Student Travel Diary: Backpacking vs. Flashpacking
Updated: Jul 25, 2020
Backpacking vs Flashpacking... the pretentious debate amongst travellers that often boils down to "I travel better than you". Whether you're a hardened backpacker hitting the hay in 18-bed dorms or a flashpacker who knows the best private suites for your buck, here we look at the pros and cons of both. Spoiler: THEY ARE BOTH FINE.
Benefits of Flashpacking
Extensive travelling doesn’t always have to involve the dirty grittiness of cliché backpacking. Flashpacking is the new luxury backpacking. Forget living off poorly cooked rice in a 12 bed shared dorm at £5-night hostels, flashpacking is all about seeing the world in a socially acceptable state that your parents wouldn’t be ashamed of. Staying in private rooms, eating out at restaurants and being able to take regular – and sanitary – showers are just some of the perks of flashpacking, and although ultimately a lot more expensive, is an increasingly popular way of travel for the more cleanliness concerned nomad.
The expense, duh. If you have the budget and the inclination to splurge, then go for it. But writing from the perspective of a seemingly perpetually broke student, this is a big con for me. Seriously, down to the last $1. On my trip in Australia, the choice was between $5 meal restaurant, or $1 noodle soup. Guess which one we went for every single time. (And hey, over 7 weeks, this thinking would have saved us $196. Enough for another 196 delicious instant noodle soups...)
The other thing you miss out on? A sense of community and a shared travel experience. The more money you pay, usually the more exclusive the experience. Do you want to mingle with travellers from all over the world, or do you want to spend some time with yourself?
Benefits of Backpacking
Backpacking in the more traditional sense does it have its perks too, though. Aside from potentially saving a huge amount of money overall, the whole backpacking exercise can result in a multitude of experiences you may not have even known about if taking the somewhat easier road of considerable comfort. Staying in a shared dormitory, for example, isn’t the most pleasant types of accommodation. But the people you meet and stay with habitually very easily and quickly become friends, and with this, comes the sharing of tips and advice about the various different places they may have visited. This kind of information is more often than not stuff that you won’t find in the guidebooks.
Other perks of backpacking include a complete immersion into the new culture that surrounds you. Staying in a nice hotel and eating at nice restaurants is…well, nice. But is often catered to a Western market, meaning you miss out on taking part in the true culture of the country. Whether this means the type of food you eat, or even how you actually travel about, budget backpacking often results in living the way the people of the place you’re visiting really live and can be an eye-opening and exhilarating experience.
For example, having very little money in Bangkok means if you need to get across the city, you’re probably going to have to get in a Tuk-tuk – a terrifying cross between a motorbike and a rickshaw. Opting for this way of getting about rather than the comparatively tame taxi drive is arguably one of the highlights of the city, and something that accesses to money may make people avoid.
On the other hand, though, staying in more expensive places and spending a decent amount on food throughout your trip can be safer, easier and generally more reassuring than staying in dodgy but cheap areas and eating solely from street vendors. Although not common to feel threatened in hostels, the added security of a hotel definitely helps to ease concern in particularly dangerous parts of the world. I’ve had some pretty bad hostel experiences – the worst being the cheapest hostel I could find in Sydney. It was obvious why it was so cheap – 4 people squashed into a tiny cupboard room, with the hole in the ceiling above my friend’s bed nicely dripping water from an unknown source onto her bed. With about $100 left for another week away between us, it is needless to say that we shared a single bed for our entire stay.
While the more hard-core backpackers may look at the new generation of flashpackers with a slight sneering smile of superiority over their 10p noodle soup, it doesn’t really matter in what style you travel. If the only way you’ll be happy touring the world is with a few added home comforts, then so what? Personally I love backpacking, and wouldn’t want to travel any other way, even if I had the means to do so. There are many ways to travel, and the only thing that really matters is that you find the one best suited to you.