Meaning and Identity Making Processes in the Backpacker Culture among Backpackers in Central America
Department of Ethnography and Social Anthropology, University of Aarhus, Summer 2002
print, or bookmark, click: http://www.anthrobase.com/Txt/A/Anderskov_C_01.htm.
I would like to thank Julie von Müllens Fond for making this research project possible, and all the great backpackers out there for participating in this study.
|Chapter One: Introduction to the Project|
|Chapter Two: Methodological Aspects|
|Chapter Three: Demography and Structure of the Backpacker Culture|
|Chapter Four: Elements of Practice Significant to Meaning and Identity Making|
Becoming a Member of the Backpacker Culture
|Chapter Five: Meaning and Identity Making|
Meaning and Identity Making Processes Interconnected with Backpacking
Appendix A: Top 12 of most popular travelled regions/countries according to the
Every year hundred of thousands young people go travelling in the backpacker manner. They call themselves backpackers and undertake long-term journeys on low budgets to especially Third World countries. It has become the "done thing." Surely not for everybody, but for an expanding number of well educated, young people from Europe, North America, Israel, Australia and New Zealand.
Backpacking is to a large extent a post-modern phenomenon, a culture that contains many of the characteristics that scholars regard as being post-modern: High mobility, the valuating of the visual and abrupt social relationships. Therefore, a study of the scarcely researched backpacker culture may enable a better understanding of our present and future. Scholars regard the post-modern individual, as a rootless and "disembedded" individual, an individual with a strong urge to justify his own existence by constantly exerting self-reflexion and practising meaning and identity making social phenomenons (Urry 1995; Friedman 1994; Giddens in Siebers 2000; Bauman 1996; Bauman 1997). I believe that for backpacking to be meaningful for the individual practising it, the backpacker culture has to be structured specifically in a manner which makes backpacking an identity making exercise; otherwise there will be no reason for the post-modern individual to practice backpacking.
I conducted my fieldwork in the Central American countries of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico during a three and a half months period from May 21st to September 7th 2001. I travelled from country to country with my fellow backpackers as a backpacker. In explaining why they travel and what their goals for the trip are, most backpackers state that they want to meet exotic cultures. I had never been to the Americas and was also looking forward to experiencing new cultures. However, the empirical fact is, that we rarely found the "Other", but what we did find, was certainly no less meaningful. This field report will tell the story of how we found meaning and identity through backpacking.
In 1992 Anders Sørensen conducted fieldwork on backpackers in Southeast Africa (Sørensen 1992a). To my knowledge he is the only scholar who has studied the specific sociality outlived within backpacker tourism as a society. He analysed the values and practises of the backpackers, like ethnographers would analyse any other society and concluded that within the backpacker society certain structural elements existed and were reproduced over time: Hierarchy, specific symbols of exchange, certain practises, exchange of travel information and a specific backpacker ideology. He is the only scholar who has analysed the backpacker phenomenon as an entity, but his findings correlate with scholars who have only analysed certain aspects of the backpacker phenomenon. Riley (1998) has also concluded that there was a hierarchy among backpackers and that status could be obtained by the single individual through actions which correspond with the values of the backpacker culture and Murphy (2001) has shown that exchange of travel information has a central place in backpacker sociality.
None of these scholars have, however, asked why the backpacker culture is structured and reproduced as it is: Why there is a hierarchy? Why the exchange of information is so important to the sociality of the backpackers? And why certain values are cherished and others aren't? In my opinion some scholars have already pointed towards an answer to these questions by arguing that self- realisation and identity making is interconnected with travelling. Deforges (2000) concludes in his study of independent tourists that travelling has a significant importance to the identification process of the tourist. According to Deforges (2000) the journey is "consumed" by the traveller to create the identity the traveller wants to create for himself. In line with that argument, Sørensen (1999) argues that there are two important new social features interconnected with the holiday experience:
Such arguments correlate well with the general concept of a rootless, disembedded post-modern individual, who participates in certain actions or social phenomenons in order to create a meaningful self (Urry 1995; Friedman 1994; Giddens in Siebers 2000; Bauman 1996; Bauman 1997). With background in the above discussion my objective with this fieldwork has been to show:
How the backpacker culture is structured and whether this structure and the practises interlinked with it affect the meaning and identity making processes of the single individual participating in the backpacker culture.
Sørensen's (1992a) study is the most thorough and broad analysis of the backpacker culture to date. The study is, however, also very "introductory" in character (intentionally) and it barely leaves out any aspects of the culture. During my fieldwork I have found the exact same cultural elements, as Sørensen found almost ten years ago in Africa. Therefore, I will only elaborate on the elements of the backpacker culture, which I have found of most importance in fulfilling my objectives, as I hope that by focusing on meaning and identity making processes, I will take the analysis of the backpacker culture one step further and thereby closer to what backpacking essentially is about.
In order to answer my research objectives, I created the following working hypotheses, as a way of having some concrete research questions to work on in relation to my foci:
(1) Backpacking as Culture: Theoretically I understood backpacking as a dynamic structure that arises and is renegotiated out of a need in practice. More exact, I understood the backpacker culture to come into existence in the space/discrepancy between a given travel expectation and the "perceived reality" experienced by the traveller at the very beginning of the trip. I believed the backpacker culture has a hierarchical structure, where individuals can negotiate a higher status in the hierarchy by means of exchanging symbols of status (Sørensen 1992a; Murphy 2001; Riley 1998). Statuses are not set but are constantly negotiated according to the social context. Objects of exchange can mainly be obtained through travelling. Wealth, fame, level of education and so on, has no place in the hierarchy. I saw the structure as a "free zone" where all norms and rules are centred on forcing the individual to join the "game" and take advantage of his own freedom. I regarded the value system of the culture to be one that promotes individual freedom, where the freedom to keep travelling and maintaining this freedom is the overall goal. That makes the backpacker culture free from responsibility towards anyone or anything (apart from the individual backpacker).
(2) Values of the Backpacker Culture: As explained above, I believed freedom to be the most cherished value in the backpacker culture. Although I knew it would not be directly possible for me to research this aspect of the culture, I still believed that backpackers would bring back home values and ideas (Deforges 2000) from the backpacker culture and start imposing them on their home structures.
(3) Critique of Backpacking Understood as a "Rite de Passage": Others have understood the backpacking phenomenon as a "Rite de Passage", a secularised ritual (Sørensen 1992a; Sørensen 1999; Urry 1995). These scholars regard backpacking to be a highly "meaning-creating experience effecting the identity making of the individual", so did I. But I did not regard the experience to be a secularised ritual, as the theory completely leaves out the problematic situation of homecoming (Bruner 1995) and the fact that backpackers travel repeatedly. My thesis was that backpacking is meaning and identity making because of the social exchange conducted within the backpacker culture and not because of the journey sui generis, as the "Rite de Passage" theorists claim.
(4a) Backpacking and the Post-modern Individual: Many scholars concerned with post-modernity regard the post-modern individual as a rootless and "disembedded" individual with a strong need to justify his own existence by ways of constant self-reflexion and meaning-and identity making actions (Urry 1995; Friedman 1994; Giddens in Siebers 2000; Bauman 1996; Bauman 1997). From that I deducted, that in order for the travelling exercise to be meaningful, it also had to be identity making, otherwise there would simply be no reason for the post-modern individual to participate in this specific exercise.
(4b) Meaning- and Identity Making: The concept of meaning and identity making has been borrowed from Hans Siebers (Siebers 2000). In a critique of Bauman's and Gidden's understanding of identity making, he uses this concept to explain how individuals create meaning and identity and how those two factors are interlinked. According to Bauman (Bauman in Siebers 2000), the post-modern individual obtains brief visual "snapshots" of "reality" and use them to create a certain identity for a brief moment in time; a very flexible, but not very stable identity. Giddens (Giddens in Siebers 2000) on the other hand, regards the individual of our time as constantly trying to create a coherent narrative; a rather stable identity. According to Siebers both understandings of identity making are equally correct - or incorrect, because individuals use both methods to create meaning and identity. The little fragments of stability that Bauman operates with are, according to Siebers, constantly negotiated into the larger narrative, which Giddens is operating with. I wanted to research whether or not the backpackers created their identity in accordance with Sieber's concept of meaning and identity making.
To draw a boundary around a group of people who travel world wide, constantly - but not in the same time/space constellation and also socialise in the "non-place" of cyberspace, is not an easy task in the sense that ethnography mainly delimits its object by means of geographical boundaries (an island) and/or by a consistent group of people (teachers in a specific public school). - But backpacking has no geographical limits and the individuals who practise backpacking do not form a consistent entity; each individual stop travelling at some point, go home and is thereby no longer a backpacker. Sørensen (1992a) does however use a "society" analogy to delimit his object, as he so rightfully argues that although he can not return to the backpacker "society" where he conducted his fieldwork and meet the exact same people, he will still be able to go back and find the same norms, conducts, values and so on (Sørensen 1992a: 3). As already mentioned this report will show that he was right in that argument - that the backpacker culture hasn't changed remarkably over the last ten years. In his latest study on independent tourism Sørensen (1999) doesn't use a society analogy anymore, but defines the backpacker sociality as a: Backpacker culture; a culture that is global in scope (Sørensen 1999: 58-61). His arguments for now using a culture concept instead of a society concept aren't at all clear, as his arguments for using the culture concept are similar to the arguments he used for using a society concept (Sørensen 1992a: 3; Sørensen 1999: 58-61).
With background in Sørensen's (1999: 58-61) use of the culture concept I also used the concept of culture to draw a boundary around the backpacker collective, as it gave me a structured way to view my findings, because I could analyse them via the classical elements contained in the culture concept: Structure, practice, norms and values.
The practical aspects of delimiting my object of study were, however, not easy, because in the field it turned out that not everybody with a backpack was a backpacker. In most "on the beaten track" destinations other categories would mix socially with the backpackers: Volunteers, surfers, independent short term tourists, expatriates, Spanish students, South and Central Americans travelling by means of selling self-made jewelleries and the odd phenomenon of what is best described as drifting American Vietnam veterans. At first it was hard to distinguish between who was who, but after a while it became clear that these other groups, though they may have "looked" like backpackers and socialized with backpackers, did not engage in the same method of travelling. The backpackers have a specific way of travelling where they keep progressing spatially, meaning that though they might do little detours for example "off the beaten track" and later return to the same destination they do not use the destination as a base to venture out from, as tourists often do. The backpackers travelling method is lineal and forward moving and though some tours may be shaped like a circle, the manner of travelling is characterised by it's spatial linearity and forward progression. Furthermore, in comparison to other ways of travelling where the destination is the final goal of the tourist, backpackers value the journey in it self higher than the destination. To put it simply; a person had to be using the backpackers' method of travelling in order to be included in my study.
From my questionnaires I learned that many defined a "real" backpacker as someone who had travelled for at least three months and I heard the same definition in the field where I, as part of the semi-structured interviews, would ask the informant if he was a "real" backpacker? Many of my informants to my surprise answered:
"No! Because I haven't done enough long-term trips, only one backpacking trip, there I was a real backpacker. It takes a minimum of 3 months to be a real backpacker" (Shelly, 27, Canadian)
As this example illustrates some individuals operated with a clear definition of when a backpacker was "real" or not. Although Shelly didn't want to call herself a real backpacker on this trip, she still identified with the other backpackers and behaved like them, and most importantly, the other backpackers accepted her as a backpacker. So I decided to include not just everybody who travelled for three months or were going to travel for at least three months, but also people who had travelled previously for three months (even though their present tour was scheduled to last less than that), as long as they identified as part of the backpacker community (maybe nor verbally, but in practice) and as long as the other backpackers identified them as such and treated them accordingly.
Another line I drew regarded age and nationality. From my questionnaires I knew that the respondents came from Western countries, had an average age of 25,7 and that most of them started travelling at the age of 18-20. Still one of the respondents in the questionnaire was 54 years old, and in the field I did meet about ten middle-aged or older backpackers. To my surprise, I also met one backpacker from Argentina. I chose to focus on the "average" backpacker defined by what I had learned from my questionnaires and from the demographic features of backpackers outlined in other studies (Sørensen 1992a; Riley 1988) that argue that the backpacker culture is primarily a youth culture. Therefore, older backpackers and non-Western nationalities were excluded. Furthermore, I also excluded the older backpackers, as I believed that older backpackers travelled for other reasons (such as midlife crises) than the young, average backpacker.
I chose to conduct my fieldwork in Central America for the following reasons:
My research framework also contained a pre-fieldwork component consisting of a questionnaire survey on the Internet, meaning world wide. Therefore it would be untrue to say that my findings are only limited to Central America. And more importantly, the fact that I limited the region to Central America didn't mean that my informants were only backpacking within that region. Some of them also travelled in North America, Cuba and/or South America on the same trip, or were doing a "round the world tour" including numerous continents.
In order to answer the overall objectives with my fieldwork I designed my research framework to include two components:
In the following I will outline the overall objectives with the two components and elaborate on how the methods were carried out in practice. I will, however, give a more detailed account on the pre-fieldwork component, because I, to my knowledge, am the only ethnographer who has used a chain letter on the Internet, as a method to collect data. Therefore it might be of interest to others to learn about my experiences. I won't discuss the questionnaire itself as it can be found in the appendix, only the method of distributing it on the Internet. The methods in the fieldwork component are already well described in the methodological literature and since I haven't made any "revolutionary" discoveries regarding those methods, I don't see any reason for giving a detailed account on my personal experiences in using them. Instead I will elaborate on the methods and the overall fieldwork process where it is of relevance in direct relation to my findings. An overview of the complete data quantity of the study is included in the appendix.
I included a pre-fieldwork component in form of a questionnaire in order to get some figures on backpackers, since most literature on backpackers have lack statistical data based on a larger sample. Getting data from a larger sample that was preferable global in scope was of importance to my objectives because I made use of the working hypothesis that the backpacker culture was in fact a culture and furthermore that this culture was global in scope. I couldn't fully "prove" this in relation to any of the related literature I read, and I knew I wouldn't be able to travel around the world to conduct my fieldwork, nor did I want to make my fieldwork into a large quantitative study, as I found that a focus on meaning and identity making needed to be researched by means of a qualitative approach (which I will explain later). I saw the Internet as an opportunity to get in contact with a larger population in a short time at no economical costs, and I decided to use this approach, as I already knew from my research on backpacker-oriented webpages that at least some backpackers already used the Internet, as a place to communicate with other backpackers. I sent the questionnaire as an E-Mail to 13 ex-backpacker friends, 4 men and 9 women. Only 7 of them forwarded the questionnaire (5 women and 2 men), still, the questionnaire spread like a bush fire over the next week. Within the first week I received about 50 responses from ex-backpackers from all over the world: Denmark, England, USA, France, Norway, Australia, New Zealand, Slovakia, Germany, Sweden, Canada, and Ireland. The second week the responses were dropping and the third week they stopped completely. However, the questionnaire survey didn't stop there. Somewhere along the way it had been sent to a young woman working for a Danish travel agency, which specialises in backpacker tours. She asked her customers and colleagues to fill it out manually. I was also contacted by the American backpacker website www.hostels.com who posted the questionnaire on their site for their readers to fill out. After they posted the questionnaire I once again experienced receiving a relatively large number of respondents (primarily American and Canadians) during the first weeks and then it reached a steady level of about five responses a week.
All in all I received about 140 answers, but I only processed 100 of the responses in an ACCESS database, as I felt that number gave me a relatively large and diverse, in terms of both age and nationality, sample to work with statistically. The entire chain letter sample and the questionnaires filled out manually consisting of 76 responses and 24 of the responses from the posted questionnaire (randomly selected) were included in the final sample. I analysed the data in two ways: The open-ended questions I analysed by using a general discourse analysis, simply analysing how the respondents answered the questions and what they discussed in answering the questions. The close-ended questions were analysed in the statistical programme SPSS.
As expected, having a large sample with which to compare my findings in the field has been very useful especially in establishing whether certain findings in the field such as educational level, age, values in the backpacker culture and practises, matched a general pattern, or if my findings in the field were just extraordinary cases. I believe that this approach of triangulating different data sets has contributed to a relatively high validity and credibility in this study. This approach also gave me knowledge about the general backpacker discourse before entering the field. That gave me a more structured approach as to which questions I could ask the informants about, which probably saved me a lot of time in the field.
Using this method also provided me with some findings that I hadn't expected - maybe hoped for, but not counted on. It did show that the backpackers had some much extended networks world wide and thereby proved that the backpacker culture was in fact global in scope. Furthermore, I had unintentionally made the mistake to forward the questionnaires as an E-Mail with the heading: Backpackers wanted and on www.hostels.com it had the title: Backpacker survey. I should, of course, have sent it out to ex-backpackers, but instead it was aimed at backpackers. So logically what should have happened was that it should have been forwarded to backpackers still travelling - but out of the entire sample only one person, who was still travelling at the time, responded. The rest of the sample was not backpacking! Still, they responded to something that was aimed directly at backpackers, which, according to all logic, they weren't supposed to identify with after homecoming - but they did! This suggests that the ex-backpackers still identify as backpackers, to some extend, after ended travelling.
One can, of course, argue that by aiming the questionnaire directly at backpackers I just "found what I was looking for", so to speak. In the sense that if I had given the questionnaire another heading such as "Travellers wanted" or " Looking for people who once participated in a long term journey", then I might have come in contact with ex-backpackers who no longer identified as backpackers.
Overall, I have gathered that the closer a chain-letter is to the host-sender, the more responses one will get, and the further away the chain-letter gets from the host, the less responses. So what I know now is that if I truly wanted to get a large survey sample by using this method, I should have focused more on the primary receivers, by for example contacting them again if they didn't respond within the first few days, instead of believing that the "chain" would continue automatically.
The posted part of the survey proved to be more stable in terms of the quantity of responses, still, I would not use that method again, as the quality of those responses were much lower than the quality of the responses I got via the chain-letter. Many of the respondents who answered the questionnaire in its posted form only filled out the close-ended question where they just had to "click" or write a number, in general, they skipped the open-ended questions or just answered the most obvious ones. The respondents who answered the chain-letter questionnaire gave detailed answers to the open-ended questions and in my opinion those answers are of very high quality. I believe that the chain-letter responses are of such a high quality for two reasons: First of all, the respondents knew the person who sent it to them on a personal level, which might have put pressure on the respondent to "answer it properly", and secondly, because the subject of backpacking was of interest to them. The answers clearly show that the respondents were very reflexive about backpacking and also most respondents wrote in the "voluntary" box for "comments" (personal thoughts on backpacking not contained in the questions, personal backpacker stories, ideas for the study and those who had travelled in Central America gave me travel advice). The respondents didn't have to do that. They did it out of interest! This implies that the success rate of carrying out this method was 100% percent dependent on the respondents' personal interest in the subject. I would use the chain-letter method again if I was convinced that the "receiving-end" of the letter was truly interested in the subject at hand, otherwise one will run the risk of not only getting a low quantity of responses, but also a low quality.
I put my methodological emphasis on participant observation. That meant entering the field as a backpacker: Travelling like them, with them, and committing myself to their values and sociality. Only a few researchers of the backpacker phenomenon have chosen this approach (Sørensen 1992a; Riley 1998), whereas most others have collected their data in "non-mobile" settings (Murphy 2001; McGregor 2000; Loker-Murphy and Pearce 1995). The latter would certainly have been an easier and less expensive approach, but I'm glad I didn't take it, as it would surely have excluded me from one of the most central practices in the backpacker culture, The exchange of travel information, which is highly significant to the individual' identity making process, as it is one of the "deciding" factors in the backpacker hierarchy (which I will elaborate on later). If I hadn't been travelling I would not have been able to exchange information with my fellow backpackers, because I wouldn't have had anything of "value" to exchange, thereby I would not have been able to either find nor understand that particular practice and what "it does" to a person participating in it. Furthermore, by entering the backpacker culture as a backpacker and committing myself to the backpacker culture's values, I believe to have undergone the same identity making-processes, as the backpackers and thereby gained a better understanding of my research object. Therefore I was to a certain extent also my "own informant." Some might argue that I could never truly be participating in the backpacker culture, as I was doing research, which the other backpackers obviously weren't, but that wasn't the case. In fact, I had a rare opportunity, one which very few fieldworkers ever get, to be participating 100% in the culture I was studying, because what I was doing was, in backpacker terminology, a project. Just like most backpackers had personal projects to undertake while travelling, I had mine. The fact that my project included studying my fellow backpackers didn't seem to bother anyone, and noone showed any resentment towards my project of studying them. Actually the opposite was the case, and people were very interested in my project and I spent many hours discussing backpacking with them and often informants volunteered for interviews.
My fieldwork took the shape of a backpacker journey and the actual fieldwork process itself therefore resembles a backpacker trip, where some time is spent on practising the journey and some time is spent on a destination. I have analysed my fieldwork process to contain three relatively distinct periods, where I participated in the backpacker culture in relatively different ways and thereby learned about my object of study from different angles:
Costa Rica: 21/5 - 4/6. 15 days. Period one
Nicaragua: 5/6 - 16/6. 12 days. Period one
Honduras: 17/6 -15/7. 31 days. Period one and two
Guatemala: 16/7 -17/7. 2 days. Period two
Belize: 18/7 - 20/7. 3 days. Period two
Guatemala: 21/7 - 15/8. 26 days. Period two and three
Mexico: 16/8 - 22/8. 6 days. Period three
Guatemala: 23/8 -7/9. 16 days. Period three
I used informal, semi-structured and life story interviews. My research foci on meaning and identity making processes meant that I somehow had to study my informants' personal development methodologically. Since I couldn't follow my informants' actual "development" during either his entire backpacker trip, nor from his childhood to old age, I decided to use a narrative approach where I used life story interviews (Miller 2000), but I also built narrative aspects into the semi-structured and informal interviews. Studying a cultural member's personal development, isn't a new problem within our field and whereas I decided to shed light upon that development by asking the informants to tell their life stories by ways of describing their past, present and future, others, such as the structural functionalists, used a similar approach to deal with the problem. They interviewed different age groups to construct a "person's entire life cycle." Both approaches are highly unlikely to provide the "true story" of a person's development, but in comparison to the "life cycle approach", I did at least give my informants a chance to give their own version of who they were and why. Still, I will stress that the outcome of the life stories, the narratives my informants built (which will be analysed in chapter five), are only images of how the individuals saw themselves while they were still in the travelling sphere. This means that their narratives might change the minute they leave the backpacker culture, and they might never carry out any of the things they told me that they were going to undertake in the future. However, my quest was not to research what my informants "truly" did or didn't, what they "truly" were and weren't before, during and after travelling. My objective was to find out how they perceived themselves and their lives, and if that self-perception had anything to do with backpacking, in the small fragments of their lifespans when I knew them. The narrative approach turned out to be very useful for establishing this, as it provided me with a relatively ideal way of analysing both the structures of the backpacker culture and the individuals interplay with them (Miller 2000:75).
"A Backpacker is usually a middleclass person; it is very rare to meet working-class backpackers. I have met a truck driver who decided to quit his job and start travelling, that is quite rare, you usually meet university students or people on short trips who have professional jobs." (Derek, 28, Canadian)
Out of my 36 formal informants: 20 were university or college students or were going to start university after their trips, 13 had a higher education and/or high level jobs (engineers, bankers, researchers, anthropologists) and only 3 informants had lower education (secretary, nurse, dental assistant). These findings correlate with the questionnaire data, where only 4% out of the sample had a lower education. This feature of the demography also matches the findings of Sørensen (1992a) and Riley (1988). Level of education is not a common subject to discuss among backpackers. I believe that the reason for not talking about issues of education and occupation is that the backpackers don't want to be categorised by others and at the same time occupation/education does not have the same symbolic relevance within the backpacker culture, as it does in Western cultures. Still I have met people who felt it as a personal pressure that everyone else seemed to have a higher education. The best example came from the Canadian Shelly; on her first backpacker trip in Southeast Asia she had been travelling with a friend from home. The friend had kept telling other backpackers that she was a trained psychologist, although she was far from done with her psychology studies. This example does, of course, question the credibility of my informants, but apart from this example I have no reason to believe that they were lying about their level of education and occupation. Backpackers do exaggerate on issues that are directly linked to travelling, because there is status in those issues (which I will explain further later on), but education is not a status indicator, so in general I don't believe that informants lie about it.
My field observations showed that there was a striking lack of "non-adopted-coloured" persons. According to my field diary I talked to one Indian/Canadian girl (as in India, not Native American), one black, British girl coming from a black family and one German/Turkish man. Apart from those three, I neither met nor observed more than a two people of colour or "other ethnic background", who weren't adopted such as Danish/Koreans. I hadn't been paying much attention to this demographic feature before Lean, an Indian/Canadian teacher, brought it up. She was rather concerned with the fact, that she had never met another Indian travelling on either of her backpacker trips. She believed that Indians now living in a Western country, such as Canada, were more concerned with "making it" in their new countries than in engaging in travelling and that her parents' generation objected to backpacking, as being a waste of time, a leftover from the hippies. Lean still lived at home with her extended family and she was travelling despite the wishes of her family. Lean's explanation as to why "non-adopted-coloured" people don't travel is very central to the issue, though other social and economic factors play in also. These population's access to education and high-level jobs are of significance, as I have already concluded that most backpackers are highly educated, so no matter which ethnic group a person comes from; participation in the backpacker culture is dependent on level of education.
I didn't observe any overweight persons among the backpackers and out of the hundreds of backpackers I talked to and observed, I didn't observe anybody with any sort of disabilities. It is obvious that backpacking would be very difficult to carry out in a wheelchair, but one could easily go travelling in a backpacker manner with a cribbled arm, a hearing disability or a limp. I believe that the explanation for this demographic feature is to be found in the way backpacking is portrayed both by the backpackers and by popular films or books on backpacking. The portrays of how "rough" travelling can be physically has the effect of excluding people, who do not live up to the standard concept of "normal physical abilities."
I met one homosexual girl and according to my field observations and interviews there is no gay community within the backpacker culture. The lack of gay people within the backpacker culture may be dependent on the average age when people start travelling: Girls at 18 and boys at 20. This will typically be the age where gay people are trying to identify by means of joining more obvious gay communities. The average age of my field informants was 24,9 years. I believe there is an equal number of men and women travelling. However, only 16 men and 20 women participated in my interviews and 67% of the questionnaire sample were women. There are various explanations for this, the main reason being, that I am a women myself. Though the backpacker population is (probably) equally gendered, women travel their first time when they are about two years younger (at 18) than the men (at 20) according to the questionnaire respondents, so the age average in the population is not equal. The most likely explanation as to why women start travelling earlier than men is that women travel with a partner the first time and men don't to the same extent. ¾ of the female questionnaire respondents travelled with a partner the first time and a little less than ½ the men travelled with a partner the first time.
Sørensen (1999:61) has pointed out that the backpacker culture is formed by a community of strangers, meaning that backpackers come from different Western countries and they are strangers towards each other and towards the local cultures they travel in. He argues that the only thing they have in common is that they are backpackers (Sørensen 1999:60-61). As shown above I have found that the average backpacker is a white, well educated, heterosexual, average built person aged 18-30 from developed countries including Europe, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Israel. Therefore, I will argue that even though backpackers are strangers they do have more than just backpacking in common, in fact they form a highly homogenous group consisting of the above mentioned features.
The homogenous demographic feature of the backpacker culture is of significance to the meaning and identity making processes of the single individual. -As the individual constantly meets reflections through meeting new backpackers of what he "could have been or done." This means that if one backpacker can accomplice a goal (whether it is climbing a mountain, becoming better at talking to strangers or telling great travellers tales), the next backpacker can perceive that, as though he himself has the same ability of doing something similar, because apart from age, nationality and gender backpackers are basically spitting images of each other. Thereby there are no distinct differences that argue against the individual being able to do the same things or obtain a similar "image" as another backpacker, whom the individual for certain reasons looks up to or would like to compare himself with:
"You meet people who have done this or that. When I got here I had no ideas, but then I met a volunteer from an AIDS hospice. I had a look, and then worked there for two weeks, met a girl from Medecins sans Frontieres. I would like to work for them, but first I have to go home and study Spanish." (Claudia, 34, Dutch)
"Backpacking is the best way to meet local people and feel free... that's the main thing. You really feel free; I don't like to plan what to do..." (Chantalle, 31, French)
One of the ways in which I have found out what values exist in the backpacker culture, was by analysing the responses to the questionnaire question: "What is a real backpacker?" Even though 2% out of the sample denied that such a category existed 98% of the respondents answered the question with striking similarities. In the following I have extracted some of the least similar responses, in order to show as many of the values I have found in the complete data sample as possible:
"Someone who has only a vague idea of where they will be in two days time, who only uses the Lonely Planet for maps, who prefers talking to locals rather than to other backpackers, and who is someone open to new ideas and experiences." (8)
"Someone who travels with very little means and on the premises of the people and country he or she visits. Someone with an open mind, who is not afraid to set a side the luxuries of privileged Western life in return for different valuable experiences."(9)
"Laidback type, without a strict itinerary. Liberal, peaceful, and relaxed..." (14)
"Travelling "off the beaten track" exploring places never touched before- and the week after partying at a place like Kuta beach in Bali" (15)
"Someone who is: Adventurous, takes risks, independent, extroverted and personally has a strong coping mechanism to deal with crises or bad situations..." (34)
During both semi-structured and life story interviews I would ask my informants "Are you a real backpacker?" many of them, to my surprise, answered no, at the same time, however, they started giving explanations as to why they weren't real backpackers such as: They had too high a budget, they didn't haggle enough, they didn't interact enough with the locals, they didn't take enough chances, didn't go off the beaten track enough or they travelled for a too limited an amount of time. When I compared these answers with the responses from the questionnaire it became clear, that there was a collective idea of what a real backpacker was, and that my informants believed that there was someone out there, who was everything they themselves weren't or couldn't live up to. There seemed to be an ethos of the "real backpacker." I believe that this "ethos of the real backpacker" provides a guideline for how all backpackers ought to be and behave which values to cherish and strive for and which not to. Furthermore, I believe that these values form the fundamental structure of the backpacker culture. The "strongest" values were: Freedom, independence, low budget, tolerance and interaction with locals, most other values seemed to arise from these five basic values, and combined they form a whole set of values. Due to the limited space available in this report I will not sum up each and every value of the backpacker culture, instead I will briefly explain what the five main values include by explicating what my informants conceived as the binary opposition to each value.
The value of Freedom was often expressed by talking about what was the opposite of freedom such as routine, both while travelling and at home, work and school at home, having a set itinerary while travelling, like tourists have, non-mobility - not being able to move around freely, feeling trapped, norms and expectations of family and society, the settled life with house, children and mortgage, not having time for oneself, not having time to explore oneself. The value of freedom was linked to the sub-value of valuating the journey itself higher than the destination.
The value of independence was seen in opposition to compromising on various levels such as letting other people "decide" your trip, not doing what you really feel like, trying to live up to the expectations of friends, family, work, and the norms of society, not being able to manage on your own, not being able to deal with travelling as a whole, clinging to travel companions, doing "touristy stuff". This value lead to other interconnected values such as taking risks, exploring and being adventurous, which again lead to a much cherished value in the backpacker culture - going off the beaten track, which shows that you can truly manage on your own.
Low budget was opposed to high budget, which for example tourists or people travelling short term had, travelling short term, materialism both in terms of owning a lot, which hindered mobility both at home and while travelling and in terms of material living being somehow the cause of man's unhappiness. As an example of this attitude towards materialism many of my informants expressed that one of the main things they had learned from the locals was that though they were poor they were also friendly and smiling, which according to my informants, meant that there was a direct positive link between poverty (interpreted by my informants as non-materialism) and personal happiness. Low budget was also opposed to what the backpackers defined as luxuries such as expensive food, hotels, transportation, clothes and so forth.
The value of tolerance was opposed to people who "thought they were more than others", which lead to a sub-value of equality, being unfriendly towards both locals and backpackers, being intolerant towards locals and backpackers, being un-accepting towards locals and backpackers.
Interaction with locals was very highly valued as opposed to tourists who, according to my informants, never got to know the "real" locals, not "liking" the locals, being intolerant towards them, not accepting the local culture, not trying to live on the terms of the local population, not going off the beaten track to meet the locals.
The values are interconnected and overlapping, but at the same time they are also rather explicit, therefore it is easy for the single individual to "find his way around" in the backpacker culture. Overall the values (apart from interaction with the locals) are interconnected with the value of freedom; meaning that if everybody practises the values then nobody is in a position to judge anybody else and all actors can thereby be and behave as they whish (as long as they follow the norms, which are again centred around freedom and tolerance). Thereby the structure of the backpacker culture with its value system also constitutes a "free zone" where the individual is free to be and behave as he pleases. On the one hand, the structure provides some set norms for good and bad practice, which, in a psychological sense, is important to meaning and identity making, because explicit "rules" make the individual capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, which is fundamental to the individual's self-identification in the world. On the other hand, if the individual chooses to live up to the norms and values of the backpacker culture, he also ventures into a free zone. A zone where he can play different roles, test where his strengths and weaknesses, and overall test himself: Culturally, mentally, socially, intellectually and physically and thereby develop as a person. As an example of how informants use the "free zone" to test themselves and play different roles, one of my Israeli informants told me that during his trip to Australia he went as far as pretending that he was not Israeli, but Dutch. A role he could easily fit into due to his fair hair and blue eyes. He did it in order to avoid being "categorised" by his fellow Israeli backpackers, because as he explained, people from home knew whom each other were and treated each other accordingly the minute they knew where they each came from, and which rank they had in the military:
"After three or four questions you just know the guy or you feel that you know him and judge him so it is hard because he judge you again. You can't really be someone else that is what I mean." (Oren, 29, Israeli)
One way that the values are being reproduced is by telling travellers tales, stories about travelling sometimes experienced by the storyteller, but, more commonly, handed on by a third person. Sørensen (1999a) has analysed such tales in further detail than I have, and concluded that their function isn't to spread "true information" (as many travel tales are often either highly unlikely to have ever happened or just very exaggerated), but to reproduce the values of the backpacker culture. One of my informants told this story:
"A girl was ill at her hostel a friendly Israeli helped her through for one and a half weeks. Then they had an affair and travelled together. After a while he got more and more aggressive, so she told him that she wanted to travel alone. He stole her passport and thereby forced her to travel with him yet another week before she ran off. Then he started following her and she kept meeting him over and over again all the way down to Costa Rica" (28/5, Montezuma, Costa Rica)
This story constitutes the perfect way of telling other backpackers how important it is to hold on to their freedom, their right to choose their own travel partner, and not to cling on to a certain travel party for too long. After having participated in the backpacker culture for maybe just a week, everybody knows what is good and bad practice and how one ought to behave. The values are constantly repeated through verbal discourse and, according to my interviews and field observations, to some extend lived out in practice sometimes, by someone, somewhere. - But surely not all the time by everybody, everywhere! But the verbal discourse is very consistent also in situations, as this one, where the actors are not practising what they are preaching:
"An older woman was mostly up to criticizing the backpackers for not getting to know the local population… an angry Israeli girl picked up the threat and told us that during her one month on Cuba she was together with the locals all the time, and that was the way travelling was supposed to be! An American girl said that that was always the way she travelled and the older woman nodded approvingly... I just sat there wondering what the f... they were all doing in the biggest backpacker hangout of all of Lago Atitlan then!" (15/8, San Marcos, Guatemala)
In the following chapter I will describe and analyse elements of the backpacker practice significant to meaning and identity making. The analysis will make explicit where there are discrepancies and where there is consistence between structure and practice.
"Delhi was the shock of my life; I was petrified I almost cried. I thought: "How am I going to live here?" Because I was expecting to stay five or six months in India after the first day I was just so in shock. I can't do it! ... I was totally by myself it was terrible. I went to a restaurant and sat down and I chatted with some guy and he had been to India six or seven times and he goes back all the time. I was like: "How do you get around? How do you buy a train ticket? How do you arrange that?" - and he was: "Oh it's easy you do this, you do that, it's so wonderful" and he was so cool and calm about it, and it sounded great." (Derek, 28, Canadian)
According to my informants from the semi-structured and life story interviews many of them were struck by confusion and sometimes fear and loneliness, when they got to the first destination on their very first trip. My informants told similar stories about their first meeting with their destinations, where they were rescued either by finding a backpacker hangout or by an experienced traveller who took them under his protective wings for a short while:
"Fortunately there is another man on the air flight with my girlfriend and myself and once we arrive at the airport, him having experience, he had been to India a few times, and he took care of us for the first couple of hours; Showed us where the money changing station was, arranged for a taxi cab for the three of us... And took us to a part of Delhi that was good for backpackers some cheaper hotels and restaurants and other travellers." (Marx, 30, American)
More experienced backpackers don't tend to get confused or scared when they start out on their second or third trip; some of them just get disappointed because they don't experience the "rush" of the first time or because they simply find the destination un-exotic, having little difference to all the other places they have been to - and then they join the other backpackers. Derek, who had been travelling and teaching English abroad for the last five years, explained it like this:
"It has gotten to a point where in the beginning you always choose a youth hostel because that is where you meet people, when you are alone. I'm not a loner. I like to be around people. So I went to the youth hostel and met people and after a couple of days we had a group of people and some Mexicans too and we would go out and have a super good time. Oh yeah, it (Mexico City) was O.K., but it wasn't that spectacular, really. I was just there because it felt good having all those new friends around talking about interesting things, partying, drinking at night. The fact that we were in Mexico was not that impressive actually." (Derek, 28, Canadian)
By analysing similar statements, I have found that the backpacker culture arises from two opposite ends of what I call a "Cultural expectation spectrum": The newcomers get a "negative culture shock" and experienced backpackers get a "positive culture shock". Both experiences lead them to engage themselves in the backpacker culture.
The process of joining the backpacker culture is meaning making in itself, as it provides the individual with a norm set and a social group to relate to and identify with. However, having a group to identify with is just one level of the meaning and identity making processes that are interconnected with backpacking. Of more significance to the development of the self, are the specific practises that take place in the backpacker culture. In the following I will analyse the practises I have found to be of most significance to meaning and identity making.
According to the questionnaire respondents, their main goals with travelling for the first time can be summoned down to the following elements: Experiencing new cultures, seeing places of natural beauty, practising adventurous sports (diving, sky diving, bungee jumping), getting away from home, making new friends, and self realisation. Experiencing new cultures were the one goal that was consistent throughout almost all of the responses. Although "experiencing new cultures" was highly valued, my field observations and interviews show that actual interaction with the local population was basically non-existing. There was some interaction between backpackers and locals working in the tourism industry, but backpackers don't really regard that category of locals as "real" locals anyway:
"I think it is so developed as a tourist place that the locals we met are only involved in the tourist industry and you would never call them local! I think you have to get up into the mountains or the little villages that aren't on the tourist trail." (James, 32, English)
Apart from such interactions I didn't experience that any of my informants interacted with the locals beyond asking for directions, haggling, or engaging in a brief, polite conversation. Still, the majority of the questionnaire respondents and informants in the field stressed that their "best travel experience" was events involving locals:
"Stay a few nights in a village where the only sign of civilization is a car every few months or in a village in the rainforest. Each time the best thing is the dialogue with the locals and the welcome of these people. Perhaps the greatest thing was a night in Cameroon with a few friends in a place far in the forest, where there hadn't been any white people for forty years." (54)
People value such experiences the most, because they are in fact very rare and further more of status among backpackers, which I will return to later in this chapter. In line with this finding, many of my informants also gave some exaggerated numbers when I asked them how much time in percentage they spend with locals compared to the time they spent with other backpackers? One informant went as far as claming that she spent 80% of her time with locals. Compared to my field observations, such a statement could simply be regarded as a lie if it wasn't made valid due to another finding; namely that some backpackers distinguish between how they interact with other backpackers and how they "interact" with locals. I haven't researched this aspect fully, but it seems that some backpackers also regard "viewing" and "observing" locals as interaction:
"I like to see the culture, but not live in it, seeing culture doesn't mean that you like it." (Hans, 22, Danish)
Not all informants exaggerated the time they spend with the locals, some of the more experienced travellers simply stated that they weren't interested in the locals anymore and that they had nothing to talk to them about, though they liked watching them. Others, especially people travelling for the first time, were upset about the fact that they had made a personal goal of getting to know the locals, but they didn't know how go about it. Many blamed the "language barrier" and set up a new goal, to learn Spanish:
"I spend 0% of time with the locals and 100% with the other backpackers. It's because I don't speak Spanish, I'm disappointed about that so now I want to learn Spanish." (Lisa, 22, English)
Hence, most of my informants either spoke Spanish at the time I interviewed them or were going to study Spanish, but still there were a lack of interaction with the locals. I believe that this lack of interaction with the locals shatter many new backpackers' dreams of "immersing" themselves into the culture, as some called it. That is of importance to the individual's self perception in the regard that it can turn certain perception of how the world is constructed and the individual's "place" in the world, upside down, which makes the individual reflect on such aspects. The lack of interaction with the locals, made them put more emphasis on realising other goals and developing new ones.
Most backpackers developed small "projects" after they started their trip. Some of the more concrete things my informants were engaged in were: Writing a book, learning to play the guitar, making a documentary film, joggleling fire balls, making a homepage about travelling, making jewellery and taking salsa classes. One of my German informants had a very explicit list of what she wanted to accomplish on her trip: Climb a volcano, read a book in English, read a book in Spanish, take a diving certificate and learn to surf. She explained that every time she had reached one goal she felt very self-confident as she could see that she was progressing and moving forward personally. Other goals regarded getting a job while travelling to make further travelling possible or getting a volunteer job for a limited period of time compared to the overall travel time. Both job types were perceived as an opportunity to get to know the local culture, which in regard to the values of the backpacker culture would suffice to make up for "lost travel time". Some goals were less concrete such as becoming more patient, better at talking to strangers and more self-confident.
All in all, these different projects are meaning creating in the sense that they provide the individual with something to do while travelling, something more or less concrete to undertake and by doing that he can feel that he is "moving forward" in other regards than just the spatial progression he is engaged in while travelling.
"We do hang out with locals also, but with travellers there are better connections - get information and travel experiences. Nobody cares what country you are from; everybody helps each other when you are a backpacker." (Merethe, 20, German)
The largest time consumer is by far hanging out and meeting new backpackers. My informants explained that they spent time with other backpackers in order to: Hear other peoples' travel stories; hear other peoples' travel plans and get information on destinations and travel-routes. The most central topics of conversation have to do with travelling and most backpacker conversations can be summoned down to consist of the special code of conduct, where the backpackers introduce themselves by answering this line of questions: "Where have you been? Where are you going? Where are you from? How long have you travelled? How long are you going to travel?" The introductory stage can take from a few minutes up to hours, but sometimes the conversation never gets beyond exchanging travel experiences. Talking about travelling has numerous functions: First of all, it simply gives strangers a common ground and something to talk about, secondly, it provides the backpacker with new travel information, thirdly, he can compare his own travel experiences to other peoples' and by doing that "measure" how he is doing as a backpacker, whether he is getting the most out of his travelling time or not, which is of importance to the single individual's self perception and thereby linked to meaning and identity making. Furthermore, the exchange of travel information is central to the reciprocity system in the backpacker culture, and the introductory code of conduct itself provides the means for establishing a person's status in the backpacker hierarchy, which I analyse in further detail elsewhere in this chapter.
When the introductory stage and the exchange of travel information is over, even the conversations often repeat themselves, as backpackers repeatedly discuss eachother's cultures. By doing participant observation I have engaged in numerous conversations on topics, such as educational systems, tax systems, wages, national food traditions, cultural traditions and laws in the various countries my informants and I represented. What is basically taking place in such conversations is a comparison of cultural systems. Those conversations are of importance to the individual's identification process, because it makes him reflect on his own "cultural baggage" and gives him a "Different perspective to life back home" as Hans (Danish, 22) explained it. This section of Oren's life story interview shows how such conversations can make the individual reflect upon his home-culture:
Oren: "I give an example: You find out that most Israelis see Israel as a "home place" you ask them what they do after their travelling - they are going back to Israel and they are going to build a home over there. If you talk to some of the English guys, they don't see England as a home especially travelling in Australia or New Zealand they just say " I might be staying here", they have their working visas, if they want they can be over there so they don't think of England as a home in our way - the way we think about Israel. It is very different in the beginning you are not really used to that - that people don't treat home like home they just say that home is where my parents live and ...if they want they can live here or they can find another place to live it is not so different..."
A (author): "Did that change the way you look at Israel?"
Oren: "Yes it changed it a lot. It changed the way I look because you find out that there is a way to look at the world not from an Israeli point of view. I talked a few times on politics and suddenly you see that people see in a different way. You find out that the Israeli point of view on the conflict between Israel and Palestinians is not as simple, as it looks like to you, because people see it from another direction." (Oren, 29, Israeli).
Talking about travelling and comparing home-cultures, isn't of course, all backpackers talk about. They have conversation on any imaginable subject, but first when they really get to know eachother, and most social interactions do not progress into close relationships, as the social relationships are very abrupt due to the fact that people are travelling. As the above example shows, conversations can get political, but since backpackers perceive it as rude to go beyond the basic topics of conversation on a first meeting (and there are more "first meetings" than prolonged social relationships) backpackers rarely get into any real arguments. Conversations are basically ridded of conflicts; noone gets really passionate about anything and people never seem to intervene or argue against a story even though it is likely to be untrue. Here is an example of how a backpacker reacts when he disagrees with another backpacker:
A (author): "What if somebody said something really crap about a place like Korea - you have been living there for a year and more, if somebody said something really stupid about Korea, how would you react?"
Derek: "In a nice way like "I was there for a year and I kind of like this and this", it's not offensive. But if they still think it was horrible it is their opinion, but I have to give the balanced side. I will never say that their opinion is wrong an opinion is just an opinion. The facts are something different, I would say: "I'm sorry but I know for sure..." If somebody said there was like 100 million Koreans living there, I would say: "No there are only 40 millions that is a fact."
A: "But what if they think that they are actually right and you have the facts wrong?"
Derek: "Then they are just assholes and there is no point in talking to an asshole, so you start talking to somebody else."
Regarding this aspect of social interaction amongst backpackers, I believe that the structure of backpacking, with its values of freedom and tolerance has a direct link to practice. My informants explained the lack of conflicts with; that there was no reason to start a conflict with a person who didn't really matter to them. If you don't like him you just leave! - And that is what people did; they avoided any kind of conflicts by talking to someone else or leaving. If they were travelling with a person, whom they suddenly didn't like, they didn't tell him. They just travelled in another direction or in another tempo:
"Four or five days with travelling with somebody I can deal with a little annoyance it's not that big a deal it's like everywhere else, it's people, otherwise, yes. I just move on in a different pace than they are. I just say: "I'm going." I haven't been direct with them and said: "I don't want to travel with them anymore" and probably I never want to do that, just because it just doesn't seem worth it to hurt somebody, nobody bothered me that much and I can't imagine anybody doing it." (Joshua, 24, American)
In one case I experienced that a male backpacker hadn't understood two British, female backpackers' attempt to get rid of him by using the above methods. Though they had tried to travel in a different tempo, change directions and so on, he had continued to follow them as a "member" of their party for a week from Guatemala to Honduras, without their acceptance. On the island of Utila in Honduras they told the group of people, I had been living with at a hostel for more than a week, about their troubles. The group, which mainly consisted of women, discussed the situation and without making a "formal" agreement about it, we simply froze him out and he left, alone, after just two days on the island. It was the only time I experienced that such harsh methods were used against a person who violated the values of the backpacker culture by clinging on to a party for too long. Though this method was rather harsh, it was still un-confrontational as noone let him know verbally that he was unwanted or more importantly why he was unwanted.
That practise makes the backpacker culture into a free zone, where the individual can test his own identity on various levels, as no other backpacker will question him. The freedom of backpacking can, however, also be problematic to the individual's ability to find meaning in travelling. Due to the limited space available in this report the analysis of how the backpackers deal with the problematic side of freedom is to be found in the appendix.
A backpacking trip is divided into:
(a) Being on the road - the journey
(b) Being at a certain destination
And is divided between:
(b1) Being on beaten track destinations
(b2) Being off the beaten track destinations
According to the backpacker culture's value system, the journey is of higher value than the destination. The same goes for being off the beaten track, which is perceived as better than being on the beaten track:
"Except for the most fantastic tourist sights, I spend my time off the beaten track with the locals. In Chile I spent two weeks without seeing another backpacker." (Tarak, 31, Israeli)
However, the empirical fact is that most time is spent on a destination on the beaten track. As an example the above quoted informant had spent four months in the backpacker hang out where I met him. I do not doubt that this informant and other backpackers do go off the beaten track, as I did meet a limited number of backpackers on some "off the beaten track "destinations, but they didn't spend as much time there, as on the beaten track, which they seemed to hurry back to after a few days in a secluded area:
"I've been off the beaten track in Matagalpa in Nicaragua. There were no people. That is hard, but you relax and go back to other backpackers." (Anna, 22, German/Israeli)
Off the beaten track the backpacker will find himself very alone. There are only the locals and no one to "relate to", as one informant called it. Furthermore, off the beaten track there are rarely any of the usual things to occupy oneself with such as the Internet, hanging out at cafes with other backpackers, shopping, bookstores, cinemas, laundry service and so on. Basically there is nothing to do and you are all alone - unless, of course, you "go native", but I only met one person who claimed to have done that for an extended period of two weeks and one other person who had given up after a few days due to "the language barrier", as she expressed it (she did speak Spanish). Some informants expressed that they felt lonely and sometimes even depressed on off the beaten track destinations:
"…in South India I would go a week or more without ever seeing another backpacker or tourist; I did get a little lonely especially since no one outside the tourist area speaks English. Not having anybody to talk to, you just sit in your room all day reading a lot or walking around." (Ann, 27, American)
Even though there isn't much to do off the beaten track and people feel lonely there they still go there by choice! One informant told me that she didn't want to go off the beaten track because there was obviously nothing to do there when there were no other backpackers and nothing to see (such as ruins or places of natural beauty), because then the backpackers would automatically have made the place into a frequently visited destination. - But after she heard my tale of going to an off the beaten track destination in the Honduran mountains, she went there with two friends, anyway.
I believe that backpackers go off the beaten track, even though some have realized that there are more exiting places to be, for two reasons:
(1) It is a test of personal strength emotionally, culturally and physically and therefore of significance to the meaning and identity making processes of the individual. Emotionally and culturally because, as already explained, the backpacker will find himself surrounded by "natives" with nobody to relate to in his accustomed way, which can make him feel very lonely and insecure of himself. He might also succeed with the locals; get invited to their houses or festivals, which is quite an achievement for him both as a backpacker and personally. Physically it's a test of strength because it might be physically hard to get to such a destination as there might not be any transportation going back and forth regularly, but also because there might not be the same facilities (beds, toilets, showers) and food supplies, as he is used to from on the beaten track destinations.
(2) Going off the beaten track is highly valued in the backpacker culture, so in order for the individual to feel as a "real" backpacker he has to go off the beaten track once in a while. Furthermore, in order to participate in the reciprocitive system of exchanging travel information (I will elaborate on that in the following section) he is bound to be able to either tell stories about off the beaten track destinations or share information on how to get there, otherwise he won't have the primary object of exchange to exchange with other backpackers and they might not be able to identify him as a backpacker, which will make him loose his backpacker identity.
The backpackers also value the mobile part of the trip - the journey, higher than being on a destination, even though it is tiresome to be so mobile. Sometimes backpackers can be on the road for an entire day or more, which is tough, especially if you are on your own. You have to change busses, ask for directions, stand up on busses for hours, wait for hours in the burning heat or pouring rain, watch out for your bag constantly (and don't ever fall a sleep, as the local thieves steel them or cut them open with razorblades), make sure not to drink too little as that makes you ill and not to drink too much as it might be a 7 hours ride before the next toilet. In line with why backpackers go off the beaten track I have found that they travel this extensively for two reasons:
(1) Again, it is a personal test of both physical and emotional strength to be on the road: Physically because one often has to endure some hardship, as explained above. Emotionally because one has to keep ones guards up to protect ones belongings and learn patience, as public transportation in developing countries is not as regular, as most backpackers are probably accustomed to at home.
(2) This practise, of travelling so extensively instead of making more stops along the way or setting up a base to venture back and forth from, is interconnected with the values in the backpacker culture and the values dictate that the journey is better than the destination, hence, in order for the individual to feel as a "real" backpacker, he has to embark on the journey! Furthermore, in order to participate in the reciprocity of the backpacker culture he must be able to tell stories about the journey.
Backpackers get a lot of their travel information from guidebooks, especially the Lonely Planet - but the most important source of information is what they call "word of mouth". As described earlier most backpacker conversations are centred around travelling topics and on the surface it seemed as if everybody took part in an equal "sharing of travel information", but that wasn't so:
"...After that everybody has a story to tell but it's hard to break in to that and that's the difficult part of travelling that it is just how do you start a conversation?: "So where have you been? How long are you travelling for? What country are you from? What have you seen?" And then maybe you have gone to somewhere unusual and that interests me or maybe we have been to similar places that I love, so that we can swap stories about that, but you might go through ten minutes of conversation- even though every body has something unique to talk about - it may not be that..." (Marx, 30, American)
In analysing Marx's statement, he is basically saying that the introductory conduct of asking: Where have you been? How long are you travelling for? Where are you from? Is just a ten minute introduction and personally he will only continue the conversation and exchange stories with you if you have been somewhere unusual or somewhere he has also been, otherwise "it may not be that", as he puts it, and you are no longer of interest to him.
The fact that there are better and worse people to receive information from, points towards an existing hierarchy among backpackers (which I will analyse in the following section) and analytically the code of conduct of practising this particular introduction can be summoned down to being a way of establishing whether a person is of: Equal, higher or lesser status to you so that you can decide whether this is a person with whom you will proceed to exchange more detailed information, and thereby socialize with, or not. Analytically the exchange of travel information can be understood as a reciprocal act, meaning that giving and receiving information is a social act of showing that you respect the giver/receiver - and the other way round. If you withhold information or nobody wants your information it's an act of disrespect:
"I don't take advice from people who are over or under exited about things or if I don't feel we have the same ideas about things. I met people who stayed in Cusco for three weeks just to party. That turns me off." (Tarak, 31, Israeli).
It is of uttermost importance to the individual's self-perception that others will receive information from him and give him information, first, because his trip depends on it, he has to gain the best information to make the most of his trip, secondly, he will have no one to socialize with if no one wants his information, and, thirdly, if the individual cannot take part in the reciprocity of exchanging travel information then the other backpackers do not categorise him as a backpacker and he will loose his backpacker identity. Thereby the exchange of travel information is of great importance to the individual's ability to be able to identify with the backpackers as a collective and for developing his personal backpacker identity. Meaning that the more people who want his particular information, the better a backpacker he can feel that he is, which is of great importance to the individual's meaning and identity making processes, as it is a way of measuring how one is doing as a backpacker.
"I think it is a subculture and then it would obviously have different statuses. I think the finest status in that subculture is the amount of time with the things you have done. It is like going into the army and being brand new in the army. For the first week you will obviously think that someone who has been there for two years knows what goes on. Not necessarily true, but I think it is sort of like the status symbols that are at work here." (Oria, 26, Israeli)
Out of the sixteen informants I asked about whether they believed there was a hierarchy in the backpacker culture or not, 12 answered that they believed there to be some kind of a hierarchy or at least different statuses among backpackers. Four informants were convinced that no such thing existed; three out of these four had only been backpacking for one month or less. It's no wonder that my informants disagreed on this point and that they weren't sure what to call, what I define as a hierarchy, because it wasn't a set, consistent hierarchy. It is best described as a situational and floating hierarchy, as no one can maintain a certain status for very long. Because a backpacker's status depends on the social context, he finds herself in and he can easily meet 20 new backpackers in the course of a day! Furthermore, my informants might have difficulties in defining the differences in status, as a hierarchy, as that concept is associated with negative connotations regarding power relations - and as described the backpackers are extremely friendly and helpful towards each other and especially towards newcomers. On top of that their interaction patterns are non-confrontational and tolerance and equality are part of the backpacker value system. Therefore, fully recognising that everyone is not equal might be hard for the individual backpacker, and I believe that most backpackers participate in the hierarchy without being fully conscious about it:
"I met all these people who are really self-sufficient. I've spent I think 500 dollars in the last month, which is like how much? There are the people who make the jewelry and I think that's a real traveller. I don't consider myself a real backpacker, but I don't consider a lot of people real backpackers... When I first arrived here I felt like there was a real hierarchy of people, but in being here just the last week I discovered that that is all a completely psychological thing, because I came in and thought: "Oh my God those people are really scary," because they are sitting in a circle and I'm not in that circle and if you talk to them - the girl from New Zealand, when I first meet her she really made me feel like "God" and now I talk to her and she is so lovely. I think hierarchy is stored in your head, people like to talk "I've been here, I've been there." I just don't want to care about it. I haven't come here to measure myself up against other people, I've come here to measure myself against myself, so if it exists I don't really care about it." (Lucille, 19, English)
The hierarchy is mainly recognisable in situations where a group of backpackers have to make a common decision, then the person who is perceived as being of highest status in that social context will set the standard for what is the best decision or simply make the decision. As an example, I had gone to an off the beaten track place with a group of four people, two girls and two boys. To get back from that place we had to walk two kilometers up a very steep road from a volcanic laguna in order to make it to the main road, an extra two kilometers. It was noon on a burning hot Nicaraguan day and I suggested that we call a taxi, which would cost us about three dollars each. I had overheard one of the others talking about a taxi too, but Lana, the most experienced backpacker (she had travelled in Indonesia before, had travelled for almost a year on her own in Central and South America and taken a job in a backpacker hangout to be able to prolong her travels) said that she didn't want to waste her money on a taxi. The second she said that the whole discussion changed from when to call a taxi, to when we should start walking - and we did walk! In situations where a group of backpackers are discussing a subject linked to travelling the most experienced backpacker will also get the last word or as one of my informants put it:
"The ones who have been the most places usually gets the most respect" (Derek, 28, Canadian)
One day I overheard an experienced traveller lecture a young backpacking couple on how to move about with caution in Guatemala due to the guerillas. Apparently the couple had just arrived from Guatemala and wasn't going back there; still they sat quietly and accepted his lecture without intervening with their own experiences on travelling in Guatemala. That can be analysed as a way of showing the more experienced backpacker respect. He was also showing them respect by giving them travel advice. That they didn't need the particular information was of less importance to the social exchange.
Apart from such situations it can be very hard to "observe" the hierarchy. It is constantly being practiced in the exchange of travel information, but most exchanges of information run smoothly, as people quickly establish each other's status in the hierarchy by using the introductory code of conduct. After the introduction stage is over, they act accordingly to their established statuses in the proceeding exchange of information; the one of lowest status listens a lot, asks a lot of questions and tries to get as much information as possible; the one of higher status talks a lot and gives the information he finds fit to give a person of lower status. Hence, the hierarchy is primarily observable in exchange situations that have gone wrong, where the socializing parties have mistaken each other's status and thereby crossed the fine lines for acceptable behavior. Such a situation can lead to some embarrassment, but as this example will show, it is quickly resolved when it is established who is of higher status:
"The Dutch had told about Lago Atitlan and the English asked for travel advice. The Dutch talked, explained and recommended good hotels, some of which I could clearly hear were already in the LP, but they still talked about them as though they themselves had discovered these pearls. The Dutch asked the English for how long time they were going to stay in Guatemala, and when the English answered, something I got to be 50 days, it got all quiet, upon which the Dutch asked if they weren't going to see any other countries to? The English said that that had been their original plan, but it just seemed there was so much to see in Guatemala, that they just wanted to stay here. The Dutch then looked a bit embarrassed again and asked the English carefully if: "They were just on holiday then?" Then the English rolled out their trump card and answered: "No, not at all, they had been travelling for 17 months in Southeast Asia and Australia, so Central America was just the last stop before going home in September." That shut up the Dutch, where upon the English, who had mainly been listening until now, got asked about their trip..." (23/7 Antigua, Guatemala)
I did not hear the beginning of this conversation, but the embarrassing situation had probably come about because the group had not used the proper conduct of introduction to establish who was of higher or lesser status. The Dutch couple just assumed that they were the most experienced party, because the English obviously didn't know much about Guatemala and thereby the Dutchmen had the right to be the ones giving advice and not asking so much. As this example illustrates, it is not about who has the most experience in travelling in one place as such, but who has the most travel experience overall. The length of the trip is a clear status indicator in the backpacker hierarchy, but there are also other ways of establishing who is a "better" traveller and from whom one should try to get travel information. This is essentially what the hierarchy is all about - getting the best information by finding the best informant and making this person perceive oneself as worth sharing information with.
Taking part in the hierarchy and constantly trying to become a better backpacker in order to gain better information is of significance to the individual's meaning and identity making processes, because it makes him pursue goals and undertake actions that are of value according to the value system in the backpacker culture. Among other things my informants had gone off the beaten track to very isolated places, lived on self caught fish and coconuts on an uninhabited island for three days, hitchhiked in guerrilla areas and "starved" to stay on budget. I myself was stupid enough to cross the Mexican border to Guatemala illegally in order to save 20 dollars, but most of all to see if I could accomplish what one of my experienced informants had done numerous times. In the following I will outline some of the status indicators in the backpacker hierarchy.
"I respect people who are doing things on a tighter budget and I respect people who have done more interesting work than working in a hostel or something like that. There are things I respect more; it's not a competition..." (Joshua, 24, American)
Joshua travelled on 10 dollars a day, even though he stated that money was not a problem for him - he had quit a job where he made 65.000 dollars a year to go travelling and furthermore he wanted to work a long the way on his one year journey. The work he wanted to do was not so much a matter of making money, as it was a matter of doing something extraordinary and becoming better at Spanish. When I met him he had only travelled for one month, but already he had planned to take up a job cutting wood in the jungles of El Salvador. He explained that he travelled the way he did with the goals he had to fit his own image of who he wanted to be:
"I think that everybody does things that fit the image of who they want to be, like otherwise you wouldn't do them right? So you have me working, and if I didn't do something different my trip wouldn't feel complete." (Joshua, 24, American)
Though he on the one hand claimed that he only did it for himself he on the other hand expressed the need to gain "respect" from the other backpackers:
"I like people to look at me and be like: "God, he is more roughed or he is more, he is a different traveller and a better traveller!" But there are some things I would look at as better; whereas other people don't feel that way." (Joshua, 24, American)
One of Joshua's goals was to make his backpack as small as possible. He had noticed that some people travelled with larger backpacks than him - and he didn't want to be like them, as he said, whereas others travelled with much smaller backpacks and he would like to do that as well, "just get down to the bare basics", as he called it. Joshua believed that everybody had different standards of what they perceived as "better", but even his idea of travelling with a smaller backpack was more than a personal goal; it was in fact a status indicator, as others used it as a sign of whether someone was worth getting information from. During an interview I asked an anthropology student and a medical student, whom they would take travel advice from and whom they wouldn't:
"It depends on what the info-giver likes to see or do, if he does things your way and likes the same things, if he uses your way on backpacking - then I take his advice." (Nicolai, 21, Dutch)
The way the travel companions would establish who "used their way of backpacking" and thereby worth gaining information from, was by observing other backpackers' "looks" before even approaching them:
"I don't look at what he is doing back home if I take travel information... more the clothes he is wearing." (Jan, 21, Dutch)
According to the Dutchmen they looked for people with small backpacks, though that could "cheat", as a small backpack could also be a sign of the person having a base somewhere (thereby not a person participating in the backpackers' travelling method), and they would completely avoid people with very big backpacks, such as typical newcomers. They avoided people with clean shoes and white pants and looked for people who looked more "hippie like", as they called it. According to my observations it makes perfect sense to look at people's clothes to establish whether or not to approach them for information, as backpackers generally wear more old, torn and ethnic clothes the longer they have travelled. Without being fully aware of it (until my interview with the Dutchmen at the end of my fieldwork) I had used the same "method" to single out backpackers I wanted to make interviews with. When I used random sampling I would classify the backpackers by their overall "looks" before approaching them and thereby establish whether the backpacker was a newcomer or an experienced backpacker. As an example that the worn look is a status indicator, people would spend much time and effort to glue their old shoes and sandals together and wrap them up with tape instead of buying a new pair (which shouldn't ruin any backpacker's budget). Furthermore, newcomers would quickly start "copying" the looks of the more experienced backpackers by buying ethnic clothes, wearing torn and stained clothes, and both men and women started wearing a lot of ethnic jewelleries as a sign of where they had been. Most backpackers only practised the "hippie look" to a certain extent, for example by wearing jewellery.
That other backpackers approach you more for information when you look a bit roughed, I also experienced myself when my clothes were a complete mess at the very end of the fieldwork and I had started wearing Indian embroided men's pants. In general, people started to listen more to me and in one case an otherwise experienced backpacker let me plan her whole trip because she only had three weeks to travel this time; I drew her maps, told her about border crossings, bus schedules and gave her detailed information on which hostels to stay at.
Another strong status indicator was how low a budget one could live on and that indicator was easily observable, as the backpackers often ate very little, shared food, haggled in places where it wasn't even customary for the locals to haggle (such as restaurants and on busses), shared rooms and spent a lot of time finding the cheapest means of transport and accommodation. Though they did practice staying on a low budget, some of my informants also exaggerated a great deal when they were asked to answer the question of how low a budget that actually was. Most of my informants stated that they lived on a minimum budget; some claimed to spend as little as 50 dollars a week whereas most people spent around 125 dollars a week. But when I asked one informant how come he then had money for diving certificates, Internet, movies and partying, it turned out that he was operating with yet another budget. In practice it wasn't of relevance how much the backpacker actually spent, the only thing that was of importance to his status in the hierarchy was that others perceived it as though he lived on a tight budget. Like Lucille's comment in the above section shows, she felt like a worse backpacker, because she had spent 500 dollars in a month and she was convinced that the group of people she was with spent much less than that.
Travelling alone (defined as not having a partner from at home) is conceived as better than travelling as a couple, although people travel in a party most of the time anyway. I believe that this status indicator is connected to the value of independence and the goal of self-realisation, which many backpackers have for travelling. Travelling alone is seen as a more "serious" step towards self-realisation. Many of my informants travelled with a partner on their first trip, but decided to travel alone on following trips.
As described earlier in this chapter, many of my informants exaggerated on the issue of how much time they spend with the locals, which also shows that interaction with locals is a status indicator. The same goes for being off the beaten track and being on the road. As I have explicated in the section on the backpackers travel method people put a lot of emphasis on talking about being off the beaten track and how rough being on the road is, even though most time was spent on the beaten track on a destination.
Some status indicators are not directly linked to the values in the backpackers' value system. Being able to tell a "good story" is definitely something that can heighten a persons place in the hierarchy, both due to the social value of simply being able to entertain others, but also because it can wrap some otherwise less sought for information in an interesting wrapping, whereby others become interested in one's information (which again heightens one's place in the hierarchy):
"I think it has more to do with the way I put things. I tend to be more descriptive and flowery and passionate about things, so I think that if there are any reason why people listen more to me, it is because I tend to make them listen to me." (Lillian, 21, English)
The common perception that women do get attacked and raped more often than men when they travel, has contributed to a gendered status indicator; female travellers are simply of higher status than men per se - especially if they travel alone, whereas men are almost expected to do so.
I have not been able to fully establish how the classificatory system of different statuses works. According to my informants it seems as if the highest and most obvious status is the length of the journey, but apart from that I have not been able to derive a classificatory system from my data. I do, however, believe that it is the accumulated number of status indicators that prescribe one's place in the hierarchy. Meaning that a single male traveller who had travelled alone for 6 months and worked at an AIDS hospice for two weeks would gain a higher status in the hierarchy than a couple of girlfriends who had done the exact same things, but a single female traveller would gain the highest status just from having done the exact same things.
The actions that the individual backpacker undertakes in order to gain a higher status in the hierarchy and thereby gain the respect of their fellow backpackers and the means to receive "better" travel information by others of higher status, is highly significant to the individuals meaning and identity making process. The hierarchical structured backpacker culture "forces" the individual to embrace his freedom and embark on actions that are in accordance with the value system in the backpacker culture. As already explained, most of these actions are in themselves (the journey, off the beaten track, pursuing new goals and unfamiliar projects) meaning and identity making on a psychological level when they are carried out. But most of all, these actions and their interlinked status indicators are of importance to the individual's self-perception, as he can use them to measure himself and his own achievements against his fellow backpackers' travel experiences, and hence keep track of how well he himself is doing as a backpacker.
In chapter three and four I have described and analysed how and why the demographic features, the value system in the backpacker culture, and the various practises in the backpacker culture are meaning and identity making for the individual participating in it. I have shown that the individual backpackers join the backpacker culture either because they get a "positive" or a "negative" culture shock when they arrive at their destination. The structure of the backpacker culture is hereby reproduced. The backpackers are "forced" by the hierarchical structure in the backpacker culture to follow the value system of the backpacker culture in order to gain a higher status in the hierarchy and thereby gain the respect of other backpackers. A person's status in the hierarchy is defined by how many accumulated status indicators he is in possession of compared to the person/persons he is interacting with. His status depends on the social context he finds himself in and is therefore never set and stable. A person's status is quickly established by using the introductory code of conduct where people who are engaging in a "first meeting" answer the questions: Where have you been? How long are you travelling for? Where are you going? When the introductory stage is over an actual exchange of information takes places in accordance with the established statuses. Overall the wish of gaining a higher status in the hierarchy and thereby the respect of other backpackers is "disguised" as an attempt of gaining access to "better" travel information, so that the individuals trip can get as "good" as possible. - But what the hierarchical structure in fact "forces" people to do, which goes beyond making a person's trip "as good as possible", is to practise the values in the backpacker culture, such as going off the beaten track, prolonged journeys, doing things independently, setting up new goals and etc. and when acted out these practices are in themselves meaning and identity making, as I have shown in the last chapter. In other words: The hierarchical structure, practice and the value system of the backpacker culture are highly interconnected and combined they do affect the meaning and identity making processes of the individual backpacker.
However, I have also made explicit that there are discrepancies between structure and practice in the backpacker culture in the sense that for example interaction with locals, personal independence and going off the beaten track are highly valued elements in the culture, but in practice they are not "acted out" to anything near the same extent, as they are just "verbalized" by the backpackers. The backpacker culture in itself is therefore highly self-contradictory, as its members spend more time "preaching" the value system than actually practising the values, so to speak. In other words the signifiers (the values) become more important then the signified (the practices) in the backpacker culture, as the individual can gain a higher place in the hierarchy just by convincing other backpackers of his status either "verbally" or via his attitude and visual image. Therefore, in analysing which elements of the backpacker culture that has the highest "impact" on the individual's meaning and identity making processes, it is not the hierarchy in itself and not the practices, but the value system which has the greatest impact. In the following chapter I will analyse how my informants built aspects of backpacking and the value system of the backpacker culture into their personal narratives.
In the last chapter I analysed how the individual backpacker could find meaning and identity in the collective backpacker identity, in the backpacker culture as such and how the culture with it's value system, practises and hierarchy, "forced" the backpacker to develop his personal backpacker identity by means of undertaking status creating actions in accordance with the backpacker culture's value system. These actions could, in regard to undertaking certain of the actions valued in the backpacker culture, in fact be meaning and identity making beyond the mere backpacker identity and of significance to the individual's self on a more consistent level. Analytically, these three ways of creating meaning and identity can be understood as three interconnected identification processes that the individual undergoes while participating as a member of the backpacker culture. In this chapter I will analyse how my informants built aspects of backpacking and/or values from the backpacker culture's value system into their personal narratives, and thereby how they used the backpacker culture's values to create meaning in their lives and personal identity - beyond the sphere of travelling. They were of course still travelling while they built those aspects into their narratives, but they used backpacking "beyond" the sphere of travelling in the sense that aspects of backpacking and values of the backpacker culture were included in both their stories of their pasts pre-travelling and their futures after travelling. This aspect of the individual's participation in the backpacker culture can analytically be constructed as a fourth identification process.
"I come from a family of travellers and travelling makes me become what I am." (Chantalle, 31, French)
Five out of the ten informants I conducted life story interviews with built a rather direct link between their present travelling and their pre-travelling pasts, when they told their stories. Two of them explained that they always knew that they were going to travel, as though they were almost destined to be backpackers. Marx was the most extreme example, as he connected travelling to a spiritual entity he had found when he started travelling six years ago, which he called "the Path" or "the Divine", a path which he believed would always lead him to be where he was supposed to be - which also meant to be travelling. According to him, this meant that he was predetermined by fate to be travelling. James wasn't at all spiritually inspired, but still he expressed that he had always known that he was going to travel, but job and career progression had gotten in his way, that is why he hadn't been backpacking before now:
"I got into a kind of career thing, having always intended to go travelling. My first job I expected to last for a couple of years, but it ended up being seven." (James, 32, English).
Ann built a bridge between her actions in the past and her present travelling, by explaining that already when she went to high school she would be the only one who was ready to go somewhere during spring break, because she was the only one out of all her friends, who beforehand had begged her parents to let her go and had saved up the money. Furthermore, her dad had worked abroad on oil rigs in exotic countries, and ever since she was a little girl she wanted to do something like that.
Another way of connecting backpacking to one's past was by taking the backpacker culture's values and projecting them onto the past, as Olaf did. He basically told the story of his pre-travelling past in terms of the backpacker value that cherishes "low budget". Olaf decided to go travelling after a series of events; he explained that a few years ago he lived "the good life": Made a lot of money, owned a nice apartment, had a car, a mobile phone, an espresso-machine and went on holidays to European capitals or USA two or three times a year, but on one holiday he suddenly couldn't stand the materialism anymore. He rented a motorbike and drove around to see the "real" Dominican Republic. When he got back home, he broke up with his girlfriend. She was too pleased with the kind of life they had, too materialistic, according to him:
"She liked luxury and she liked to go to nice places also for holidays. So we always went to the US where it's really easy to travel... you can go in a wheelchair." (Olaf, 28, Swiss)
Then he started selling off his car, espresso-machine, TV and mobile phone, moved in with a couple of friends and started saving to go travelling. Olaf went even further back in his life and explained that the most important thing in his life was that his parents told him: "Don't fight over money!" All in all, telling his life story in these terms also gives meaning to his present where he is living very basically with no luxuries. The other informants also linked past and present in their narratives, as a way of creating a coherent and meaningful narrative and thereby a meaningful self, which must give the informant a feeling of being a rather "whole" person. They told their stories in a manner in which the past gave meaning to the present and the present gave meaning to the past by building backpacking and values from the backpacker culture into their narratives. In the following I will analyse how the informants perceive their present selves.
"If I hadn't travelled, I would have been a completely different person, 100%. I travelled since I was 17." (Jan, 21, Dutch)
I did not ask the informants from the semi-structured interviews to tell their complete life stories, but still those interviews show that backpacking and its value system has a great influence on how these informants perceived their present selves. During the interviews I would ask this group of informants either: "Do you think that you have changed/developed while travelling?" or: "Would you have been the person you are today without travelling?" Those questions are, of course, highly hypothetical and one could argue that they are impossible to answer, as the individual has nothing to compare his present self with. However, only two out of the twenty informants I asked these questions, stated that such questions were impossible to answer. Sixteen informants answered that they had definitely changed and/or developed through travelling and believed that they would not have been the ones they were today without having travelled. What is even more significant is that the informants had a clear idea of what else they would have been if they hadn't travelled and they much favoured their present image of themselves:
"I think I would be having kids, be close-minded and settled. Now I just think of where to go, where to find new experiences. It's addictive. It kind of gives me a purpose, it makes sense for me to make money to get away and experience this new lifestyle instead of buying a car and a gym membership." (Shelly, 27, Canadian).
Analysing how the life story informants found meaning and identity through the backpacker culture in their present situation wasn't a simple manoeuvre, as their narratives were very coherent and therefore also rather complex, which made it difficult to separate their past, present and future, so deriving the "present" out of their narratives haven't been possible in all cases. In some cases it simply makes more sense to show how the individual finds meaning and identity in backpacking, by means of analysing the past and future parts of their narratives. Overall, the way the informants connected travelling and their present selves were dialectic, as I will argue, that in the way they told their stories, they were both applying "meaning" to travelling and deriving meaning from travelling. All of the life story informants used this approach, but I will only give a few examples here to give a general impression of how it was done.
Olaf had only intended to travel for about half a year and then go back home and work, but when he first started out in Mexico he got a tattoo on his shoulder symbolizing the Mayan calendar. This particular image was the image of the transition between what the Mayans called the "Fifth Age of Man" to the "Sixth Age of Man" according to our calendar the date December 21st 2012. When I met Olaf, five months into his travels, he had decided to continue travelling to 2012, because, as he explained:
"... Nobody knows what is going to happen, and I think that even the Mayans themselves they would not know what is going to happen, but I just don't want to take life too serious in the next few years just in case something happens. If the Fifth Age of Man ends and the Sixth Age of Man begins and we are still here, then it's still early enough to get serious." (Olaf, 28, Swiss)
He did, however, not perceive of travelling as "unserious", as he explained that he just used that term because people in his home country saw travelling like that, as a matter of fact, he found travelling to be a rather serious exercise. He saw it as a way of getting experiences that could be useful in his future life and make him "smarter on life" as a whole. On top of that, he had had his plane ticket stolen, so, all in all, continued travelling for 11 years made perfect sense to him.
Marx told a sad story of how he had been a depressed and neurotic person throughout most of his life, how he had never felt he belonged anywhere, how he was always wearing a "mask", pretending to be "normal" when he was among other people, and how, according to himself, that all changed when he started travelling. Travelling had become the "place" where he felt the most comfortable with himself and with others. Furthermore, he believed that travelling is the ideal sphere for exploration, growth and change of the self, as he calls it, because there is lots of time for introspection, many new social relationships, situations etc. - And due to his pre-travelling "self" and his mum's encouragements, he had always found it very important to develop as a person, for which, he again believed backpacking created the perfect sphere.
Oria found out that she was in love with another girl while she was travelling in China. She believed that travelling made her realize this love which she wasn't capable of realizing at home. When she came home from her trip she started living with her girlfriend and joined the gay community. Now they have broken up and Oria has found a new boyfriend. She hopes that by travelling again she will be able to close the "lesbian chapter" of her life, as she calls it. She sees travelling as something very personal. To her it's not about the local cultures, the sights and so on, rather it's all about her and she travels for a reason - to get away from her daily routine and see things in another perspective. She isn't sure why she "changes" when she is travelling, but she gave this analogy:
"Being away, I think, is just like baking a cake, you throw all the ingredients in and then you put it in an oven and it takes time to bake. I mean I'm not doing anything special to change myself or to evolve myself, but I know that, I have surrounded myself the last year with gay people, I have no doubt, that when I get back, my circle of friends will be different." (Oria, 26, Israeli)
She also believed that this trip would "change" her and she knew that there will be other times in her life when she will need backpacking to progress in one way or the other to become the one she wants to be, so she is convinced that she will continue travelling in the future.
"So you pick up small things that are good at the time and if they are really right for you, you carry on with them and that's what I think you get when you travel; it's lots of excess baggage that you filter when you get home." (Lucille, 19, English)
All of my ten life story informants built backpacking or values from the backpacker culture into their narratives about their future. Out of the 20 informants from the semi-structured interviews (whom I asked about their expectations for their future) 16 built aspects of backpacking into their future and four did not. One of them simply opposed trying to predict his future, two Israeli men felt that it was time to go home and be "serious" instead of travelling, and a Canadian woman wanted to make her last big backpacking trip when she turned 30, after which she wanted to transfer the meaning she had formerly gotten in her life by travelling into her job, as she wanted to start her own business. Apart from those four informants, all my informants built aspects of backpacking and/or values from the backpacker culture into their narratives about the future. However, they did it in various ways:
It's important to notice that although I have analytically set up my informant's future goals, as though the goals were only going to be realized at some point in the future, this is just a construction to give the reader an overview of such future goals. Empirically, many of my informants stated that they had already taken such steps after their first backpacker experience. The actions they had already taken included: Travelling for years by means of working along the way, deciding with their partner not to have children, and changing education to be able to work abroad. Furthermore, my informants didn't necessarily just construct backpacking and/or its value system into their narratives in one of the above-explicated ways. They could use numerous approaches at the same time. Here are a few examples of how my informants used backpacking in their future narratives.
(1) Although my informants had travelled in the backpacker manner 2,5 times in average, 23 out of the 32 informants who built aspects of backpacking into their future, wanted to continue to go backpacking now and then. They did not see an end to travelling in the backpacker manner apart from maybe old age and health problems. Two of them stated that even though they won a million dollars in the lottery tomorrow, they would still be backpacking instead of practicing a more "luxurious" kind of tourism. Out of these 23 informants, three were going to continue travelling by means of teaching English or taking up odd jobs along the way.
(2) 14 informants wanted to work and live abroad at least periodically, and most of them stated that they were working actively to make that goal come true. 12 of them either had educations or were going to take an educational direction that would make such dreams possible. As an example one of my informants, who was a nurse, had realized on this trip that she wanted to work abroad for Medecins sans Frontieres in South America in the future, so she took Spanish classes in Guatemala and wanted to continue taking classes at home. However, her work situation at home, where she had shifting working hours, was in the way of her goal to continue her Spanish classes. She had agreed with herself that she would try to talk the management into changing the work schedules at her job - or she would simply quit, to be able to take Spanish classes. On top of taking a "fitting" educational direction two informants travelled with the goal to visit as many development projects as possible and learn about development while travelling, so that they could work in development in the future. The American Joshua, who came from a Jewish business family, hoped that by travelling, he might find an interesting business opportunity along the way, maybe go and work on a boat in Alaska and take over the business at some point. He knew he had a mind for business, it was just about finding something (preferably different and exotic) he wanted to do, and he believed that travelling could help him find that.
(3) Four informants stressed that they wanted to maintain the physical and/or mental stage they had reached while travelling, when they returned home. The most explicit example of this way of maintaining aspects of backpacking in the narrative of the future self, was James, who, by means of travelling, believed that he had found his way back to his "old self", the young, fit, energetic man who hated to waste time, as he was before he started his career progression. He had lost a lot of weight while travelling, been highly active doing various adventurous sports, and he wanted to maintain that "self" when he returned home to his old job:
"It has made me realize what a lazy routine I have gotten into in my daily life, that is one thing I hope to sort out when I get back, not get into that scene again... It has made me realize what I used to be and what I can be again, instead of just a working slob." (James, 32, English)
(4) Out of the informants who did build aspects of backpacking into their future narrative I asked 9 women and 7 men if they saw themselves as having children in the future? Three women and four men did not expect to have children. Adam, 28, and his girlfriend Jannice, 27, both had higher education; he was a veterinarian and she had a university degree and worked as a research assistant. They wanted to continue to go home and work periodically and then travel in the backpacker manner, therefore they had decided not to have children. Furthermore, they had decided that he wasn't to buy his own clinic (though that was the norm among his colleagues in Australia). They both explained that they took that stance in order to be able to maintain the freedom to travel. James, 32, who had had a steady partner for 4 years, explained that he just didn't see himself settling down and having children, as he wanted to maintain his freedom to travel.
(5) The majority of the informants, six women and three men, did want family and children. However, the way they planned their futures so as to contain both travelling and/or working abroad - and children, were probably alternative compared to the way that non-backpackers would do it. Ann was actively looking for a fellow backpacker to start a family with, both out in the "real life" and on dating sites on the Internet. She wanted to find a fellow backpacker, because she wanted to be able to continue travelling in the backpacker manner with her future children, while she would work abroad and make a career out of teaching English all over the world at well-established schools with pension funds and so forth. She figured she needed a backpacker and not just any kind of man in order to make that future goal come true. In general, the women were rather rational and seemed to have thought a lot about how they could balance travelling and family life. A French banker who had spent 5 years on her business degree would give up her well-paid job to make that dream come true:
"I'm searching for a balance with job, family and travelling. I do not want to rush. My dream is a halftime job and a family, I would like to do something like woodcraft, photo and so on. I want to travel with my kids in a backpacker manner, that's what my family did with me I want to go everywhere, I cannot imagine not travelling." (Chantalle, 31, French)
Most of the men didn't seem to have considered how they wanted to make travelling and family life go hand in hand; they just knew that they wanted a family, apart from one man who had a very interesting family concept. He wanted to have a career that wouldn't "trap" him, as he called it, and he wanted to move around a lot both in his home country and abroad, but at the same time he wanted to have a wife and children. In order for those two goals to be balanced, he imagined a family that was steady "internally" instead of externally, as he explained it. He wanted his family to form a strong, mobile unit so that they could move around together without getting either "trapped" in one place or break the family unit.
Throughout this report I have analysed how the structure and practice of the backpacker culture affect the meaning and identity making processes of the single individual participating in the culture. On an analytical level I have shown that the actors undergo four different, interconnected identification processes during their participation in the backpacker culture:
However, due to the limited space available, my analysis has not included a direct link to each of the specific working hypothesis (please see chapter one), which I used to get a more concrete set of questions to work with in relation to my foci. In order to conclude on this study I will draw a line between the working hypotheses and my overall findings, while putting some of my findings into perspective.
Working hypothesis (1) concerned backpacking as culture. As expected I have found that the backpacker culture is hierarchically structured and the primary status indicators in the hierarchy are connected to the values in that the backpacker culture's value system: Freedom, independence, tolerance, low budget and interaction with locals. If the individual embraces these values he will enter a "free-zone" where he can behave as he likes and be what he wants to be (if he upholds the values of the backpacker culture), which makes him able to "test" himself on numerous levels. My thesis was that there was a "link" between the hierarchy, the values in the backpacker culture, and some form of social exchange, all of which I believed effected the individuals meaning and identity making processes. However, it was only by participating in the backpacker culture that I found the particular "link" I was searching for. As it turned out, a person's status is established by using the particular code of conduct: "Where have you been? How long are you travelling for? Where are you going?" and so on at a first meeting. It is in this "preliminary exchange situation" that each of the socializing parties establish, whether the other party is of lower, higher or equal status to themselves, and hereby whether or not the other person is "worth" exchanging more detailed travel information with. Since travel information is the most valued object of exchange in the backpacker culture, a person is bound to pursue the values/status indicators of the backpacker culture to heighten his status in the hierarchy. When actually practised, the various valued practices in the backpacker culture are in themselves meaning and identity making such as, going of the beaten track, practising the journey, engaging in unfamiliar projects and setting up new goals etc. As I have also made explicit in my analysis, however, there is a discrepancy between structure and practice, as the backpackers spend more time on verbally reproducing the values of the backpacker culture than actually practising them; a person can in fact gain a higher status in the hierarchy just by "playing on" the signifiers (the values) without having even practised them (the signified). Hereby the values in themselves become highly significant to the individual's meaning and identity making.
Another question was how the backpacker culture is reproduced over time. I have found that the backpacker culture arises from two different sides of a "cultural expectation spectrum", as new backpackers join the backpacker culture out of fear, confusion and loneliness (a negative culture shock), whereas experienced backpackers do it out of "disappointment" with the new destination (a positive culture shock). When they join the backpacker culture they are quickly socialized into embarking on the norms and values of the backpacker culture, whereby the culture itself is being reproduced. In comparing my findings to Sørensen's (1992a) study, the backpacker culture barely seems to have undergone any changes over the last ten years. I will argue that the strong continuity is due to the abruptness of the social relationships, the high mobility, and the fact that most actors only participate in the culture for a limited time. Thereby, no one is in a position to start new practises and, through that, transform the structure and values of the backpacker culture.
I have, however, found one rather significant difference compared to Sørensen's (1992a) study, regarding hypothesis (3) a critique of backpacking as a "Rite de Passage". My informants "did" something with the values of the backpacker culture, as they projected them unto their narratives of who they are, were and will be, whereby they both applied meaning to backpacking and derived meaning from backpacking and construct that meaning into their complete narratives. By doing so, they dissolved any discrepancy or difference between their past, present and ideal future identity there might have been and should have been if backpacking was to be understood as a secularised ritual. Therefore, even though the informants do believe they undergo personal development through backpacking, I do not regard it as valid to theorise on backpacking, as a Rite de Passage, because the "passage" is simply missing from my informants' narratives.
The processes of building a bridge (via backpacking) between the present, travelling self, the past, and the future self, makes backpacking unique compared to other kinds of tourism, as backpacking does not constitute a "holiday" in the same sense as any ordinary kind of tourism. As Sørensen (1999:97-98) has argued, backpacking might be a break away from everyday life, but backpacking cannot be conceived as the binary opposition to everyday life like a "holiday", because, as I have shown, it does affect the meaning and identity making of it's participants beyond the sphere of travelling, in the sense that they weave the backpacker culture's values into their narratives pre- and post travelling.
However, they do that while they are still travelling and as predicted in hypothesis (2) regarding values of the backpacker culture, I have not been able to establish whether or not backpackers impose the values of the backpacker culture on to their home structures. Many of my informants stated that they would do so, and some of them that they had already done that, but since I have not followed them after homecoming, I cannot fully conclude on that aspect of backpacking. However, the ex-backpacking questionnaire respondents did continue to uphold the backpacker culture's values and "played on them" in the manner they answered the questionnaire; as though they were still "competing" over status in the backpacker hierarchy. In regard to that particular practise of my respondents, the values of the backpacker culture still have some effect on the backpackers after homecoming. Whether it is generally so, or if it was because the subject at hand was backpacking that they "leaped" into a backpacker identity, I cannot conclude on.
Hypothesis (4a) regarded backpacking and the post-modern individual. My thesis was that post- modern individuals would only practise backpacking if it was somehow meaning and identity making. I can conclude that first time backpackers had other goals with travelling although some mentioned self- realisation, hence, they do not engage in their first trip primarily to "explore themselves". But in the case of people who had travelled extensively it was clear that one of the main functions of backpacking had become self-realisation, understood as personal development, or, more exact, a matter of "becoming the person the individual wanted to be".
Hypothesis (4b) concerned the concept of meaning and identity borrowed from Hans Siebers (2000). I wanted to see whether or not the backpackers constructed their narratives in accordance with his concept. His theory is that the individual would try to construct a coherent and meaningful narrative out of also smaller events in their lifespans. The analysis of the narratives has shown that that was exactly what the backpackers did with their backpacking experience (which in any case must constitute a relatively short event in their entire life cycles). They applied meaning to backpacking and derived meaning from it and built that meaning into a coherent narrative of their selves. Siebers (2000) also shows that individuals and societies can draw on different and even opposing epistemologies in the way they construct their narratives/histories, without any concern about the opposing character of those epistemologies; science and religion for example. What my informants did was similar to Siebers' (2000) theory, and then again also somewhat different. My informants may not have drawn on opposing epistemologies, but at least different values systems (the backpacker cultures value system, as opposed to that of their home cultures), not that the five basic values of the backpacker culture does not exist in their home cultures, they surely do, but the values are "over-exposed" in the backpacker culture. What my informants did, which differs from Siebers' theory, was that instead of just mixing and thereby "ignoring" the differences in the value systems, they dissolved the differences, by projecting the values of the backpacker culture on to their entire lifespans, basically telling the stories of various events in their past, present and ideal future lives by means of the backpacker culture's value system, whereby the narratives became extremely coherent and meaningful. However, it is rather unlikely that their lives "truly" were centred almost entirely on those values, even more unlikely that the values were indeed practised throughout their lives. Still, the way they told about their "reality" made sense to them and provided them with a coherent and meaningful identity.
The values the backpackers put so much emphasis on are ultimately modern in origin, but as opposed to modern individuals, the backpackers found more meaning in "preaching" the values than actually practising them. Thereby the values sui generis became significant to the individual's meaning and identity making processes. Finding meaning and identifying with the values (the signifiers) as opposed to the practises (the signified) is, according to some scholars, a post-modern phenomenon (Lash and Urry 1994). I will argue that the backpackers used this post-modern trait to the extreme in the way they constructed the backpacker culture's values into their entire life stories without necessarily practising them. Overall, the practise of taking modern values and processing them in a manner, which is highly post-modern points towards a "meta-conflict" in the backpacker culture as such and in the way that post-modern individuals practising backpacking construct their narratives and thereby find meaning and identity. The actors are, however, not conscious about this conflict, as they have dissolved all opposing differences there might have been in their "realities" in the manner they told their stories.
The backpacker culture is one of the most post-modern cultures/societies that exists to date with its: High mobility, abrupt social relationships, valuating of the visual, and identification with signifiers as opposed to the signified. Scholars (Lash and Urry 1994; Urry 1995; Bauman 1996; Bauman 1997) predict that especially the Western world, with societies based on modern values, will develop in a more post-modern direction, which means an even higher exposure of the above mentioned features. My findings in the backpacker culture may therefore indicate what cultural traits of dealing with the discrepancy between modern values and a post-modern reality (or just conflicting realities in general) we can expect to find in our own societies presently and in the future: Schizophrenic societies that dissolve conflicting realities by hiding them in a meaningful and identity making web of self deception, which has the advantage of dissolving the meta-conflict this practise in itself constitutes.
Bauman, Zygmunt. 1997: "Postmodernity and its Discontents", New York, New York University Press.
Bauman, Zygmunt. 1996: "From Pilgrim to Tourist - or a short History of Identity", in Hall, Stuart and Paul du Gay: "Questions of Cultural Identity", London, Sage Publications.
Bruner, Edward M. 1995: "The Ethnographer/Tourist in Indonesia", in Lanfant, Marie Farncoise,
Allock, John B. and Edward, Bruner M. (Eds.): "International Tourism: Identity and Change", London, Sage Publications Ltd.
Cohen, Erik. 1973: "Nomads from Affluence: Notes on the Phenomenon of Drifter-Tourism", International Journal of Comparative Sociology, vol. 14, no. 1, p. 89-103.
Deforges, Luke. 2000: "Travelling the World: Identity and Travel Biography", Annals Of Tourism Research, vol. 27, no. 4, p. 926-945.
Friedman, Jonathan. 1994: "Cultural Identity and Global Process", London, Sage Publications.
Lash, Scott and John Urry. 1999: "Economies of Signs and Space", London, Sage Publications Ltd.
Loker-Murphy, L. and Philip L. Pearce. 1995: "Young Budget Travellers: Backpackers in Australia", Annals of Tourism Research, vol.22, no. 4, p. 819-843.
McGregor, Andrew. 2000: "Dynamic Texts and Tourist Gaze: Death, Bones and Buffalo", Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 27, no. 1, p. 27-50.
Miller, Robert L. 2000: "Researching Life Stories and Family Histories", London, Sage Publications.
Murphy, Laurie. 2001: "Exploring Social Interactions of Backpackers", Annals of Tourism Research, vol. 28, no. 1, p. 50-67.
Riley, Pamela J. 1988: "Road Culture of International Long-Term Budget Travelers", Annals of Tourism Research, vol.15, no.3, p.313-328.
Siebers, Hans. 2000: "Thinking Together What Falls Apart: Some Reflections on the Concept of Identity", in Driessen, Henk and Ton Otto (eds.): "Perplexities of Identification", Århus, Århus University Press.
Sørensen, Anders. 1999: "Travellers in the periphery: Backpackers and other independent multiple destination tourists in peripheral areas", Bornholm, Bornholms Forskningscenter.
Sørensen, Anders. 1992a: "Travellers i Sydøstafrika - en etnografisk introduktion", fieldwork thesis, Århus University, Moesgaard, Department of Ethnography and Social Anthropology.
Urry, John. 1995: "Consuming Places", London, Routledge.
|Region/country||Travelled by number of respondents|
|The Middle East||14|
Male / Female
4: Level of Education (Please Mark the Highest Level of Education You Have or Is Undergoing a
Grammar school / Obligatorisk Folkeskole
High school / Gymnasium / Handelsskole
Your Backpacking History
5: How Old Were You When Backpacking the First Time?
6: How Many Times Have You Been Traveling in a Backpacker Manner?
1 / 2 / 3 / 4 / More than 4
7: Did You Travel with a Planned Travel Partner/partners the First Time? (Not People You Met
While on the Road)
Yes / No
8: Which Regions/continents Have You Been Backpacking To?
The Middle East
Russia/Any of the Former Soviet Countries
9: How Many Months Does Your Average Backpacking Trip Last?
< 15 Months
Planning Your Trip
10: How Do You Inform Yourself about the Cultural/poltical/religious Environments of the
Countries You Plan on Visiting Before Arrival?
(Please Mark after Priority Between 1- 9. Highest Priority Is Number 9, If You Give the Same Priority to More Approaches Use the Same Number as Many Times as You Wish)
Read the Relevant Sections in "The Lonely Planet"
Read the Relevant Sections in Other Guidebooks
Use Common Media: Tv, Radio, Newspapers, Magazines
Ask Friends and Family Who Has Been There
Watch Films from or about the Region/country
Surf the Internet
Do Not Do Anything Before Arrival
Only Look up Information about Countries Where You Perceive Travelling to Be Dangerous
11: Did You Have a "Going a Way Party" or Some Other Kind of Festivitas on Departure?
Yes / No
12: What Was Your Personal Goals with Traveling Before Arrival? (Such as Meeting New Cultures, Getting New Friends, Learning to Dive, Etc.) (Please Write Below)
13: Did You at Any Point of Your Travel Take up a Job with a Cash Income in the Country
Yes / No
14: Did You at Any Point of Your Travel Take up a Volunteer Job in the Country Travelled in ?
Yes / No
On the Road
15: Did Your Personal Goals Concerning the Trip Change When You Started Travelling?
Yes / No
16: (If Yes) Did You Make up New Personal Goals for the Trip?
Yes / No
17: Do You Try to Avoid Tourists While Travelling?
Yes / No
18: Do You Try to Avoid Other Backpackers While Travelling?
Yes / No
19: Did You at Any Point of Your Trip Feel That Travelling Was Meaningless/pointless?
Yes / No
20: (If Yes) What Did You Do about It? (Please Write Below)
21: What Was Your Best Experience While Traveling? (Please Write Below)
22: How Would You Define a Real Backpacker? (Please Write Below)
23: Have You Had Any of below
Symptoms (Out of the Ordinary) Shortly after Arrival Back
Feeling Confused about the Future
Feeling Confused about Your Own Identity
Beeing Bored out of the Ordinary
Feeling like Nobody Wants to Listen to You
Feeling like Nobody Understands You
Feeling like Starting a New Backpacking Trip Right Away
24: Will You Go Backpacking Again?
Yes / No / Maybe
25: How Many Persons among Your Friends and Relatives Do You Think Have Been Backpacking?
26: If You Have Any Comments or Personal Thoughts about this Study or Backpacking in General Please Write Them Here
Thank you for participating!
|Data from Questionnaire Survey|
|Data from semi-structured interviews|
|Data from life story interviews|
5. Number of backpacker trips?
6. Average length of trip?
7. Best travel experience?
8. Why do you travel?
9. Why travel in this manner?
10. Are you a real backpacker?
11. Do you go off the beaten track?
12. Picture yourself in five - ten years, what kind of life/lifestyle do you have?
13. Do you think you would be the person you are today without travelling?
14. Why do you hang out with other backpackers?
15. Did you ever felt fed up with travelling - that travelling was somehow meaningless or pointless?
16. What did you do about it?
17. Have you ever felt depressed at home after homecoming?
5. Number of trips?
6. Average length and destinations?
7. Why do you travel?
8. Why do you travel in this manner?
9. Why is the length of the trip important?
10. Are you a real backpacker?
11. Why hang out with other backpackers?
12. Why are other people's travel-stories and information important?
13. Have you ever felt that you were a worse /better backpacker than others?
14. Have you ever felt that there are things you cannot do if you want to be accepted by other backpackers?
15. Do you think there is a hierarchy among backpackers?
16. How much time in percentage do you spend with backpackers/locals?
17. How did you feel on your very first trip when you just started it? Was it like you expected?
18. Do you feel that you have developed/changed as a person during your travels?
"I still question what I'm doing and if it is worth while. Within two weeks of leaving home I felt like this. From intense work to total freedom - that is hard..." (Anni, 28, Australian)
Though the majority of my informants and the respondents in the questionnaire survey stated that they had never found travelling to be "pointless or meaningless", I often met and observed backpackers on the destinations, who acted bored and depressed or just seems to suffer from a certain fatigue. They slept a lot, had problems getting even little things done and often they stated that they would leave the next day, but they didn't and according to my observations that little ritual of telling everybody that they were leaving the next day could go on for both days and weeks. Some informants explained that they were fed up with being on the move all the time and having to make endless choices about where to go next and how to get there:
"Sometimes it's been hard to deal with (freedom). Just deciding to go left or right. But you have to every day. It changes every minute if you meet the right person or read something. I wanted to go to the beaches in Mexico, but now I'm in Guatemala. There is always room for changes and mistakes." (Ulli, 23, Israeli)
Interestingly, the informants didn't solve their problems by settling down somewhere or simply by going back home. They all explained that the only way they could get out of this kind of "momentarily depression" was by travelling on. Like Uri explained, the backpackers had to make those choices every day and it didn't just concern the larger questions of which new destination to go to but also where to eat (three times a day), where to sleep, what to do all day, whom to befriend and so forth. It may not seem as big "existential" choices and it wasn't, but I will argue that the combined amount of choices a backpacker has to make everyday by far overseeds the number of choices he will have to make in his home culture and on top of that the range of choices to be made are often different from the choices the backpacker is dealing with in his home environment and therefore a new challenge to him:
"I mean I have worries here, but it is not worries I would ever have at home. It's where to sleep, how much money I have, if my towel will be dry tomorrow when I put it in my bag - it's stupid worries, but they have nothing to do with the worries at home…." (Oria, 26, Israeli)
Though some of the choices might seem insignificant on the surface, they can in fact be interpreted by the individual as being important; meaning that choosing where to sleep could lead to meeting a new travel partner or get new travel advice, which is of importance to the individuals abilities to make his backpacking experience as good as possible, so choosing a place to sleep isn't just a matter of whether or not there is a relatively comfortable bed it's much more a matter of whether the place is a place where one can expect to meet the "right kind of people" to exchange information with.
Overall I believe that having to make unfamiliar choices and experiencing "momentarily" depressions are of significance to meaning and identity making. - As having problems in dealing with the freedom of backpacking takes the individual through emotional distress, which he is the only one to solve! There are no friends, no family and no familiar norms to tell him how to deal with a certain choice or the situation he finds himself in when he feels depressed:
"When you are travelling and you are in a bad mood all alone, you have to get yourself together to get out." (Claudia, 34, Dutch)
The backpackers do solve their problems and move on (I haven't met or heard of anybody who were going home because they didn't feel well).
Being able to deal with a personal, emotional crisis all on your own and get out "fit for fight" in the other end, is undoubtedly a very meaning and identity making experience, which strengthens the individuals self-confidence and awareness of his self and his limitations.
Ann: "I think a lot of times, when I look at what I want to do with my life - not just like where I want to work tomorrow or what ever, but it sort of always reminds me of this commercial for a grocery store. It sort of summoned it up and it said: "When you die, what do you want people to say about you? Do you want them to say: "Oh, Ann had such a nice house, Ann has a beautiful car or she always keeps her house clean, or do you want them to say: "She lived her life, she went out and did what she wanted to do?" (Ann 7/8).
Ann is 27 years old and American. She is tall, blond and has green eyes - but she is part Cherokee and spent some of her childhood in an Indian reserve, where the kids would roam the bush with bow and arrow to hunt down the legendary "Evil deer woman". Her father worked abroad on oilrigs and brought home fantastic presents for Ann. One of the most memorable presents was a huge snakeskin from a snake he had shot, which Ann amazed the other kids with, when the class had a "show and tell." Ann has spent most of her life in Texas, but since she started college, she's been living in Key West and mainland Florida where she has a well-paid job as a bartender and studies. She started out studying marine biology but has changed her major to geography in order to get a transfer to teaching. Ann always wanted to go travelling and she emphasizes that her dads' stories and presents from abroad has had a big influence on her. At first she wanted to go to Guatemala, as she was working with a Guatemalan girl who told her all about it, but her parents were very much against it, so she let the whole idea of travelling go till she moved to Key West and became friends with a gay couple who told her about Malaysia, where they went every summer. She bought the Lonely Planet for Southeast Asia and started reading about Malaysia and all the other places. She figured she could just as well go everywhere, since she was buying the plane ticket anyway. She told her parents and her boyfriend about her plans and they were all very much against it. Her parents thought it would be too dangerous and suggested she should go to England instead and her boyfriend kept telling her she wouldn't carry her dream through! Ann didn't really realize what a great step she was taking before she was finally on the plane to Hong Kong - then she got scared! As it occurred to her that she had never been out of the states and she didn't know any foreign languages. But she didn't need to worry. She fell in love with Hong Kong the minute she landed at four in the morning:
"When I flew into Hong Kong everything was so easy! People spoke English, there were busses that would take me straight from the airport to the hotel that I picked out from the Lonely Planet and it was just such a different experience, that I loved it and I loved the city of Hong Kong. It just has such a wonderful feeling of life to it." (Ann 7/8)
She then went to mainland China and started learning to carry the weight of a backpack and eating everything with chopsticks, non of which was smooth going at first, but she quickly learned - she also leaned, that she wasn't alone out there:
"I realized that everywhere, even though there aren't a lot of backpackers in China, I was never alone: On the bus, the hotels, everywhere I went, I would always meet up with others. I think a lot of it was, that when people would see me by myself, they tend to come to me and want me to come with them and they are like " oh, the lonely girl" and especially guys. I ended up travelling with a lot of guys. I think they have this "big brother syndrome" or whatever. Which was always fine with me. It was great, I was never by myself I was never lonely or anything...." (Ann 7/8)
China fascinated Ann: The markets, the odd stuff she could buy, the food, the sights and the Chinese people who always seemed to help her when she needed it. Even though she didn't speak Chinese and only a few Chinese students speak English, they would always: Walk her to a bus station, write down place-names for her or make sure she got on the right train, when all the signs were in Chinese. Another great part of the trip was the other backpackers:
"Then I went to the terracotta worriers, went into Beijing and did all the touristy stuff, but I think the greatest part of that trip was just seeing a culture so different from the one I lived in - but more meeting people from other countries. I just loved sitting around talking to people from other countries, and I would always write home to my mom, that I feel so stupid, because I could always tell people, that I was from Oklahoma and they knew where that was, but they would tell me, that they were from, like Denmark, and I had like no clue where that was - somewhere in Europe, but I had no idea. I think that was the best part and it. It definitely is what made me want to keep travelling: Talking to people, not only about where they were from, but where they had been and hearing their stories of other countries where that had been. I was already planning my next trip before I got home." (Ann 7/8)
All the way through China, Laos, Thailand and Malaysia she kept meeting young people just out of High School or University. Ann envied them, that their home cultures seemed to "allow" them to go travelling for a year and even regarded travelling as a good thing, which is the exact opposite of how Ann's own country perceives travelling. After the planned four months in Southeast Asia, Ann went back home. She had no money and had to stay at her parents for a short while before she moved back to Florida. They were still very upset about her travels.
Ann often finds it hard to tell other people about her travels, because they keep saying how brave she is and how much they would like to do the same thing, which she gets really fed up with because they have the exact same lifestyle as her, so she is of the opinion, that they should just go and do it. However, she loves to tell about her travels, when she goes home to her old High School friends:
"People I went to High School with who are still working at Wall Mart in the same little town, married and divorced with three little kids, I don't mind telling them. Especially the ones, that are still there and were voted "most likely to succeed" and they are still stuck there, working at a gas station or something. I hung out with the skaters and the punks, and they always thought that me and my friends would be the ones who never did anything; that we would still be stuck there." (Ann 7/8)
Travelling had gotten a hold on Ann and after just a few months, she wanted to go again, but it took her two years of saving up before she could make that dream come true. In the meanwhile she did a short trip to the Bahamas just to get the feeling of being away again:
"...it's just an escape, like not having to go to work, I can do what ever I want, whenever I want. Not having to go through a set schedule or even a time schedule and I think that is what is very addictive about travelling, because I know when I get home after a couple of months of going to work and going to school I get edgy and I get "I got to go, I got to do something."" (Ann 7/8)
Ann started planning her second trip about six months before leaving. She took out a world map and started going over which countries, she would like to go to. She went to bookstores, read Lonely Planets on various countries and consulted the Internet and backpacker webpages for more information. Every week she would change her mind about where to go, everywhere from Papua New Guinea to Africa was an option. She had a new boyfriend at this time, whom she had been dating for 6 months, but she didn't feel that the relationship was going anywhere and she knew he didn't have the money to go travelling - so she told him what she was going to do as a way of telling him they had no future together. She waited till the last minute to tell her parents, because then maybe they wouldn't worry so much beforehand. She decided on going to India and Nepal for five months, as she was told by other backpackers and informed by LP, that that was the minimum of time to spend, if she wanted to really see the countries. Ann travels long term, as she believes she get to know the local culture and the country better that way. However, she it still sad, that she doesn't spend as much time with the locals, as she would like to:
"I think it is on both sides, I think they want to talk to us, but they are maybe intimidated or scared and we are also kind of intimidated or scarred to just go up and talk to them. But I definitely would love to spend more time in all the countries and learn more about the culture, so I think a lot of backpackers do as well and I think, that is why we end up just reading books about it, because you don't get so much of the real interaction. (Ann 7/8).
At her second trip she went straight into the backpacker culture. She deliberately sought out places with other backpackers in order to get information on the new region and to have someone to socialize with. In a few instances she got off the beaten track in Southern India and felt very lonely. In Nepal she met a new group of backpackers: Travelling teachers. Either people who taught back home and then travelled in the summer holidays or teachers, who taught abroad, saved up money and then went travelling in the region they were teaching in. Ann found that a rather smart way of combining work and travel.
By the time Ann came home from her second trip, her mom had started to accept that travelling was going to be a big part of Ann's life, so she also asked Ann to become a teacher and find a man who wanted to travel too. Ann then changed her majors from Marine biology to geography, as that was more compatible with teaching and then she started planning what her new life as a teacher should be like:
"I have looked into it a lot through the Internet and I have found companies, who own language schools all over the world and you can work for that company and they change countries whenever you want and it is just like working at a normal school. The longer you work for them the more seniority you get - it is a lot better than just flying into a country and then walking into a school like a lot of people I met. I mean it can actuarially be like a carrier. My mother hounds me non stop about getting married and starting a family, so now every time I travel she always tells me to look for another traveller to get married to, somebody else who wants to travel. I think the great thing would be living on a tropical island, not really tropical but like Key West or Puerto Rico or somewhere. Puerto Rico would be nice, because I could still teach English and be married, of course having a couple of kids - but still travelling. Either travelling through teaching and taking my kids along with me and putting them in the different schools as we change countries or just travelling on summer vacation, but definitely travelling." (Ann 7/8)
Travelling in Honduras and Guatemala for just two months is Ann's third and shortest trip, she is mainly here to study Spanish and to finally fulfil her dream of going to Guatemala - the dream that started it all. Ann thinks she has changed her ways and perspectives in many regards by travelling:
"I definitely have become smarter, not just on geography, but at least I feel smarter about worldly events I never really cared for before. It didn't bother me, what was going on in other countries and now even countries I haven't even been to interest me. It has definitely made me a more open-minded person, just as far as everything. People. Now my whole motto is: "Just live and let live" and even my opinion on multiracial relationships - like my dad would just die if I ever came home with a black date - really it wouldn't bother me anymore. I dated a guy from Bangladesh and now the thought of dating a black guy just wouldn't bother me, if he was a nice guy and he met all my criteria." (Ann 7/8)
Ann is working on fulfilling her dream of combining work, travel and a family life. Right now she has a boyfriend from Puerto Rico, but she isn't sure, that it's going to last, so she is also using dating sites on the Internet to find a "like-minded-traveller." In Guatemala she even managed to chat (electronically) with a guy, who was backpacking in Nepal at the time.
 To my knowledge, there are no existing figures on how many people go backpacking world wide.
 See appendix A.
 Deforges (2000) does not specify who his object of study is. He includes various definitions of tourists, but his arguments are not directed exclusively at backpackers.
 The same: Structure, demography, travelling method, social practises and values.
 The hypotheses outline how I believed the backpacking "reality" to be and why. They were formed with background in: Communication with ex-backpackers, Lonely Planet films, websites for backpackers and of course a study of the related literature both theoretical and fictional. My own former backpacking experiences have also been an important factor.
 Space/discrepancy is to be understood as the imaginary space that is created when the individual's expectations and perceived reality come into conflict.
 Later I will, however, argue that some people still identify with backpacking after homecoming.
 A beaten track destination is a frequently visited place by either just backpackers or also by tourists. Such a place can be a famous temple, an island with diving facilities, an old colonial town or a place famous for it's animal life or natural beauty. Such a place often has a relatively developed tourist infrastructure with many hostels, hotels and restaurants at all price levels and there is: Internet, cinemas, phones, laundry services, bookstores and tour companies.
 An off the beaten track destination can be anything from a crossroad with no other backpackers/tourists to an industrial harbour where the backpackers might end up by mistake. Furthermore, it can be a place such as a secluded village or a natural reserve in the mountains where one goes specifically because it's been described as an off the beaten track place by other backpackers or in the Lonely Planet. Both types of places are characterised by their lack of tourism infrastructure, tourists and backpackers.
 The values of the backpacker culture will be analysed elsewhere in the report.
 I have chosen to change the names of each informant in this report, as some of them shared rather personal insight into the subject at hand, which they might regret after homecoming.
 See appendix B.
 See appendix C.
 I constructed the questionnaire to contain a broad range of 26 open-ended and close-ended questions. I wanted to get information on the respondents' personal data, backpacker history, how they planned their trips, practises on the road and feelings at homecoming. I wrote a follow-letter to the questionnaire, where I explained that the people who received it should forward it to their backpacker friends (until a certain date), what their answers were going to be used for and that I myself was going to backpack in Central America to conduct this study.
 Projects and goals of the backpackers will be analysed elsewhere in this report.
 Only in two instances did I feel that someone (the same woman in both cases) felt suspicious and annoyed by my presence.
 See appendix D.
 See appendix E.
 My only reference on how to classify levels of education has been the Danish educational system, where a person's level of education is mainly dependent on the average time a certain study takes. Fields such as healthcare and teaching are relatively short educations in Denmark and therefore I have classified such jobs and studies as "lower education" and only university, college, or business school as "higher education."
 See chapter four for hierarchy and status indicators.
 Sørensen (1992a) found the same feature in Southeast Africa. He was, however, only concerned with the lack of "black" travellers and he doesn't mention whether there was also a lack of other races or ethnic groups.
 A film such as The Beach gives the impression that backpacking is a physically demanding experience and in films made by Lonely Planet the narrator is almost constantly alone, managing difficult border crossings and being hassled by strange, exotic locals all on his own.
 Another explanation is that in many countries only men have compulsory military duty.
 There are of course also older backpackers, people of lower education and people from non-western countries within in the backpacker culture, but they are very limited in numbers.
 Researching the specific nationalities in the backpacker culture separately has not been within the scope of this project. However, for example Israelis see backpacking as something everybody does in their home culture, whereas the Americans kept stressing that they were the only ones they knew who went backpacking. That the different nationalities can perceive themselves as either completely normal or completely extraordinary by practising backpacking is, of course, of significance to the individual's identity making process.
 The backpacker culture is gendered, as there are things that men can do, which women can't to the same extent, but that has more to do with the surrounding cultures (women are for example more likely to be raped by locals than men are) than with the backpacker culture itself.
 A positive culture shock isn't positive in the sense that it makes people happy - it's just positive in the way that it isn't new or different from the already known.
 It has not been within the scope of this study to research backpackers´ concept of culture. But through my interviews and general dialogue with my informants it's become clear that they distinguish between the real and the less real culture/local. Real culture and real locals are perceived to exist to a higher extent in remote and less developed areas and the more colourful the locals dress, the more real they are. This conception has the consequence that indigenous people, as for example the various Indian tribes in Guatemala, are seen as more real and as having more culture than the non-indigenous, majority populations in Central America. A country such as Costa Rica has a very small indigenous population, which is not visual in terms of traditional clothes, and more than once backpackers have told me that: "They have no culture in Costa Rica!"
 It was rather striking how many people took Spanish classes to get to "know the locals", as I have never met or heard of any backpackers travelling in Southeast Asia taking: Laotian or Khmer classes. So that might just be a regional phenomenon.
 See appendix F.
 "...Or you end up in a place where you are all by yourself and there is nobody there and you feel depressed and lonely and you feel this sucks." (Derek, 28, Canadian)
 El Salvador is considered one of the most dangerous places to travel. I only met three backpackers who had been there and they had just crossed through the country to go to Honduras or Guatemala.
 In the following, only fragments of my informants' narratives will be introduced. An example of how informants built aspects of backpacking into their entire life story ís found in appendix G.