Lonely Planet Writer

Backpackers in South America more entrepreneurial than others, study finds

A new study published in the International Journal of Tourism Anthropology has found that international travellers backpacking in South America tend to be a little different.

LUCMABAMBA TO AGUAS CALIENTES, PERU - JULY 2007: The trek ascends the Patallacta pass (2700m) while still in the cloud forest, Lucmabamba Peru, 01 July 2007. We see young trekkers travelling on a budget trek down to Aguas Calientes on their way to see Machu Picchu. They are depicted as they see the first view of the back wall of the famous site. The trek continues down hill to the hydro-electric plant and man made-waterfall until the group comes to the train station from where they take a 30 minute ride to the town of Aguas Calientes. Later that day we visit Machu Picchu and see the ruins under a late afternoon sun. That night there is a full moon and we photograph Macchu Picchu under the moonlight in what must be a timeless centuries-old scene. The next morning the group walks around the ruins for an hour and witnesses tourists groups of all nationalites interacting around Macchu Pichu. Finally the group takes a Cuzco bound train on their way home. (photo by Brent Stirton/Getty Images.)
Backpackers trkking from Lucmabamba to Aguas Calientes, Peru in July 2007. The trek ascends the Patallacta pass (2700m) while still in the cloud forest. We see young trekkers travelling on a budget trek down to Aguas Calientes on their way to see Machu Picchu.  Image by Brent Stirton/Getty Images

The study, authored by Anne-Katrin Broocks of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology at the University of Hamburg, Germany, and Kevin Hannam of Edinburgh Napier University, UK, found that young independent travellers backpacking through South America tend to have more of an entrepreneurial streak.

In his 2004 book, The Global Nomad, anthropologist Peter Welk identified what he called the backpackers’ ‘code of honour’. Its five precepts were: to travel on a budget, to meet new and different people, to be free and open-minded, to travel in an independent and self-contained way, and to travel for as long as possible. The authors of this recent study have identified a sixth trait that especially applies to backpackers in South America: to pay for one’s travels along the way with artisanal entrepreneurship. 

Backpacker in South America likely to be more entreprenurial, study finds
Backpacker in South America likely to be more entrepreneurial, study finds Image by Garry Knight / CC BY 2.0

Backpackers travelling in South America are likelier to finance their travels by making jewellery and other souvenirs and selling them as they go. The study found that these backpackers “use different modes of transport and accommodation to other backpackers and they need to plan their days around their economic activities: crafting and selling their jewellery and other products.”

Artisanal backpacking has a number of benefits, the study finds. They include improved business skills, interpersonal and language skills, engagement with local cultures, and improved geography and general knowledge. These benefits translate into more than enhanced life skills: they can also prove useful when backpackers return home and re-enter the job market. The study’s authors conclude, “For the artisan backpacker the Western mainstream backpacking culture provides unique opportunities to participate in the globalised world and can also open up options for further education or other entrepreneurial activities.”