Backpackers vs Flashpackers


My red suitcase is standing in a corner amongst a sea of large backpacks.

Red suitcase
The “culprit” in isolation

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. partiesPersonally 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!

Hostel room in Luang Prabang
My room in Khammany Inn Hostel in Luang Prabang, Lao. All mine!!!

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?

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