This is a conversation that backpackers throughout the world have had over a pint or five of the world’s cheapest lagers. Sure enough, we’ve all been there. Standing there, in sweltering heat at passport control of a third-world country, carrying the backbreaking-weight of months on the road. Out of nowhere, a mob of package tourists lines up beside you dressed in their Bermuda shorts and Hawaiian shirts.
Their simplistic, wide-eyed naivety and downright stupid observations just irritate tremendously. If it weren’t for the tonne on your back, you just wanted to slap some sense into them and give them a lecture on how they’re not gaining fully making their damn time, before security comes to drag you away, followed by a prompt red-stamp and an escorted walk to the next plane home.
I’m not the only one who feels like this; backpackers from Thailand to Timbuktu all feel a uniquely similar way about the ‘package tourist.’ Nevertheless, why do we feel like this and are we right in doing so? To answer these questions, we need to cover all bases, and look at the factors that separate ‘us’ from ‘them.’
Well, where should we start? Things are completely different between the world of backpackers and tourists! I guess the easiest way to describe our existence as a backpacker is that we travel to experience culture and a way of life that is vastly different from our own. We push ourselves to feel what others feel and put ourselves in their shoes. To do this, we backpackers may experience some discomforts, such as the horrid squat toilet, but we know that this is an unchangeable part of the way that we travel.
Tourists, on the other hand, travel purely for relaxation and pleasure. Sure, they may be searching for tiny bite-sized portions of the culture, but I can tell you now, they’re not after the real deal like us. They’re certainly not spending 13 hours on a train, drinking vodka with an old bearded Siberian man who tells you fascinating stories about his misspent time as a youngster. They’re the ones in the air-conditioned coach, with a well manicured and ‘pretty-ed up’ tour guide who speaks fluent English, taking happy snaps of… god knows what.
You see, good and bad, black and white, up and down, rich and poor – backpackers and tourists are situated at the total opposite ends of the spectrum, and the manner in which they travel is totally incompatible. For example, if you gave $500 to a backpacker, they would visit five places over five weeks, whereas a tourist would spend the money in a single week at only one place. The backpacker would accuse the tourist of wasting the money, and the tourist would say that the backpacker totally wasted their time.
However, throughout all of the silly “I’m better than you” argument, perhaps backpackers are being a little snobby and superior when dissing the tourist. Sure, we’ve all had that conversation at some stage during our life on the road, but maybe we are being a little too harsh… Just a little? If the package tourists choose not to open their mind up to the reality of the real world and experience the stunning contrasts of culture that our world is fortunate enough to possess, then “let them eat cake,” I say.
Probably the closest of shared qualities between the two would be the desire to at least get out of their home city and go somewhere. Nothing irks me more than hearing someone without a clue utter the words: “So, why would you wanna go there?” Grrr, that really does make my blood boil.
Additionally, it should be pointed out that the “tourists” that we speak of are generally older travellers who want a greater level of comfort as they make their way around. Backpacking is a skill that definitely is more of a young person’s way of travelling. The thought of watching my mother carry a backpack equivalent to her own weight makes me laugh aloud as I write this. Who knows, some of them may very well have been a part of the first wave minimalist travellers as what we now know today as backpackers.
To sum it all up, the gap between tourists and backpackers is immense, but there are certainly some reasons as to why these people choose the type of wrapped-up, served-on-a-platter-style, sausage factory holiday that they do. You’re sure right it’s easier, but with the added comforts goes the experience to live and walk in the footsteps of the locals. While some of the tourists are genetically programmed to annoy the hell of out backpackers, many have a good enough reason to do it. Who knows, later in life you might find me sitting in the back of a Trafalgar Bus!