Fighting The Flashpacker Label (What Is A Flashpacker Anyway?)

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

When I first heard the term “flashpacker,” I instantly thought of the Bill Bryson book, “A Walk in the Woods.” The main characters are hiking the Appalachian Trail and running into people representing, more or less, a microcosm of society. One person they met was totally and utterly clueless about what it takes to complete that kind of undertaking. Through their conversation, the hiker explained that, rather than be educated about things, he would simply rely on the many gadgets and gizmos that filled his backpack and dangled from his straps. I’m not quite sure the outcome of his adventure, but one can only assume.

This, to me, was my initial vision of flashpacking. Keeping this in mind after many years of travel all over the world, I’ve come to understand that this is a fluid term, one that is seemingly evolving with the world. I wouldn’t quite call myself a flashpacker just yet, but I will admit that I have tendencies to swing that way. It wasn’t long ago that I carried everything on my back. Even some trips now call for that. Now that I’m pushing 30, I know I won’t be blacklisted from the travel community if my hostel reservation includes a private bathroom.

Reading the Bryson story, I got the impression that flashpacking was basically some idiot, depending on his load of disposable income, living out some unfulfilled dream about being a backpacker and traveling the world. However, now, after a little research, I have a different understanding of the term. The flashpacking definition I now have is basically something to this effect: A backpacker, only a little more grown up.

Nor surprisingly, even Wikipedia tackled the task of defining it:

A flashpacker shares some of the characteristics of a backpacker: a sense of independence, no fixed itinerary and relatively long periods of travel to more exotic and far-flung destinations. Whereas backpacking is traditionally associated with budget travel and destinations that are relatively cheap, flashpacking has an association of more disposable income while traveling and has been defined simply as backpacking with a bigger budget.

Now, don’t assume I’m traveling on some massive budgets — I’m not, I’m just a little better at fiscal self control now (usually). After a little reflection, my understanding of the term has gone from, “Aw, hell, I’m a flashpacker,to more of a “Yeah, I’m probably some sort of flashpacker.”

After reading this recent Vagabondish article where they offer up six useful tips on being a successful flashpacker, I found that they seem to be paralleling my own thoughts, and now I feel just fine about the label.

However, two notable differences on the list are two you won’t find on a backpacker’s tip list: “Don’t feel guilty for taking short-cuts” (e.g., flying from Belgium to Spain rather than overland), and, “Don’t be ashamed to splash out” (“If you want to try each of the most expensive types of beer at a brewery in Munich, go for it”).

What to take away from this? Throw in your laptop, whiz in the privacy of your own bathroom, and change your underwear from week to week. Or do none of this. It’s no big deal, and call it what you want. Each of us still travels by our own means — whether that is evolving or not.

[photo by Georgio Montersino/Flickr]

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