Is the traditional and inexpensive backpacker doomed?

The change had started before the pandemic. It could be spotted in the changed nature of modern travelers, in their tastes and preferences, in the places they visited, in the accommodation available to them, in the tours offered.

Hiking was a dying art. And COVID-19 could be the final blow.

I say this with sadness as someone who started his career known as “The Backpacker”. I loved the experience of budget travel, long term travel, collecting money and making it last as long as possible with dorm stays and noodle dinners.

But those days are fast becoming a thing of the past. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, and it’s not necessarily a good thing. It’s just. And you just have to look around to see proof that it’s real.

Budget travel had changed before the pandemic. Learn about the series of “flashpacker” hostels appearing in every popular tourist town, how hosts had to adapt to the demands of young travelers. People wanted modern comforts, they wanted privacy, they wanted space, they wanted something that looked good on Instagram and they were willing to pay extra for it.

The styles of movement were also changing. Traditional backpacker favorites such as Contiki had all but ended their line of budget camping tours and headed almost exclusively to more expensive, hotel-based excursions, catering to travelers more interested in culture and culture. the local cuisine only on a massive night at the campsite bar. .

Those classic adventurers, the bus trips from London to Kathmandu of the 70s and 80s where everything would go wrong and people would celebrate the experience, had just ceased to exist.

Tastes change too. Food is now an integral part of the travel experience for everyone, including budget-conscious young travelers. It used to be a point of pride to exist on the cheapest supermarket food you can find, to spend every night in the hostel kitchen making bagged noodles or seeing what unmarked leftovers you could. fly in semi-legitimacy.

But people now recognize that it’s a waste of opportunity, and if you can’t afford to eat locally, you probably shouldn’t be there.

Even the actual baggage changes. Many young travelers have now recognized that a hard-shell suitcase with wheels is much more practical than a big bag with straps if you only jump from town to town on a well-traveled path.

Much of this is because young travelers are just different now. They want different things.

Another part, however, is that the need to travel on a very low budget is decreasing. Previously, hiking was essential – not many people stayed in a dingy dorm with 12 of their smelly new friends because they really liked it – but that’s not so much anymore.

Cheap flights have changed all that. Before, you had to save for years to be able to afford a plane ticket, and when possible, it had to count: you would go to Europe for a year; you would spend six months wandering South East Asia.

But travel doesn’t work like that anymore. You can (or at least you could be pre-pandemic, and you can probably do it again) travel to Thailand for the cost of a few weeks rent. You could fly to the United States for a bit more.

This means that young travelers were able to take shorter vacations than before and spend a little more money on accommodation, tours and experiences once they got there. People just didn’t have to skimp that much.

And then came COVID-19. Ultra-budget travel is likely to be the last sector to recover from this pandemic – all signs are that luxury travel is rebounding first, then so on along the budget food chain.

Because really, who wants to share a room with 10 strangers after experiencing a global pandemic? Who wants to share kitchen facilities with a bunch of other travelers if they don’t have to? Who wants to stay in a dingy hostel with questionable hygiene? Who wants to be pushed into a small space with a bunch of hikes if there is another option?

Our first steps towards international tourism will likely be interim stages, governed by where we are allowed to go and where we are going to be allowed to return home. Few people will want to take undue risks in foreign countries, and it will likely affect the style of travel they choose to indulge in.

This is going to be tough for budget travel companies – in fact, many are already gone, including popular tour operator Tucan Travel and adventure travel specialists Oasis Overland.

There will, of course, always be travelers from all over the world who fit the old backpack label. There will always be low budget adventurers who choose to last it for the experience to last. But the backpack as a cultural phenomenon, as a rite of passage, as an almost assumed experience for young people going out to see the world?

It could be over.

Do you think the hike is over? Why or why not? How do you plan to travel once international visits are authorized? Would you be sad to see the backpack disappear as a cultural phenomenon?

Email: [email protected]


See also: 13 signs you’re too old to be a backpacker

See also: The golden age of cheap and easy travel is over

About John McTaggart

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