‘What the hell are you talking about?!’ is what you’d probably say right after reading the title since I’m carrying a huge backpack when I travel. No worries! The explanation will be as brief as possible.
Amongst all frequent travellers, there are some words used to describe the way of what they do. Tourist, backpacker or just traveller are the most common labels. We have to admit that we all have an instinct of labelling things, ways, and people at different levels. While it could help us to differentiate one from another, it might also make oneself fall prey to be misunderstood or to be misjudged.
I would like to mention the notion ‘backpacker’, which has already existed for decades but has changed its shape over time. The history of backpackers traces back to the post-WW2 period and it has always been out there even before that in some different forms. It has just changed the way we see it. Today, we unfortunately call someone backpacker who usually follows the same route, takes the same picture, does the identical things as the others do and talks about himself/herself all the time. Unsurprisingly, the topic is mostly how many countries they have seen and how self-amusing things they have done. To be honest, I’m so sick of hearing the same bullshit from those kind of people who always think and talk about themselves and their ‘ unique achievements’. I don’t say that people shouldn’t be proud of themselves but we should sometimes ask ourselves if being self-repetitive takes us to an upper level.
I feel like the subject of our conversation must immediately switch to the things that we can do for the people living in those countries that we visit. I mean the people who live below the poverty line and can’t even properly feed themselves. I guess our trips will be much more meaningful if we start talking about what we can offer to those people rather than bragging about how many countries we have visited or which rocks we have climbed. I don’t say that we shouldn’t climb the cliffs but I just want to see these rock climbers talking about the community rather than themselves egoistically.
It is not the word ‘backpacker’ what bugs me. I just don’t like how it is described today. This is why being a backpacker is something that I wouldn’t take for who I am or what I am doing. When I carry a huge 80 lt backpack all the way long, I might literally be called a backpacker by its actual meaning but not by its connotation that people mostly assume. Today, I am not quite sure if we can honestly discern whether some is a tourist or a backpacker. If we could have seen the differences of these two clearly, we would have said that labelling could help describing them. From what I have observed, those who call themselves backpacker mostly refuse to be called tourist because of, once again, what we imagine of the notion ‘tourist’.
Let me take who local people usually call tourist in South East Asia as an example. Unfortunately, you are still labelled by your skin colour. The reason is not that local people are intentionally bad. There are many understandable reasons hidden behind. Socially speaking, nobody actually cares about your skin colour or religion. One of the most vital and inevitable reasons is economical. We always need to put ourselves in the shoes of others in order to understand what drives them to act in some certain patterns. Just imagine yourself checking the price of a watch hanging on a stall in a night market in Bangkok / Thailand. [Consider yourself having an obvious European look]. Would you expect the stall owner to give you the same price as they do for a Thai looking and speaking person? Even if you can get the same price eventually thanks to your excellent negotiatiation skills, it still doesn’t mean that you are given the same price at first sight, which is just because of your appearance. For some, this might be wrong and unacceptable or even inconceivable. However, I’m trying to see this situation in their eyes and to put it in a logical way. [This doesn’t mean that I don’t bargain:)] Even though I don’t like generalizations, what we call tourist in SE Asia is mostly much richer than the locals and being there for their pleasures.
The individualism is at its peak in Western culture by the rise of a merciless capitalist system as we all know in basic terms. What we don’t know or can’t notice is how selfish we are getting day by day. I don’t blame anyone here whatsoever but we have to realize this fact so that backpacking might regain its valuable meaning. This is not only for backpackers themselves but also for the people that they could be influencing and inspiring.