I Wanna Be a Flashpacker: When Backpackers Grow Up or Get Rich

In my twenties, I was a truly budget backpacker. I traveled with few plans other than a need to be somewhere by a certain date, usually months ahead — perhaps to start a job, or to catch a plane to another continent. I carried everything I needed on my back in one pack, tied my hair back unattractively each day and didn’t bother too much if my clothes got dirty. Getting a cheap night to stay somewhere was important; buying a new handbag was not.

Now that I’ve hit my thirties, I’m almost afraid to say, I’ve noticed my travel habits changing a little bit. These days I’ll pay a bit more for a private bathroom and a room of my own often opting for a cheap hotel, rather than lining up with everyone else; but I don’t mind if this is a private room in a hostel. Sometimes I travel with a suitcase rather than a backpack. And I tend to wear clothes that I wouldn’t be ashamed to be seen in at my local supermarket late on a Friday night.

Photographer in Qatif, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Photographer in Qatif, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia © Jhong Dizon

OMG: I’m Now a Flashpacker

What I didn’t know until recently is that I’ve grown up from a backpacker to a flashpacker.

Heck, this word is even defined in Wikipedia:

A flashpacker shares some of the characteristics of a backpacker: a sense of independence, no fixed itinerary and relatively long periods of travel to more exotic and far-flung destinations. Whereas backpacking is traditionally associated with budget travel and destinations that are relatively cheap, flashpacking has an association of more disposable income while traveling and has been defined simply as backpacking with a bigger budget.

Does this sound like you, too? If you’re flashpacker, or even just a wannabe, then I’ve got some tips on successful flashpacking for you.

5 Ways to Be a Successful Flashpacker

#1: Don’t Forget Your Roots

Nearly all flashpackers used to be backpackers. Don’t forget this carefree attitude to travel you have honed, and if things don’t go according to plan on your travels, just remember that it’s all about the journey, not the destination. Don’t find yourself complaining about a too-hard or too-soft pillow in your hotel — a decade ago you didn’t use a pillow at all.

#2: Don’t Overplan Your Flashpacking Trip

Sometimes flashpackers are squeezing a vacation into annual leave from a job or some other tight timeframe, and the temptation then is to plan your itinerary minute-for-minute to make the most of your relatively short available time. Don’t. You didn’t when you backpacked and you don’t need to now.

Sure, you might need to book more accommodation or transport ahead of time, if you don’t have the luxury of being able to wait around a few days until the next ferry departs, but make sure you don’t fill every minute of your days. Remember that finding daily activities spontaneously is one of the best ways to ensure you have a memorable trip.

#3: Don’t Feel Guilty for Taking Shortcuts

On your flashpacking trip, you’re bound to come across backpackers who are spending a year traveling across Europe and can’t believe you’re about to board a budget flight from Berlin to Barcelona when they’re going to do it overland. But you’ve done this before and don’t need to feel guilty that you’re taking a shortcut.

It all depends on the goal of your trip and the time you have available, and if you want to see a couple of cities in detail without dealing with long bus and train rides in between, that’s absolutely alright.

#4: Don’t Be Ashamed to Splash Out

Flashpackers typically have a much bigger budget than backpackers, usually because they’re older, in more stable jobs and have had a chance to save some money after those young years of penniless travels got them home broke. This usually means that while you don’t have so much time at your disposal, you do have more liquidity, and you deserve to enjoy this.

If that means that your dream is to buy up big on expensive (but truly delicious) Belgian chocolates from a corner chocolatier in Brussels, do it (yep, that’s my dream). If you want to try each of the most expensive types of beer at a brewery in Munich, go for it.

Man on train next to iPod charger

#5: Don’t Forget the Technology (and the Chargers)

If you can’t travel without your laptop, iPod, digital camera and cell phone — and probably a bunch more technology — you have probably graduated from backpacker to flashpacker. Whether it’s to stay in touch with home (or even work), or to be able to transmit text and pictures of your adventures as you go, most flashpackers can be found right next to the backpackers in an internet café, but they’re more likely to be logging on with their own laptop. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

#6: Don’t Forget to Give Something Back

Perhaps the best thing about being a flashpacker is that now when you see some injustice or inequity in your traveling world, you have both the cash and the ideas to actually help out a bit. Now that I’ve got some cash to spare, for example, I buy the latest Big Issue magazine from every homeless vendor I see selling it. I still don’t give to beggars in the street in Asia, but I’m savvier about researching how I can help them and donating funds to worthwhile NGOs. And volunteer vacations are much higher on my list now since I can finally afford some of the fees they need to stay sustainable.

Are You A Flashpacker, Too?

Flashpackers represent a new generation of travelers, and the definition is still evolving. Do you consider that you’re a flashpacker? I’d love to hear about the other characteristics of being a flashpacker, so let us know in the comments.

65 Responses

  1. Eric Lee

    I must say this is a great article i enjoyed reading it keep the good work :)

    Reply
  2. Marie-Julie Gagnon

    This is (almost) totally me. But there is something that I hate in the «flashpasker» word, probably because everybody has it’s own definition of it. If traveling low bubget with all gadgets you can imagine (MacBook, iPod Touch, n95, cameras, cellphone…) is being a «flashpacker», I’m fine with it. But I definitively have less cash at 33 than in my twennies (house, kid, life… you know?)! I have to admit that I start liking hotels more and more these days, but I definitively want to keep being a backpacker at heart!!!!

    Well… I guess it all goes with that non-growing-thing. Being an adult? NEVER!

    Reply
  3. james emmans

    I’m a no clothes traveller – I buy my cothes as needed and give them away before getting on a plane. I use cyber cafes instead of a laptop, it makes a lot of sense you can skye and do most things in cyber cafes.

    Reply
  4. james harris

    i think that if i were to be labelled as a flashpacker (it doesn’t have to be bad terminology..), it would be because i have ‘budgetpacked’ my way around the globe for 5 years and as i get older and make a little more income, i feel as though during the day i want to be a backpacker but at night and for food, i want and can afford a little more. I have lived in the cheapest accommodations for years but now realize that it is not always necessary to stay there to get a backpacking experience. these days there are many types of backpacker out there and as a result, many different experiences to be had. id consider myself more of a gourmetpacker these days whereas at first i was an avid partypacker….

    Reply
  5. denis corcoran

    yeah i agree with you james, there seems to be an evolution of the backpacker word itself, according to travelers specific styles, ive also been a bit of a partypacker myself over the years, but i def see myself as a food lover so i guess you could say im a gourmetpacker as well haha
    great article

    Reply
  6. Gustaf

    Haha, how ironic this is. You see, I was (I guess still am) a Flashpacker, but I DOWNGRADED!!!

    I always travelled comfortably (as in, not packing more then I need, but still have the gadgets I want), but now, I am doing a crossover from North to South Africa, and decided to go Backpacker… CAVEMAN style.

    I have the smallest computer you can imagine (Highly Advanced UMPC), as well as GPS modules and anything needed, But this, which takes no space, I have decided, after long deliberation, to LEAVE IT AT HOME.

    I am not only leaving my useful gadgets, I am also leaving style and grace, as I will pack limited clothes, and most likely be a dirty little boy after a week on the road, but I thought, its worth it, just for this time, I rather be robbed of nothing, then robbed of everything, as then atleast I can remember the interesting experience, then the loss of goods.

    Maybe I should leave the toothbrush too?

    Reply
  7. Mike

    My wife and I are flashpackers and we didn’t even know it. We felt a little guilty or even ostracized for having a bigger budget than backpackers, and it’s great to see that we have nothing to be ashamed about and we’re not alone.

    BTW, if you want to check out photos, stories, and videos from our round-the-world trip, go to SpotHopping.com. There are no ads or anything; it’s a labor of love.

    Reply
  8. Nils the Gnomad

    I’ve never heard the word “Flashpacker” before, but it makes sense to me. The same in my life: During studying I travelled low cost – but now I wouldn’t go without my lifebook and my ipod. Pay a little bit more for my room – but all that stuff without knowing where to go tomorrow…

    Great article!

    Reply
  9. Carlos

    I have never backpacked nor flashpacked anywhere. Always took packaged tours or paid to be comfortable. My first experience will be in a few months travelling to Europe with my current flashpacker girlfriend. She hopes to wean me off tours. I fervently hope it is as good an experience as everyone says it is and not all hype.

    Reply
  10. Ant

    I’m a flashpacker-in-denial. I hate the term, it has the potential to create barriers in the backpacking world, the same as tour groups are perceived by back/flashpackers today and backpackers are perceived by 5-star hotels.

    I think the term should be avoided by every decent backpacker on or off the road, because it’s another club we just don’t need. Travelling should be about what they set out to see, not what they take with them to see it.

    Great article though, it’s a hot topic in some hostels in Asia, though usually used to slate the token ‘flashpacker’ in the corner whose tangled feverishly in his wires. I carry an SLR (because I’m into photography), a laptop (because I’m travelling longterm and write a lot), a mobile (because it’s also a useful alarm clock) and all the little batteries and plugs that go with it, but I’m a backpacker and will never concede to the ‘flashpacker’ label until the day I quickly open and close my brown overcoat.

    What next? Poppacker for those on the main trails; Barrackpacker for those heading stateside; Greenpacker for the potheads; STApacker for the RTW ticketeers; Fudgepacker for the umm, comedy value; Silverpacker for the over sixties?

    Have we got to the point where we’ve saturated travel so much, that we’re turning on ourselves to label and pigeon hole the very people that are known to promote free spirit and everyman views?

    Reply
  11. Benny Lewis

    Fascinating article!! I’ve also moved on from my days of sleeping on rocks and eating the cheapest muck I could find to now renting my own place (I stay for months at a time in destinations, so it works out cheap enough). I had heard about the term flashpacker before, so I’m glad to see others are in the same boat.

    Some people believe the term means travelling with an i-pod / laptop, but I think that eventually most backpackers will have all of that anyway (although I’ve met plenty of pure budgeters who hitchhike everywhere and busk for money; their status will never be disputed!)

    I don’t think it even has that much to do with money, since I know some rich backpackers but they are really willing to rough it whereas I might prefer the more comfortable option. It depends on your motivation for travelling. Some do it for adventure, some do it for the people they meet. If travelling is your life then roughing it gets old fast. I’m on my 7th “gap year” in a row now, so I’m not afraid to say I’m a flashpacker and focus on other aspects of travelling such as getting to know the local culture and language better, which is actually prevented by sharing a room in a hostel with 10 snoring Americans. At least non of us are tourists though (boo!!) :-P

    Reply
  12. Ant

    WHAT?! I was with you until the end Billy, but we’re all tourists!

    You’ve just opened a can of worms about the age old ‘tourist vs traveller’ malarkey (which isn’t a bad thing, it needs updating anyways!). Once again though, it stinks of hierarchy.

    Reply
  13. Jet Set Life

    Hey there,
    We travel around the world for Jet Set Life and understand full well that it’s a sad day when the backpack get’s traded in for the Luie Vuitton. But, the truth is if you focus on the experience it can be just as wonderful.
    Cheers

    Reply
  14. Jill Nash

    Hello there.. love this article. For those who want to backpack in style, are all grown-up and in need of a bit of comfort then check-out the new guidebook series by Luxury Backpackers.. a bit like ‘flashpacking’ but less of the flash and more of the action & adventures! Visit http://www.luxurybackpackers.com

    Reply
  15. Marco van de Kamp

    Yep I became a flashpacker to.

    10 years ago it was hard to find internet somewhere.

    5 years ago it was hard to miss internet, it was everywhere

    Now, can I live without my flashpacker stuff? I doubt it, a week or 2 yes but then I need to recover from my email overload for a week ;)

    Reply
  16. Nicole

    Flashpacker describes my travel habits 100 percent, and this was before the term existed. Let’s see. My focus is always the human connection, so I try to blend in the moment I get to my destination by visiting all the mundane places where locals visit. I avoid all tourist hot spots, eat only locally prepared food and get to know business owners, and I make sure to stick to my low-calorie diet. I try to get at least two spa treatments per trip, and my mobile phone has a roaming service so it rings wherever I am in the world. I never shop for souvenirs because I have everything I need at home. I also plan my wardrobe ahead so I can look as if I “belong” rather than t-shirts. I get lots of concessions, people are nicer to me, and I get invitations to really cool events that don’t get advertised in the newspaper. On one trip, I ended up house-sitting for a new friend who was overseas! How’s that for flashpacking?

    Reply
  17. Craig Zabransky

    Yes, it is true I am a flashpacker. And one other advice I’d like to offer is when you find yourself out with true backpackers that is another time when you can do #6 Give something back.

    Many times, I have treated younger or more budget conscious travelers to a round of beers, a meal, etc.. But I am just returning the favor from when I was only a backpacker myself and enjoyed such generosity.

    stay adventurous,
    Craig

    Reply
  18. Timm

    It’s just nice to have the opportunity to be a flashpacker. I love to have my laptop with me, travel first class in Asia and still get in contact with local people.

    Reply
  19. Josh

    Labels, shmabels. I’m with Ant 100%.
    If you can afford to leave, and yer there for the experience, yer a tourist and what’s wrong with that?

    Cheap alone doesn’t mean authentic.

    Because whether it’s today or 20 years ago, to locals in many countries, backpackers are rich, and treated as just another *variety* of tourist. With all the hostels, beer bars, travel agencies, coach trips and tour guides, an experience that caters to backpackers can be just as artificial as one catering to 5-star hotel patrons.

    You can stay in a hostel or a 5-star Hotel. When you hit the street outside, it’s up to you where you go, who you talk to, whether you try to pick up the language, and what you see.

    Reply
  20. susan

    Prefering to think of myself as a traveler (I know just kidding myself) A tourist by any name, a label. Hmmm. But it does describe my habits for the last few years so Flashpacker it is. Miss hitching and the happenstances from locals picking one up, backpacks overloaded and tied to the top, side, hood of a car, but love knowing I can afford my own room instead of a couch complete with a shower. I agree we can appear rich and ugly to locals, I know fellow tourists have embarrassed me when I listen to them rant for the slightest inconvience. Quiet class is what we are obligated to pocess when traveling. We are guests.

    Reply
  21. Jeanette

    Great article! We too share the passion of travelling and we definitely love flashpacking! We traveled the world with our “trolleys”, netbooks and high-heels for 3 months and managed to travel always in style and never catched sight of a cheap hostel ;-)

    Our mission: “follow-your-trolley” – in search of truth, simplicity and a gentle breeze of glamour”.

    As we finished our worldtrip, we’re now focused on nice city-trips throughout Europe! Exciting & fun!

    Have a look at our travel-blog: http://followyourtrolley.wordpress.com/

    Seeya, flashpacking-folks, probably somewhere at the next airport-gate…

    Reply
  22. vinayak upadhyay

    yes.. the hippies are history. and the flashpacking is mystery..

    Reply
  23. Keltic

    We did backpack in the 70′s, (1 1/2yr) 80′s, 90′s. back at it now. WE retired and oh boy it is so much fun to be on the road again with no heavy restraints! We are flashpackers now but the trails have also improved in what is offered for so cheap. Life is grand.

    Reply
  24. munggur

    love the term “flashpacker”. yep, i did it once when i went to Japan, combine cheap backpack hostel with staying in ryokan. love the experience without sacrifiying the budget too much but get quality trip as well.

    Reply
  25. Sarah Rodgers

    Yayyyyy….done my share of backpacking…..I embrace the term flash packer…..I have arrived!!!!! Just because some slum it and wear the token bead necklace under their work shirt, doesn’t make them a more honourable traveller! It’s your state of mind when you step onto the street !

    Reply
  26. Eilidh

    This pretty much defines me,i am a flash packer and Craig sums it up when he comments on giving something back. without flashing the cash I love to buy a round or a large pizza to share, I’ve been the broke hungry person so often before! now that I’m a full time professional, I still plan out my 2 weeks off the same way I did my 6 or 12 week adventures; there’s no such thing as getting lost, only seeing something you hadn’t meant to!

    Reply
  27. AnitaMac

    I think I am more of a quasi flashpacker!!! Loved doing the RTW backpack trip – although I see strong flashpacker tendencies even then – but now I think the label is more than a wannabe and not quite full fledged – so quasi flashpacker it is! Have more money – less time! Great tips – think I mostly live up to them! Instead of planning every minute – I plan everything I hope to do and see where the wind takes me! It is more about the experience than checking off all the places!

    Reply
  28. jallenfr

    For a while I was thinking of myself as a ‘crackpacker’, as I wandered around SE Asia, OZ and NZ, with my trusty Blackberry (you know the term for those of us addicted to bberry..crackberry?). BBM was my lifeline to home.
    Flashpacker is an interesting term….I think I prefer it to the ‘other’ connotations one might apply to crackberry.

    Reply
  29. Falk

    Anyway – the world gets more and more flashpackerish – when I started travelling I was sometimes alone in the jungle in Costa Rica. Now I see even people with Flipflops walking through the “parks”.

    Reply
  30. lee

    i think i lie somewhere inbetween being a backpacker and a flashpacker. Yes I’m in my 30′s but I still like to experience the locals and culture. I still prefer to stay in hostels (its easier to meet people) but i do prefer a single room. I dont really appreciate being woken up at 4am by a bunch of 20 year olds. For me there is a far more hideous term that I could be called and that is those who “backpack” on an 18-30′s tour. you know the kind where EVERYTHING is organised. Oh and I do travel with a netbook now as most places have wifi.

    Reply
  31. Tel

    I’m some of each and it depends on how I’m travelling. Def the small digi camera SLR 3/4ths so it’s small, keen to avoid bedbugs, faster transport if time is limited, tablet for reading and less luggage. Now need to learn how to do it all with carryon only.

    I’m with Ant and Josh.

    Reply
  32. Tel

    And with Anita on knowing what’s available then going with the flow on the trip depending on who I meet, energy level on the day etc

    Reply
  33. Dariece - Goats On The Road

    Fabulous article.

    We’re creeping up on 30 and we’ve already noticed a difference in the way we travel from 24 to 29 years old! Still on a budget, still like to eat street food, sleep in hostels, but we definitely opt for more comforts ie: private bathroom, private room, maybe 2nd class trains in India, etc. As long as you’re enjoying travel, it really doesn’t matter what you’re called!

    Cheers!

    Reply
  34. ays

    i definitely agree with this. as i approached my 30′s, i wanted a little bit more comfort than what i used to avail of when i travelled during my 20′s.

    but it doesn’t matter how you do it, as long as you see the world, be open to people and experiences, that should make any trip worthwhile.

    Reply
  35. Tyrhone

    I’m a definite flashpacker (albeit a poor mans version), I think my backpacking days lasted all of about 8 months before I craved the flashpacking lifestyle.

    Reply
  36. Yogi Roth

    from sleeping on park benches to hostels to now, at times a hotel – yes, this article is spot on. best part is that if you become a flashpacker you still have the soul of the true backpacker…nice work. see you all on the road!!!

    peace

    Reply
  37. Helen

    ha! this explains everything. I’m a backpacker and my other half (2 years older and in his 30′s) is a flashpacker!
    He wont entertain staying any where that doesn;t have an ensuite and I would rather spend less so we can stay for longer, but we some how muddle along to find a compromise :)

    Reply
  38. Steve

    I’m in my late 20′s and find myself transitioning over from backpacker to flashpacker, in many ways. Great article to read, as I had never even thought about these changes before.

    Reply
  39. Paul Tomoni

    Why do people need to feel they have to be defined depending on how they spend money. Who gives a shit.

    Reply
  40. Chris

    I’m undoubtedly now a flashpacker. I still mingle with the backpackers but have more expensive tastes. I think a lot of it comes down to what you bring with you. I now don’t go anywhere without my DSLR and having something of that value with you when you travel demands security. As much as I’m happy to rough it in cheaper places, I have to think of my insurers. :(

    Reply
  41. Flashpacker John

    I consider myself to be a flashpacker. For me flashpacking means seeking out budget travel services, which may not be the cheapest. I apply this philosophy when planning most of my trips, which allows me to travel on a long-term basis.

    Reply
  42. James

    Guess I have just found a great definition for my “adult gap year” travels. Everything fits in my (oversized) backpack, but we never stay somewhere where we need to share a bathroom. Great article. I have blogged it forward. Hope you don’t mind… Here is a link. Let me know if I need to remove it. @whizzyUK: Flashpackers… That’s us! http://t.co/CDyzUGf2Ei

    Reply
  43. Ian & Denis

    I was looking around for ideas with our latest journey, this time to Asia for 3 or so months. Let’s see. We’ve no fixed itinerary, never go with tour groups, spend a little more ’cause we had enough years of traveling on the endless ‘chicken bus’ runs and back of trucks. In the last 25 years we’ve also discovered that (and don’t get your knickers in a knot when I say this), just like food prepared in many cheap eateries in N. America, there’s many times when you can get a better dish if you spend a little more than at your street noodle vendor.
    Guess we’re flashpackers. I thought that we were just average guys in our 50′s. Somehow, when I look at pics of ourselves in Tevas, thrift store shirts and pants, and rolling suitcase/backpacks, it doesn’t really look all that ‘flashy’.
    Still. Nice to have a single word that describes how we travel.

    Reply

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