For the longest time I fancied myself a backpacker. It’s true that I was, and still am, travelling with a backpack. Well, these days it’s more like a large knapsack, small enough to satisfy carry-on requirements on airplanes.

The reason I like backpacks (or knapsacks) are many. Firstly, I feel safer knowing that my luggage is attached to me and not left at my feet where a clever thief could quickly snatch it up. Secondly, it is easier to take inside buses and fit onto overhead racks or between your feet (once again making it safer than having it stored in a bus’ luggage compartment). And thirdly, I think it makes me look good. A backpack and a Tilley hat, and I look and feel like a true traveller! 🙂

My luggage for a 3-month trip

My luggage for a 3-month trip

However I’m sure that purist backpackers would have a problem with me labelling myself as one of them. Why? Because true backpackers normally go through all sorts of hardships if it will save them a buck. They are the real shoestring sort. They can make $100 last a week in some countries. I command them, but in truth, I am not one of them.

Although I do consider myself a budget traveller (with a budget of $50/day or less in many parts of the world), there are many things I will not do. I need a certain level of comfort to enjoy my travels. Here are the things I will not do to save a few dollars:

I will not sleep in a dorm

Dorm beds are cheap, but they have many disadvantages: no privacy, need to lock away your valuables in a tiny locker every time you step out, company of snoring people, sick people, and people you just would rather not share a room with.

In many countries I can get a very decent private room, often with bathroom, for less than $30, and sometimes half that. If I am travelling to an expensive country, I will rent an AirBnB room, or house-sit, instead of going the dorm route.

As I get older, I also prefer having my own bathroom, but an occasional shared bathroom is fine.

If I really must get a dorm bed (it’s a holiday and all budget rooms are booked) I try to get a bed in a small (4 or 6 beds) female-only room.

I will not take a bus for more than eight hours unless…

Depending where you are travelling, buses range from about-to-break-down metal cans to luxurious 20-seater VIP affairs. Unless I can get a night bus where the seats recline flat so that I can actually sleep (such as the cama-suite buses in Argentina), I will not take a bus if the ride is longer than eight hours. The worse the quality of the bus and road, the lower my tolerance for a long ride.

Besides, with discount airlines you can often fly for less than double the price of the bus or train (in Southeast Asia) and less than the train between some European cities.

These Argentinian buses let you lie down flat

These great Argentinian buses let you lie down flat

I will not eat ramen noodles every day

Shoestring travellers who stay in hostels often try to stretch their food budget by using the hostel kitchen to cook most of their meals. Hostel kitchens are not usually very well equipped, and you’re often competing for pot and pans, and stove space at meal times.

Many backpackers resort to eating simple meals of ramen noodles on a regular basis. I can’t do this. Well, I can, but I won’t. One of the main pleasures of travelling for me is trying out the local cuisine. Of course, this doesn’t mean eating at restaurants for every meal. Markets, street stalls, and food courts can provide very cheap filling local food.

I will not cause myself or others grief in order to save $1

I’ve seen backpackers walking several kilometres with a full pack in order to save $1 on a taxi. Or arguing with a driver for a long time trying to get him to lower his price by $1, so they can each save 25 cents. It’s just not worth it.

There is a new word for travellers like me: Flashpacker. Although the exact definition of flashpacker is still subject to debate, it seems to refer to an independent traveller who travels in a way similar to a backpacker, staying in hostels and budget guesthouses, and taking local transportation. However a flashpacker doesn’t rough it, eats well, carries many electronic devices (laptop or iPad, cell phone, digital camera), and doesn’t mind splurging occasionally for accommodation, food, or activities (skydiving anyone?).

A splurge in the mountains of Chile

A splurge in the mountains of Chile (but still only $30/night!)

If you want to learn more about the concept of flashpacker, check out these articles:

Do you consider yourself a flashpacker?


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