I'm a flashpacker and I'm proud of it. I haven't always considered myself one, of course. I used to relish sitting on train floors to save a few bucks, sleeping in dirty hovels to get a good story and wearing the same clothes for weeks on end to cut down on kilos to carry.
A recent BootsnAll article on flashpackinggot me thinking about the changes in the way we travel. Not that the way we travel differs from 10 or 20 years ago - although of course it does - but how each traveller's attitude to travel alters as they get older.
The term flashpacker might be new, but the premise is nothing original - penny pinching backpackers get older, get jobs, get less time to travel and get a little pickier about their cleanliness of their sheets of the comfort of their 20-hour train ride.
Not many people dream about spending their twilight years as the only silver-haired traveller in a dorm full of 20-something first-time travellers and it's only natural that your travel tastes should change as you get older/richer/less adventurous/more tolerant. Here's my take on the evolution of an independent traveller.
Your travel youth
By travel youth I don't mean to take you back to those lengthy Griswald-like car rides to visit relatives a three-day drive away, or rainy days spent in the games room of a family campsite. I'm talking about your first days as a backpacker.
You know how it starts - you want to see everything and go everywhere, provided there are plenty of hostels, limited danger and a legion of fellow fresh-faced backpackers to share a banana pancake with. You steer clear of trouble spots, sticking instead to the well-trodden routes of Western Europe, Southeast Asia and Australia. But in many ways the early years can be pretty hardcore years - the time when the travel snobs would label you a 'good traveller'.
No journey is too long or too uncomfortable, no dorm is too large or too shabby and like a toddler who's recently mastered the art of walking, you love your new life as a wanderer, constantly moving to a new destination as though spending more than a couple of nights in one spot is a waste. You like to stick with the pack though, clinging to guided tour groups like a pre-schooler on their first field trip. And there's nothing wrong with that - how else would you meet likeminded wanderers and find your travelling feet?
If you're in your travel youth:
You sleep in: A Spartan dorm with 30 other travellers
You carry: An overstuffed backpack filled with every travel novelty your local outdoor store stocks
You eat: A lot of burgers and pancakes, with the occasional Fear Factor food thrown in for good measure
You wear: Specially designed travel clothes, brand new boots that give you blisters
You travel: On organised tours, in big groups or in a pimped out camper van.
Your travel adolescence
Just like your real teen years, this is the time when you lose it a little. You believe you're invincible and in your quest to boost your numbers and fill your passport with weird stamps, you head for every war-torn, dictator-ruled or crime-ridden hotspot on the planet.
Having ditched the rucksack liners, universal sink plugs and emergency dental kits from your early travel days, your possessions now fit in a ratty daypack and those around you should consider themselves lucky if you change clothes once a week. In truth you're a little insecure about your travelling prowess. Gone are the carefree 'I-don't-care-what-you-think-I'm-eating-a-Big-Mac-and-drinking-Budweiser' days of your travelling youth.
The middle years bring with them all the insecurities of real adolescence. What if your bag is too large? What if other people have been to more places? What if they spend less than you or meet more locals? To rebel, you shun your peers, feeling that travel is only 'real travel' if you speak solely to local people, eat only what the locals eat and live how the locals live.
I loved my travel adolescence - it took me to some of my most bizarre and wonderful destinations and filled me with the tremendous liberation that comes with that admittedly foolish feeling of immortality. But as with my true teen years, while I look back on them fondly I'm kind of glad they're over.
If you're in your travel adolescence:
You sleep in: The cheapest place you can find, and if that means a park bench or a shop doorway, then so be it.
You carry: A change of clothes, a sleeping bag and a Jack Kerouac novel.
You eat: Only local fare, usually from the cheapest market you can find
You wear: Tatty combats and local attire, whether it's a Punjabi suit, balloon pants or a sturdy blanket thrown around your shoulders
You travel: On the roof of the bus or the floor of a crowded train carriage
Your travel middle-age
Sooner or later you realise that you don't care how other people travel and care even less about what they think of you. You sometimes yearn for the early years, but no longer have the energy or the inclination to move on every two days or travel on a flimsy shoestring. Your passion to see the world hasn't lessened, but you probably have a decent job back home and you can now afford a private room and an upgrade to a guaranteed train seat or bed.
You realise that travelling first-class is no less 'real' just because it's real comfortable and are happy to spend your hard-earned cash on a dose of A/C or a cushioned seat. Your luggage is whittled down to the essentials, which includes a smart outfit or two for those rare fine-dining splurges.
Of course, with the benefits of a regular salary comes the downside - limited time to take your vacation. So instead of hitting the road for months at a time you choose a country or two and linger longer in each town. It's no longer about wracking up numbers or doing something exciting all day every day - you're happy just to hang out eating, drinking and shopping.
You're still an indie traveller at heart, but appreciate that sometimes a local guide knows more than your guidebook and that there's no shame in taking the odd tour. In short, you've become a flashpacker and there's no shame in that. Just because you no longer fancy being lulled to sleep by the snores (or worse) of 20 fellow travellers, it doesn't mean you're any better or worse than you were when your wandering days began.
If you're in your travelling middle age:
You sleep in: Upmarket hostels or budget hotel rooms, with your own long-deserved en suite bathroom
You carry: A well-loved backpack or roller bag filled with everything you need and nothing more
You eat: The occasional scorpion or plate of mystery meat, a meal in each country's top restaurant, lots of market fare and goddammit the odd Big Mac if the mood takes you
You wear: Fancy travel gear, your faithful but falling-apart boots and a snazzy set of eveningwear
You travel: In as much comfort as your budget allows. Business-class flights and private cabins might be out of reach, but you're happy to shell out a few extra bucks to actually get a seat.
I don't know what my 'golden years of travel' will bring. Maybe I'll explore the world of armchair travel. Perhaps I'll finally get around to exploring my own country. I might join a wrinklies tour group or maybe I'll still be determined to go it alone.
I hope I don't run into a mid-travel life crisis, though if I do you'll easily spot me. I'll be that greying, backpack toting grandma in your hostel with a Zimmer frame in one hand and a newbie traveller in the other!
Read about author Lucy Corne and check out her other BootsnAll articles.