Posted 19 Jun, 2013 | 14 Comments
Posted in: Musings, Travel Blogs

We often claim to be “backpackers” on this site, but people may have many different ideas of what a backpacker is.

Wikipedia says backpacking is:

“A form of low-cost, independent international travel. It includes the use of a backpack or other luggage that is easily carried for long distances or long periods of time.”

We agree with that completely. But there is so much more to backpacking. What is backpacking and who is the backpacker?

GOAT NOTE: We know that backpackers are equally male and female, but for the sake of redundancy, backpacker will be referred to as “backpacker”, “he” or “him” from here on out. (Don’t be offended ladies)

A backpacker has an adventurous spirit and has usually given something up to pursue a lifestyle of travel and experiences.

He doesn’t have a home and never knows what to write on the visa forms under “home address”.

He often travels for long periods of time, which sets him apart from a traveller who may only go on short trips or vacations.

He travels on a budget and tries to find places where few other people ever go.

The only way a he would ever stay in a five-star resort is if someone else was paying for it.

marriott hotel spain
Marriott In Spain

He always brags that really slumming it is the only way to truly experience a country and its people, but he wouldn’t turn down a quick vacation in a Marriott in Spain.

A backpacker eats local food almost exclusively and enjoys finding new favorite dishes in each country he visits.

There are times when he will splurge on a nice Western meal but often in doing so, he leaves the table unsatisfied and regrets not ordering a Pad Thai instead.

He hates to admit going to Mcdonald’s to buy cheap coffee or ice cream and use the free wi-fi.

Free Wi-Fi
Free Wi-Fi

He has sat on the bench outside of McDonalds to steal wi-fi.

He finds hair, cockroaches, ants and toenails in his food and simply moves it aside to finish his plate.

He refuses to pay “restaurant prices” for beers and cocktails, so he just buys them at 7-11 and then sits in the restaurant anyway.

He “borrows” ketchup, salt and sugar packs from restaurants.

…He often gets kicked out of restaurants.

He misses family and friends at home, but often finds himself daydreaming of meals his mom used to make, rather than the good times they’ve had.

He has been sick on the road on numerous occasions and usually has a number of poo stories that involve disgusting details about the last time he was sick.

When he is sick, he will tough it out for a couple of days in the $3 room with no a/c and a shared squat toilet. Only after he has sweat out 15 litres and his thighs ache from squatting 10 times a day, will the backpacker opt for the $10 room with a TV, a/c and a hot shower.

A quarter of the weight in his pack is in his medical bag.

What is A backpacker
Medical Kit

He uses Tiger Balm to cure just about any ailment.

He almost always takes public transport and finds pride in the fact that he has ridden on top of buses and in the luggage compartment. He always brags about how much better the chicken buses are until he hears the VIP tourist bus pull up and he has to move a goat aside to look out his window and see it.

He refuses to spend a night in an expensive airport hotel. If he has a flight at 6 am, he simply creates a bed on the airport floor and endures a sleepless night on the cold linoleum.

Just a day in the life of a backpacker – sleeping at the Kuala Lumpur Airport, Malaysia

A backpacker doesn’t like to see tour groups and refuses to take tours at all costs.

He says that he hates seeing sites with 30 other people and yet he still finds an English-speaking tour at the site and follows them around for free. He listens to the guide and learns about the history and architecture of the site, while completely undermining his principles.

A backpacker keeps a budget. He writes it down in a notebook and follows it closely to ensure that his trip is going to be as long as possible.

A Backpacker's Budget Table
A Backpacker’s Budget Table (This one’s for 2 people)

He calculates things in travel time, not in dollars spent. If a flight will cost him $200 more than a bus, he’ll calculate that as a week more he could be travelling.

A backpacker will bargain down to pennies and dimes, which is one of his major flaws. He regretfully tells stories of how he nearly killed a tuk-tuk driver over 25 cents. He boils it down to being in “travel mode.”

He hates being ripped off, but even worse is when he gets something at a good cost, and then finds out that another backpacker got it for a buck cheaper. This makes him want to return to the shop and bargain more.

A backpacker has an intimate relationship with his backpack and when he is separated from it, he looses all rational thought. He’ll hunt it down at all costs and run through the airlines staff like a scene from Man On Fire.

A Backpacker Loves His Backpack
A Backpacker Loves His Backpack

He has a special pocket in his backpack for every item he carries and if something is missing, he immediately expects that it has been lost or stolen.

He performs the “smell-check” on every item of clothing before he wears it. If it smells better than he does at the time, he’ll wear it.

…A backpacker often smells.

He does his laundry in sinks.

A backpacker hates when bus staff and luggage loaders on boats and ferries treat his backpack like a backpack  and just toss it around. He curses the guy for being so careless even though he always carries his valuables separate and safe in a day bag.

He hates taking taxis because he knows that the taxi driver is going to rip him off. He will walk up to 10 kms with his beloved 15 kg backpack, just to save the dollar or so on the cab ride. He’ll arrive at the hotel sweating and tired and when there are five travellers in front of him, he worries that they will take the best room.

He always likes to see 2 or 3 rooms to make sure that he has the best room. He’s been in enough hotels and guest houses to know that they always siphon off the shitty rooms first.

A backpacker prefers squat toilets because sitting on toilet seats in public is pretty nasty.

Backpackers use A Squat Toilet
A Squat Toilet

He carries toilet paper everywhere and has mild panic attacks when he sees the cardboard core and has no backup.

He’s used the cardboard core for wiping.

He hates his neighbour at first. They always slam their door and talk “loudly” in the room which is on the other side of a paper-thin wall. But when he meets the neighbour on his patio, he realizes how cool the neighbour is and they end of travelling together for 2 weeks.

He never makes a solid plan, he just says: “if we’re both there at the same time… cool. If not… oh well.”

He always goes with the flow. He’s relaxed and composed. He takes pride in his mild manner while other travellers are stressing out and screaming for no apparent reason. He credits his calm attitude to the length of his trip and how much it has changed him.

A backpacker doesn’t know what day it is.

He can say “hello”, “thank-you”, “cheers” and order beer in 20+ languages.

He likes to look at other travellers and guess how long they’ve been travelling before he meets them. He assesses their travel gear and accessories and makes surprisingly accurate estimations.

A backpacker takes pride in finding places off the beaten path and although he hates hostel table “one-upsmanship” he often finds himself engaging in it.

He loves meeting new people, both western and local. The best experiences a backpacker has are with the amazing people he meets along the way.

Backpackers Make Friends
A Backpacker Loves Making New Friends

He is ultra-positive and lives every moment of his life to the fullest.

He hates being around negative people and will almost immediately disassociate with them.

A backpacker’s dream is to simply backpack indefinitely and live life like Nomadic Samuel.

A backpacker loves travel blogs and visits on a regular basis.

Backpackers kick ass!

 Are you a Backpacker?! What do you think defines us? Leave a comment below!



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Written by

Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift are the owners and founders of Goats On The Road. Together they have been travelling and working abroad since 2008 and have more than 20 years of combined experience in online business, finance, travel and entrepreneurship. Their expert advice has been featured on the Lonely Planet, CNN Money, Business Insider,  WiseBread and Forbes and they also spoke at the World Tourism Forum in Istanbul about the business of travel blogging.

Learn more about Nick Wharton and Dariece Swift on their respective author archives on this site and on the Goats On The Road About Us Page.

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14 thoughts on “What Is A Backpacker?

  1. This one made me laugh out loud… “When he is sick, he will tough it out for a couple of days in the $3 room with no a/c and a shared squat toilet. Only after he has sweat out 15 litres and his thighs ache from squatting 10 times a day, will the backpacker opt for the $10 room with a TV, a/c and a hot shower.”
    SO TRUE.

  2. Haha, glad to hear you liked it…and can relate to it!

    You are a true backpacker 🙂


  3. Good stuff. Just found your site. I’ve never used the cardboard core of a roll of TP, though. How does that feel?

  4. Good stuff. Just found your site. I’ve never used the cardboard core of a roll of TP, though. How does that feel? I opt for my hands and water instead, and some tough scrubbing with soap afterwards…

  5. Ah the Indian way. Ya we’ve done that sometimes too. The best is the bum jets they have in southeast Asia. Gives a good, sanitary clean! (Y)

    Thanks for commenting Max.

  6. hahah, that is actually a really good toilet! You’re right, we try to have as much fun as possible 🙂


  7. Can’t wait for my trip to Thailand and SE asia.. you guys have been a great help in thinking this through and I’m join with the flow!

  8. Wonderful article! It is so recognizable. I have suffered so much walking long distances with my heavy backpack to avoid a taxi or even a tuktuk/rikshaw for fear of being ripped off, and because walking is free. Initially I would check 5 or more different hotels/hostels/guesthouses to make sure I would get the best value for money (and still often settling for the cheapest one – as described in the article). Checking 5 different money changers to make sure you get the one with the best exchange rate of the day, and then be disappointed when you incidentally come across one that has an even better rate… Sadly as a ‘single’ traveler you have to take your backpack with you everywhere (climbing many narrow stairs to reach the reception only to find out that there’s no vacancy), or entering a shop, or looking for a toilet, or on public transport. You are certainly an easier target for potential thieves. They’ll suggest to help you with your bag when changing buses (problem is – when carrying a small day pack in the front and a large one on your back – you always need to put one down). You say: ‘I can handle it myself thank you’, but they may grab it in a second – and when skilled – steal something from it (the day pack is not always locked at that moment). That’s how I lost my money belt with camera in it; usually I wore it on me, but there’s always the odd moment when you don’t. And they may have been observing you beforehand… And then when your large backpack gets stolen – but that’s another story – you feel like a limb has been amputated. You can’t stop thinking of all the things it contained, and the backpack itself. Some items have been your faithful – useful – travel friends for so long. You can only hope that someone else will make good use of them; otherwise the loss is almost impossible to overcome. And ‘tour groups’ they are to be avoided at all cost (esp. at a museum – such a noisy bunch, they’d crush you to get near a showcase), but you are still secretly ‘proud’ when you find out they are from your home country. Especially when you realize they’re paying at least 10 times more than you, and you are your own boss. Oh yes, and writing everything down in a small note book, even the tiniest of expenses… As to toilets: my all time favorites are the high tech ones in Japan. And the oddest ones, the wood shacks in Nepal where the pigs do the cleaning (you don’t see them, but you hear them).

  9. Hi Helga!

    Thank you for your comment, I haven’t seen this post of ours in ages 🙂

    Good one with the money changer observation…oh, and good point for solo travellers, you always have to carry your bag with you. That makes travel days even harder. I noticed that one time in Canada when we were home for a visit. Nick was with his fam and I was with mine. I went to the bus station to travel to meet up with him and I had to use the toilet. I turned to Nick – who obviously wasn’t there – which left me with asking a stranger to watch my 2 huge bags I had at the time ( I took my day bag with me). It made me think of how hard it is for solo travellers! Have you lost your big bag before?


  10. Thanks for the information that you post I really love to read your article and it can give additional information to all backpackers out there and people who love to travel will know what is backpacking. Thanks guys! Great post! 🙂

  11. LOVE this!! Almost passed on this one, since I pride myself on being an expert on packing light, but this was not at all what I expected! Laughed out loud several times,embarassed that I can relate to some of the more disgusting aspects of being a backpacker lol.

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