Me now: smarter and more independent flashpacker

Backpackers vs. Flashpackers

I first heard the word “flashpacker” several years ago from a friend who runs a luxury hostel in Makati. In a nutshell, he said that backpackers are young budget travelers, while flashpackers are older travelers who can afford hotels but still choose hostels because it’s more fun. Where does that put me then?

Millennials like myself are born between 1980-1996. Some hostels have an age limit of 18-35, while others don’t care if you’re 60 years old and still would like to book a bunk bed. As a late bloomer and Filipina who grew up with overprotective parents, I only started giving hostels a try years ago. In my attempt to justify that I can still pass for a backpacker, I read several travel blogs and spoke to seasoned backpackers. I got sad when I realized that I skipped the backpacker stage altogether and went straight to flashpacker. Here is what I learned:

Age group: 18 to 20-somethings
Preferred accommodation: Hostel (bunk bed with strangers), homestay (where you rent a room in a local person’s home for an authentic travel experience), and workaway (where you do volunteer work in exchange for free basic accommodation)
Current status in life: Just graduated from school, in the middle of gap year, in between jobs, and figuring out the meaning of life

Age group: Late 20s and beyond
Preferred accommodation: The same as backpackers, but with the occasional luxury splurge
Current status in life: Just ended a long-term relationship, just survived a tragic or life-altering experience, has a flexible job or career that allows long-term travel, and is still figuring out the meaning of life (because let’s be honest, we spend our entire lives figuring it out!)

Backpackers choose the penny-pinching way of travel because they need to stretch the limited budget that they have for travel. Flashpackers are older and wiser, and most definitely can afford a five-star hotel, but still choose hostels because of the deeper cultural experience they provide, and the more fun atmosphere. Both are independent, DIY-type of travelers. Both prefer long-term travel. But flashpackers are affluent backpackers willing to splurge a little more.

According to some bloggers, one surefire way to distinguish backpackers from flashpackers is to look at the gears they carry. The latter usually has more expensive travel gear and camera equipment, but these days even the young college graduate travels with their entire video production gear in tow.

I am, therefore, a flashpacker.

Me before: multiple bulky suitcases, and wouldn’t even consider hostels
Me now: smarter and more independent flashpacker

I had a comfortable childhood of hotels, inns, and luxury vacations. When I grew up and my peers followed the straight path of marriage and children, I chose the road less traveled. I explored this curious lifestyle of vagabond travel that I would only see in the movies and read about in books and magazines. These days, I avoid expensive tourist-trap tours because I know I can stretch that budget to include several off-the-beaten-path tours.

It was scary in the beginning, but I realized that I should have done this sooner! Staying in the safe, polished confines of a hotel will only give you a glimpse of the new city or country you’re visiting, while backpacking (or in my case, flashpacking) allows you to immerse in a deeper perspective of the local culture. But of course, I’m not discrediting hotels altogether. When I’m vacationing with family and relatives, we choose hotels. When traveling solo, I switch back to flashpacking—or pseudo-flashpacking, where I book a luxury hotel, then join hostel activities like roof deck parties, game nights, couchsurfing meetups, and joiner tours.

With friends, well, it depends on the type of friend. Now that I’m older, I no longer waste time with people who don’t contribute to my well-being. I’ve outgrown so many friends whose mindsets and interests no longer mesh well with mine. I no longer join “friends” whose idea of travel is keeping to themselves, avoiding talking to the locals, and just gossiping by the poolside all day.

I may be late in the game, but flashpacking has given me so many memorable travel experiences and newfound friends from around the world. One weekend of backpacking usually gives me better memories compared to one week of luxury hotel vacationing. If you’re thinking of booking your first hostel or backpacking experience and you’re looking for a sign—this is it. It doesn’t matter if you’re a newbie backpacker taking a gap year or an old fart (a.k.a. flashpacker) like myself. Go for it!

Illustration courtesy of Graphic Mama