I’ve sat in many hostels, bus stations, and restaurants in tourist hot spots observing my backpacking peers. I’ve identified a disconcerting pattern that makes me wonder if they are having a fulfilling travel experience.
Of course, we are each responsible for defining and striving toward our own idea of “fulfillment.”
If you are content snapping photos of a country’s famous sites, getting drunk in backpacker bars, and hanging out with other Aussies, Canadians, Americans, Brits, (insert nationality here), this post will probably bore you.
But maybe you’re wondering why you haven’t made any local friends, why you keep getting ripped off, or what you can do to enhance your travel experience. Cutting the umbilical cord from your backpacking buddies might be the answer.
What’s so bad about hanging out with backpackers? Of course, it’s not all bad. But you already know the benefits, so I’ll point out the disadvantages.
#1: You have to claim their bad behavior.
Ugh. A huge mistake that I’ve made a few times is hanging out with backpackers in public that I’ve only spoken with briefly, before I got a real sense of who they are or what they’re about. One memory that sticks out in my mind is meeting a group of guys at my hostel and deciding to hit up a few bars with them. Though they appeared somewhat normal in the dorm, they turned into wild animals as soon as we left. Puking in the bar, getting in arguments with locals, and screaming loud enough to wake up the neighbors are all moments I had to endure that night. So much for being culturally sensitive.
#2: You’ll spend more money.
Every time I hang out with other foreigners, I almost always end up spending more money than I want to. Generally speaking, tourists would rather take taxis than local buses, eat in nicer restaurants as opposed to street food, and buy up the bar. According to my financial situation, sometimes I have to seriously limit the time I spend with other foreigners to save my hard-earned cash.
#3: You won’t learn the local language.
I took two weeks of Spanish classes at the beginning of my Latin America journey, and though I’m not completely fluent, I am able to navigate my way through pretty much everything. On the flip side, I’ve met other travelers who studied intensively for two months and can barely order a burrito. What’s the difference between my Spanish ability and theirs?
I avoided my English-speaking counterparts and always made (and make) a fierce effort to hang out with local people. The others hung out with their foreign friends after class and almost never practiced what they learned. Paying for language classes is useless if you don’t test out your skills in real-life situations.
#4: Your pack attracts attention.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not a big fan of being stared at. I pride myself in the ability to blend in almost anywhere in the world, so I’m not used to being gawked at like some others. Obviously, this is unavoidable in some places. What is avoidable, however, is traveling around in a loud, English-speaking, shorts-wearing, guidebook-toting gaggle of tourists.
#5: You’ll propel the stereotype.
Every nationality of traveler is faced with stereotypes when traveling. As an American, I’ve been judged based on my citizenship for reasons due to politics, history, war, and the previous Americans that have crossed this person’s path.
You are also likely to be judged just for being a backpacker. Those who work in tourism in a beaten-path destination will have a whole host of assumptions to make about who you are, what you like, and what you’ll do in their country.
A pack of backpackers is more likely to propel negative stereotypes than an individual who is eating at the local food stall, speaking the language, and following the behavioral customs like the locals.
Are you guilty of shunning the locals for the sake of belonging to a backpacking brigade? Leave your comments here.