Backpacker archetypes: know your species
Lonely Planet began with a backpacker trip. So to say that backpackers are at the heart of what we do is an understatement - even if these days we might be just as likely to wheel a suitcase.
On my last trip through Southeast Asia I started to notice my fellow backpackers falling in and out of vague archetypes. After much people-watching, I began to formulate this list of archetypes over roti canai and long bus rides (and don't worry, I'm in there too)...
Men brought together by a world tour (gap year). Always the life of the hostel. Fond of hats. In extreme cases they are either drunk/hungover 24 hours a day. This results in them often losing things of importance, like passports, flight tickets and brain cells. The most contagious of the archetypes. Their name comes from nomadic brothers, via bromance. (Also look out for the rarer Womads, the female of the species.)
Image by zoë_alexandra
Typically new backpackers. They literally carry their home on their back. It's not unusual to see one with a 90-litre backpack and a 30-litre daypack attached to their front (the so-called 'front turtle'). The contents of their luggage may include multiple jackets and pyjamas. After a few months on the road they molt into a leaner travelling machine.
3. The Preachers
They'll want to tell you what not to do/see. Their advice is usually very helpful, although almost always negative in tone. Sermons may last hours, often concluding with criticisms of guidebooks. (It's rare for a traveller not to fall into this archetype towards the end of every trip.)
Image by sjiong
Relaxed, indecisive, they follow other more decisive travellers for short periods. Like barnacles they can be hard to remove once attached. Feigning indecisiveness yourself may lead them to find a new attachment. Otherwise, they often wear thong sandals (aka flip-flops), so walk fast to leave them behind.
Image by |vvaldzen|
5. Thrift Drifters
Typically complain about the rising cost of everything. Have extreme nostalgia for an imaginary land of milk and honey. Ordinarily they will be on an Abrahamic-like quest for the new promised land where they can live like kings (or queens) for $5 a day.
6. The World Weary
Have been on the road for at least a year. Nothing really excites them anymore. But they don't want to go home. Will frequently stare at the sea or mountains for hours, pondering the eternal question: 'Top bunk or bottom bunk?' Can be found working in hostels all over the world. (I've been this archetype on many occasions.)
Image by Drown
7. Chic packer (similar to flashpacker)
Women (usually) who maintain one or two elements of fashion against the rising tide of backpacker uncouthness surrounding them (see Meanderthals below). Known to migrate across Southeast Asia carrying blowdryers and heels.
Couples in relationships. After a few months of constant contact on the road, they frequently lose the urge or need to talk to each other. You can see them in hostels, sitting silently together, reading or eating. Occasionally they'll seek out other backpackers to break the silence. Usually the most savvy of all backpackers.
Typically have no direction, except away from home. Often don't shave or cut head hair while away. Passport photos are invariably obsolete. (I live this archetype, often even in my home city.)
Image by seantoyer
Have I missed any archetypes?
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