What exactly is a backpacker? Before this trip I thought it was a small percentage of insanely brave people who lived on the side of the road in foreign countries while they traveled around hoping to get by with as little cash as possible. I thought they were dirty people; mostly men with beards and old used backpacks that were beaten up.
What I quickly found out was that backpackers were young people like me who wanted to see the world on a budget. They come from all backgrounds and they don't necessarily carry a backpack. Most are from loving and supporting families just like mine but a small few are the rambling outcasts trying to make a way for themselves. What we all have in common is wanderlust. What starts as one small trip quickly turns into another trip and another and another. We are all smart, capable young people who choose to go our own way rather than fall in line with our piers back home. Every backpacker I have met has been young, single, respectful and open-minded. Backpackers all have base skills such as cooking, cleaning, nannying and working with nature. The highly qualified have experience with something like construction, farming or office work.
The life of a backpacker is an interesting one. They are always on the move yet they never have any plans. Jobs for backpackers are filled just as soon as their available and you can be fired just as quickly as you were hired. The whole mindset is that you take what you can when you have the opportunity and you are grateful for every opportunity. The small things like food and shelter become your only concern. Forget about the high society you came from: nails, brand-name clothes, hairstyles and cars. On the road you make due with what you have. It reminds me of a lesson I heard from a Native American once. The Indians believe that you should always be grateful for whatever the earth gives you. In a similar fashion, as a backpacker you have to constantly remind yourself to be grateful for every night you have a roof over your head and food in your belly because in the blink of an eye you can be without.
In his book, Bypass, Michael McGirr explains the impact of backpackers on the Australian economy.
“Backpackers are a significant part of the Australian economy. According to the surveys, they spend less per day in this country than those who stay in the best hotels, but they are here much longer and so end up spending more in total. There are almost half a million of them every year, worth $2.5 billion to the economy. They are also more likely to stay in places owned locally and they do all sorts of jobs which locals avoid, such as fruit picking, and then have the decency to spend the money before they leave these shores, making sure they are broke when they get home.”
Australia has marketed itself to backpackers and tourists. For a country with only a few major cities, all thousands of miles apart, the marketing has done quite well for them. They are full of visitors from all sorts of countries and the average Aussie is happy to converse with any backpacker they run into. So why don't we have more backpackers in the United States? Better yet, why aren't they coming to Oklahoma to help on our farms? Perhaps that's what the wheaties from New Zealand are doing; their own form of backpacking.
A new terminology I recently uncovered on the internet is “flashpacker.” Apparently flashpackers are backpackers with a bigger budget. I haven't heard anyone use this term directly in conversation so I'm not sure how much of a “term” it actually is. Some say flashpacking is for those who care more about their appearance than their experience.
I'm not sure if I am considered a backpacker since I have a large suitcase and a small dufflebag. I used to joke that my luggage made me an "American Backpacker" because in America we don't do anything small. If my luggage classifies me as a flashpacker my wallet takes the side of backpacker. No matter what you call it, the mindset of backpacking is simple: we are young people on the move.