My red suitcase is standing in a corner amongst a sea of large backpacks.
As I left it in the care of the receptionist after checking out from my hostel in Luang Prabang, Lao, I became suddenly aware of my oddity: I was the only one with a suitcase. Some fellow travellers were giving me slightly strange looks. I felt I was some sort of outcast.
And that took me back to the conversation I had with a new friend over dinner a few nights before. “Do you travel with a backpack or a suitcase?” she had asked me. “A suitcase”. “Then you are a Flashpacker”.
A Flashpacker. As opposed to a Backpacker.
It sounded like a death sentence. I now belong to a different tribe. I am different. A subtle feeling of panic started seeping in.
Am I a Flashpacker? How did that happen? When did that happen? And what does it actually mean?
Yes of course, there is the suitcase business. These days I often travel with a suitcase – instead of a backpack. It’s just more practical. Easier to carry, sturdier built, padlocks. All plus points.
But swapping a backpack for a suitcase seems to have more of a sociological meaning than I would have thought. It’s not seen as a choice for practicality but as a symbol of a different lifestyle.
But is the choice of travel luggage enough to justify the existence of a new travelling tribe? Or is there more to it?
Is it the choice of accommodation?
The words ‘backpacker’ and ‘hostel’ evoke images of grubby bunk-bed dorms and drunken parties till the wee hours. Personally I have done enough bunk-bed dorms in my younger (and not so younger) years, and even lived in a backpacker hostel for a whole of three years. Now it’s time for slightly more comfort. At budget prices surely, but hey when you can have your own double room with ensuite, a/c and TV for US$16-20 per night, the idea of sharing with another 6-8 people appears of little to no appeal. And you can still stay in a hostel for that!
How about the tech gadgets?
Not enought to discriminate, in my opinion. I have seen so many backpackers carrying expensive tech gear in the form of iPads, netbooks, DSLR cameras, and so on. And panicking at the idea of not having Wi-Fi connection for a few days. The ‘toys’ no longer define your tribe.
Is the age factor involved?
Backpackers are usually younger travellers with a very tight budget and plenty of time in their hands. My take on a Flashpacker is that they are older individuals with more cash, more experience, and less time. They’ve done it all before and they now want a more chilled, comfortable and meaningful way of travelling and experiencing places and people.
I personally hate luxury and anything slightly posh makes me cringe, but looking at all the above it sounds like I may have unwillingly upgraded myself to Flashpacker status.
Backpackers vs. Flashpackers: now, which tribe do you belong to?