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What is a Backpacker?

How do you define a backpacker and what it looks like to me

By Rilee AreyPublished 2 months ago 4 min read

After solo traveling these past few months, a question keeps resurfacing in my mind with more travelers I meet. What is a backpacker? When I ask this I mean what are the qualifying factors to be able to identify yourself as a backpacker. Before I tell you what the internet told me, I’ll tell you what I think about when I think about being a backpacker. 

I think of someone carrying one of those massive 60 to 70 liter backpacks on their shoulders with sewn on patches of where they have been. I think of those people walking to and from places, often sweating profusely as they work their way to their hostels, bus stops, train stations etc. I think of someone who managed to shove their pure necessities into one big bag or maybe two if you have a personal item. They are the type of traveler that jumps into the unknown, or the well thought out unknown. Whether that means you’re climbing mountains for days or new cities every few days. When I think of a backpacker, I think of someone brave and willing to figure it out. I think of someone with a desire to explore new places and cultures, while meeting new people of diverse values and languages. A backpacker knows how to be open to letting the world tell them something they didn't know before. 

Well, in the midst of writing this I realized, I started explaining what I see in other backpackers, but I did a fine job at describing myself. Although all of those attributes may have truth in them for me, somehow I find every reason to justify that I’m not a real backpacker.

My mom constantly tells me how I’m so much braver and stronger than others, my friends pop into my insta feed saying they are living through my travels, and I meet so many other people traveling and doing the same thing as me, so why is it so hard for me to believe that I fit the mold. 

I tell myself that you’re not a backpacker because.....

You stayed with your aunt for two months of your trip. You're not a backpacker because you have intermixed hostels and hotels while in Asia, you're not a backpacker because you take taxis more than buses. You're not a backpacker because you have been picking up souvenirs and now need THREE BAGS to carry home with you. You’re not a backpacker because you don’t rent a motorbike even if it’s the cheapest option. Granted the streets are better off without me on a bike in a foreign country.The list goes on. 

But didn’t I just previously define what a backpacker is? 

That person with two big bags on their chest and back somehow counteracting the perfect weight that they don’t fall straight on their face. The person who is burnt from sun exposure despite their best efforts, or the person who is willing to go somewhere new alone and be okay on their own. 

I looked it up on the internet because dare I be the only one with an opinion here. DeleteI chuckled to myself, when this came up as the definition.

Then I scrolled a little further and saw this.

The thing about both of these, is I made up an explanation in my head on what I am supposed to be, when the actual definition only gives limited perimeters on what is really means to be a backpacker. 

Above, I did come across a list that gives you a little more concrete answers on the difference between a backpacker and a tourist. Which basically lists the attributes on what makes a backpacker a backpacker. But here's what I have to say.

Just like Google's definition, being a backpacker has so much room for your interoperation. 

In the justification of whether I am a backpacker or not, that is also left up to someone's interpretation. However to me, I am. 

I am currently sitting in one of the nicest hostels I have ever seen, with a cocktail and yes western styled food. But until you get food poisoning in Thailand from street food and experience passing out while climbing up to a second bunk in a 8 person dorm. You can't judge. 

I have stayed in countless hostels, walked countless kilometers, have had so many different forms of currency and really got to meet some of the most incredible people who are also traveling or locals.

 However, I have also treated myself to massages and hotels that are the price of lunch in America. I have gone to the tourist places and had some amazing paid excursions. But I have also done this with a set goal of less than 10k. 

Maybe I'm a backpacker, 

Maybe i'm a tourist, 

I think it's okay to be a little of both. 

But a few things are for sure, my backpack is heavy, everything is so much cheaper in Asia and I am immensely greatful to be here. 

solo travel

About the Creator

Rilee Arey

What a life we live, Lets live a life where we have something to write home about!

27-year-old trying to find meaning, love and a life worth living.

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