Why I avoid backpackers when traveling!
When I first started to travel as a student; I backpacked. Staying in a dorm with 8 other fellow budget travelers (or at times 30, like in Punta del Este, Uruguay) afforded me the opportunity to travel cheaply and meet people in a similar situation from all over the world who I could bond with. I loved it … in the beginning …
And then something started to change in me … I began to become genuinely more interested in the countries and cultures I was visiting.
It was no longer a 3-week first-time trip of exploration around Greece and Italy but I was actually studying in Italy (Bologna) learning Italian, making local friends and exploring Italian cuisine and history.
I noticed that many of the backpacking crowd (I still stayed in youth hostels when traveling to other parts of Italy from Bologna) no longer shared my interests.
They appeared happier hanging out with other backpackers in an English language bubble, ticking off the major tourist sites from their Lonely Planet guidebooks (see my article on that here) and getting drunk/hooking up with people they met in the dorm at the hostel.
Le Due Torri (Two Towers) in the center of Bologna
A dissonance began to grow between those I felt a connection with previously and the person I was becoming. Theirs was a ‘holiday’ mentality while I was yearning for a new ‘lifestyle’ approach to travel.
The Slow Switch
At first I switched from staying in hostels to booking hotels. In hotels, however, it can be very isolated as it’s harder to make contact with other travelers (or locals) than in a hostel and it quickly became apparent that I don’t enjoy staying in hotels. I didn’t feel like I was getting a local experience.
I would leave my hotel and see the sights of the city … alone. In the evening I would go socialize … alone. I would pick bars and clubs where I was likely to enjoy the music and vibe and sometimes I would meet locals who I could connect with …. and then sometimes I would not.
A Backpacker reading the Lonely Planet – the type of traveling that I made the transition away from!
Enter the Smartphone
How could I travel and more efficiently meet locals people who I would genuinely connect with? The answer came in the form of technological advancement: enter the smartphone! My iPhone in conjunction with some new websites and apps started to solve this conundrum for me.
Smartphones have revolutionized the way I travel (see this article for more on how). Now websites like Facebook, Tinder, Airbnb and Couchsurfing provide me with alternatives to hotels and hostels, as well as, facilitating making and maintaining contact with locals who have similar interests.
Smartphones require me to keep changing SIM cards as I cross borders to enjoy full access to data
Facebook groups allowed me to find language meetups in cities I visited, Tinder and Couchsurfing put me in direct contact with local people to meet up with (read more about Tinder here) and Airbnb gave me an easy way to find the apartments I was looking for all over the world (I also use some country-specific sites and booking.com occasionally).
Not only do I now stay primarily in apartments but I also get to hang out in local places (not the ubiquitous tourist traps) with like-minded people (they might not necessarily be locals – other digital nomads often frequent the same haunts) all while learning the local languages.
It’s not only about the money
Although my limited budget as a student first drew me into backpacking, today there are even cheaper alternatives to hostels (where you can stay for free with locals – couchsurfing.com for example). Yet ‘backpacking’ has become much more than that.
It’s ultimately not really about finding a cheap place to stay. It’s more about seeking to stay within the confines of a ‘safe’ protected bubble insulated from the real adventure of traveling. Backpacking in Europe actually avoids getting to experience the local people and culture.
Therefore, I avoid backpackers when traveling!
Backpackers – not who I’ll be hanging out with
Personally, I don’t see why I would want to hang out with tourists just because I’m traveling if I wouldn’t be interested in the same people’s company back home. If I’ve chosen to visit a country, I’m there to experience its people not random tourists with limited knowledge of the local culture.
Yes, traveling is not always fun. Yes, sometimes it’s risky. Yes, occasionally bad things happen. Yes, at times I’ve had to hang out on my own for a while. Yet the benefits have definitely outweighed the negatives and I would never go back on it.
Me at my London “office” in Hackney – definitely not a backpacking mecca
The local people I’ve become true friends with, the languages I’ve learnt, the amazing experiences I’ve stumbled into … all by changing the way I travel. Want to change the way you travel? Then follow me … avoid backpackers!
How do you feel about backpacking? Are you a recovering backpacker? Or you still committed to hostel-based travel? Let me know your opinions in the comments section below. I enjoy reading your comments. 🙂