More lavish than a backpacker! More independent than bus tourist! More on dry land than a cruiser! More gravity than a space tourist! The flashpacker - another subdivision of the already divided travel market.
28.10.2009 - 28.10.2009 16 °C
Last week I took the tube down to Piccadilly Circus to pick up a train ticket. The ticket was for a train from Lisbon, Portugal to Salamanca, Spain on the 9th of November. Those of you who read this blog for actual travel stories rather than just my general musing about my domestic life will be happy to hear that I am off travelling again. Sadly, it’ll just be a quick trip - a week long vacation taking in Lisbon, Salamanca and Madrid.
I had booked the train ticket online, but much to my chagrin, I couldn’t arrange to pick up the ticket at the station. The ticket had to be issued physically, which meant having it mailed to me. If you aren’t local to the United Kingdom then you might not know that Royal Mail and her unions have been having a bit of a spat recently, and as such mail to my flat is generally delivered somewhere around two to three weeks after it was originally posted. Had Rail Europe posted me the ticket, it most likely would have arrived at my flat sometime in the middle of the week when I was in Portugal and Spain.
As I needed the ticket prior to that, I arranged to trundle down to the Rail Europe office in London (convenient, that) and pick it up in person. I picked up my ticket and it is now sitting on my bookshelf, underneath my passport, so I don’t forget it.
It is strange, having an actual physical piece of paper that I need to take with me on my trip. The rest of my trip has been booked electronically. Having to actually have a physical ticket for something seems so 2003, when I went to South America and last had to take physical tickets and coupons for items with me.
The internet has changed the way I travel, and probably the way most people travel. In 2003 I lugged around a three inch thick copy of Lonely Planet’s South America On a Shoestring to provide me with city maps, hotel recommendations, travel options and schedules and sight-seeing options. Nowadays I just troll the web for the plethora of tourism board, travel advice and hotel review websites.
Once on the road, things are a lot different than back in 2003 as well. My South American blog entries are pretty light on photos because I had a film camera with me at the time, along with 9 rolls of film. The photos are currently stored in photo albums sitting in my father’s storage locker in Toronto. Someday I’ll get around to scanning them, but for now my images of South America are mostly in my memory and an inaccessible storage locker halfway around the world. Other than my film camera, I didn’t have a single piece of electronics with me.
On my trip to Portugal I will likely be travelling with my digital camera, iPod, USB flash drive, laptop and mobile phone.
On the 11th of November I am planning on taking a train from Salamanca to Madrid. Instead of trolling through the pages of the Lonely Planet to find the train times, I’ll hook into my hotel's free WiFi, look up train schedules online and probably even set up an SMS alert to go to my mobile phone in the event that there are delays on the train lines.
Partly the changes in the way I travelled from 2003 until now are down to the inevitable march of technological improvement. Even the rough-looking Aussie backpackers drinking on the sidewalk outside the Journeys Kings Cross Youth Hostel down the street from me all have mobile phones and digital cameras, or even more likely a mobile phone that is also a camera, mp3 player and GPS system.
Partly the changes can also be traced to the type of trip I am undertaking. Two months backpacking in South America is a different type of trip than jetting down to Iberia for a week away from work.
Mostly though, I think the changes relate to the fact that as I age, I become less and less of a backpacker.
I was recently watching my favourite TV channel - Dave - during one of the few hours of the day when the channel isn’t showing repeats of Top Gear. Instead, they had on stand up comedy from the Apollo Theatre in Hammersmith, where Irish comedian Dara Ó Briain was talking about travelling in Australia with a bunch of 19 year olds.
Speaking to some of the young people in the crowd, he says, “go for the rucksacks for a while, and later on, you stop, you never go back.” He talks about the kids on his Australia trip, in their “rucksack stance - all of the weight up on the shoulders, pushing down on the hips,” talking about how much they “feckin’ love backpacking.” The kids go through their experiences with backpacking - seeing Australia on 13 dollars a day, getting damage to their “lower lumbar regions” and sleeping in dorms with “nine Norwegians who I neither know nor trust.”
At the end of the whole line of backpackers is Dara, with his luggage - a rolling suitcase. “Look, its on wheels, you feckin’ eejits.”
Thanks to Tux In the Backpack for the video of Dara. If you have trouble seeing the video, check it out on YouTube
I know exactly what he means. I am too old and frankly have too much money to bother with hostels anymore. The last time I stayed in a youth hostel was during my ill-fated, sleepless night in Dublin. After that I decided I may as well spend some of these dollars and pounds I am collecting and get a nice hotel with a comfortable bed, air conditioning, a safe (for all these electronic goodies I am carrying nowadays) and free WiFi.
Yes, as I get older, I become less and less of a backpacker and more and more of a flashpacker. A flashpacker is someone who still embodies the “spirit of the backpacker” (whatever the feck that means), but is willing to splash out to have a little more comfort.
I first heard the term flashpacker last summer in an article on Vagabonding. Since then the term has come into normal use, at least among travel writers and marketers. At first I resisted the term, but as it has now entered the general lexicon, I guess I can’t help but admit it.
I’m a flashpacker, and I like my own bathroom.
So in a few weeks time you’ll be able to find me somewhere in Iberia. I’ll still be wandering around looking for good local places to eat, drink and interact with some of the locals, like a good backpacker. I’ll just be doing it with a nice hotel to head back to at the end of the night.