Flashpacking is on the rise. In 2015, a survey of 1,000 working professionals aged between 35 and 54 found that 78% would define their travelling style as “flashpacker”. Many of those who responded to this poll, commissioned by The Flash Pack travel company, felt that they had simply grown out of backpacking.
But what is flashpacking and what does that mean for you? Or maybe you are already a flashpacker? Let’s take a closer look.
A flashpacker is born
Firstly, allow me to share my transition from backpacker to flashpacker. The turning point was in Raratonga in 1996. My friend Fi and I had a short stay on this South Pacific island, en route from New Zealand to Los Angeles, as part of a round-the-world jaunt. Arriving at our pre-booked budget hotel in the wee small hours of the morning, the dim glow of a bare lightbulb was not able to conceal its squalor. Let’s put it this way … we would not have to leave the ‘comfort’ of our room to feel sand between our toes.
Unable to face spending a further three nights in this hovel, we cut our losses and hightailed it out of there the following morning. For the remainder of our stay, by day we chilled at our beachside luxury hotel, and by night drank our way through the drinks menu of its cocktail bar with a group of Kiwis. Happy days and the point of no return in terms of my being a backpacker.
Until then I had done my fair share of staying in hostels and cheap hotels. I had earned my budget backpacker spurs whipping up pasta and noodle-based meals in grimy kitchens and making the acquaintance of many a cockroach. And let’s not forget the joy of bathing under cold water in clogged up showers, and sleeping in the bunk under the snorer.
Don’t get me wrong. If I could turn back the clock I would not change a thing. Far from it. I value the fun, friendships and wisdom gained from my backpacking days, and these experiences have helped to form who I am today. But there came a point when I was ready to ditch dorm beds for boutique hotels, and fast food for fine dining. Now my mission is to spend as little as possible on as much luxury as possible whilst still travelling independently. Not so much a backpacker, more a flashpacker.
What is a flashpacker?
The Oxford English Dictionary or Chambers aren’t much help here, but the Urban Dictionary defines it in two ways:
- referring to a backpacker with better budget – independent travellers with money to spend.
- a geeky backpacker – youngsters which always carry around a backpack stuffed with ‘indispensable’ gadgetry: laptop, pda, gps etc
These definitions are broadly accepted, particularly the first one.
Flashpacking bridges the gap between travelling the world on $50 a day and living it up in 5-star hotels. Whilst it is not the preserve of the wealthy, it is associated with those travelling on a bigger budget. It is all about valuing comfort over saving pounds. Although flashpackers do not fit firmly into a certain demographic, they do tend to be older travellers and believe that investing in good meals and comfortable accommodation enriches the travel experience. We are talking boutique and occasional luxury hotels here instead of dormitories, and favouring taxi transfers over complicated and time-consuming bus journeys from A to B.
However, I disagree with the second definition. As backpackers nowadays travel with DSLRs, smartphones and tablets, travelling with gadgets can no longer be a distinguishing criterion of the flashpacker.
Could you be a flashpacker?
This really depends on the type of traveller you are. Ask yourself these five key questions:
- Do I want to travel independently?
- Would I pay $100 for a flight instead of paying $10 for a 10-hour journey on a chicken bus?
- Am I prepared to pay extra to stay in more comfortable accommodation?
- Am I happy go out for dinner rather than self-cater?
- Do I now feel too old for hostels?
- Is a room with its own bathroom essential for me?
If the answer to at least five of these questions is ‘yes’, then you are a flashpacker at heart.
Will you be able to meet fellow travellers as a solo flashpacker?
Staying in a hostel is often a very social experience and a good way to meet fellow travellers. Although, as a flashpacker, this option may not be open to you, there are other ways to meet people on the road. Smaller, boutique hotels and B&Bs tend to be friendlier than larger luxury hotels. Or how about going on a day tour, taking a class or doing wine tasting? Coffee shops or bars are also good places to meet like-minded people.
Can you have an authentic travel experience as a flashpacker?
What is authenticity when applied to travel? It is a hot topic within the travel industry but what does it mean and can you be a flashpacker and embrace the principles of authentic travel? It is a tricky concept to pin down and I propose that authenticity is an artificial goal and measure of travel, and its pursuit is flawed.
Let’s examine this a little closer. Andrew Johnson, an anthropologist from Yale-NUS College, remarks that authenticity derives not from the host country’s culture, but is instead, “the game of the tourist.” It is a shiny badge that the visitor proudly pins on their lapel for avoiding the “touristy”, instead seeking out places “untouched” by Westernisation and seeing how the “locals” live.
The major flaw with the pursuit of authenticity is that it is the visitor who is defining what it is. This is a subjective judgement and one based on their own perceptions and previous exposure to that culture. Let me ask you this. How do you know that the Pad Thai you picked up at the street marker in Chang Mai is more authentic than the one you ate in the restaurant at the Shangri La Hotel in Bangkok? Chang Mai’s street market and the Shangri La are merely two different representations of Thailand. Who’s to say which one is more “real”?
Perhaps in pursuing authentic travel you should look within yourself, not externally. Jonathan Mildenhall, the ex-CEO of Airbnb, has presented this as an alternative:
“Because you have the time you don’t necessarily have in your regular life, you’re looking to really connect with the true and authentic individual that is inside you.”
Considering the subjectivity in interpreting authentic travel, this is an approach that I can buy into. Instead of seeking out the most authentic Pad Thai why not seek out a dish or flavour that you have never experienced?
Moving from backpacker to flashpacker
I’m not saying that the transition from backpacker to flashpacker is always an easy one. You may feel that by waving goodbye to your budget backpacking days, you are ditching a laissez-faire approach to travel, and that it is a sign of growing older. But it’s ok to feel that way and you should embrace the advantages of being a more mature traveller, namely experience, affluence and, hopefully, wisdom.
Although your strap-on backpack may be jettisoned in favour of the wheeled variety or – whisper it – a suitcase, you can continue to travel independently and be every bit as adventurous as your former backpacker self. The difference is that you are able and willing to spend more money to travel in comfort and to maximise your time.
In conclusion, if you have the independent spirit of backpacking but have grown beyond travelling on a budget, then flashpacking may be the solution for you. But I am going to leave the last word to Radha Vyas, the co-founder of The Flash Pack travel company:
“Flashpacking is not just a travel trend, but more significantly it’s a travel lifestyle that takes all the bits you loved about backpacking in your twenties and gives it a grown-up, luxurious edge. Those that assimilate themselves with this trend are the modern day backpackers with new priorities.”