackers are new to the traveling lexicon. Flashpackers sleep in hostels, carry a backpack, and find cheap transport, but blow their wad on meals, tours, and parties.

They usually aren’t strolling into a hostel randomly or wearing the same shirt for a week.

A number of hostels are upscaling to meet the growing demands and needs of flashpackers and you’ll find them in all corners of the world. Flashpackers still have no fixed journey and all the time to meander around but don’t pinch every penny.

They are backpackers with means.

Is flashpacking backpacking?

What makes a backpacker a backpacker? The backpack? The clothes? The lack of showers? People look down on flashpackers, but they are just as much a backpacker as anyone else.

Backpacking is not a look, it’s a lifestyle. Just because someone doesn’t have the look, doesn’t mean they lack the spirit. It doesn’t make them less of a backpacker. It goes against the backpacker mentality to look down on someone because they travel differently.

Aren’t we supposed to be embracing different ways of life?

When I travel, I don’t want to sacrifice. I pinched pennies at home so I could enjoy my travels. I didn’t work hard to go to Italy and not drink the wine or eat a meal in Florence. I didn’t fly to Japan to not eat the sushi. And I didn’t fly to Australia to skip the Barrier Reef.

It comes down to what makes a backpacker a backpacker. That sprit. The desire to explore new places and experience new people. Backpacking is about opening your mind to new things and looking differently at the world. It’s not about the stuff you carry. If your spirit is the same the stuff you carry shouldn’t matter.

The Wave of the Future

We’re all flashpackers, whether you like it or not. We may not be driving up to the hostel in a limo but we all expect a little “flash” nowadays. According to a 2006 Hostelworld study, 21% of people travel with a laptop, 54% with an MP3 player, 83% with a mobile phone, and a whopping 86% travel with a digital camera.

Think about your last trip- how many people did you see with cameras? Ipods? Laptops? I can’t remember seeing one person without a camera, and at least 3/4 of the people I saw had Ipods.

We all travel with fancy electronics now. We check our e-mail and Skype our friends. We all have a camera and most of us have an Ipod. We’ve become flashpackers…and it’s not a bad thing. All this stuff allows us to stay better connected with our friends, our family, and helps us better document our travels. The key is to put down the camer and turn off the computer once in awhile to enjoy the culture you came to see.

The backpacker who sets off with one shirt, a small pack, and two baht to his name is getting hard to find. Most of us have and expect a little more but we still carry his spirit.

We still seek new cultures, exotic locales, and long term travel. We still look for cheap hostels and transport. We camp on that jungle trek. The difference is that now we also want a place to plug in our camera, check our e-mail, take a hot shower, and splash out on tours.

We just want to be pampered…once in awhile.
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Matt Kepnes is a globetrotter who’s “fully sick with the travel bug.” Whether at home in Boston or on the road, he offers fresh travel ideas daily on his website, www.nomadicmatt.com.

Are you a flashpacker? What do you think of this idea? Share your reactions in the comments.
Luxury Backpacker Photo: klenze17 (creativecommons)
Lone Packer Photo: Werner Schnell (creative commons)