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You won’t find the word ‘flashpacker’ in the dictionary, but you can bet it’s a term that is regularly bandied around the ‘break out areas’ of hip travel brands across the world. In brief, it describes a person who travels with the same intrepid and adventurous ethos of a regular backpacker, but who insists on adding comfort, style and continued access to technology to their exploration. Some might call them cheats, Gap-yah sloane rangers or plastic poshos, but they are an ever increasing slice of the $1.4 trillion global travel industry. So who are flashpackers? Where are they going? What ‘luxuries’ are they investing in? We explore the trend and see whether the traditional image of a rucksack-laden, tent-carrying globetrotter with no travel insurance is dying as the world gets smaller, and well, comfier.
What is a flashpacker?
A flashpacker is certainly someone with a little cash in their pocket, and at least some expectation of luxury while they’re on the road. It’s a person who would pay £100 for a short flight rather than getting the sweaty, clapped out bus where you may have to share your seat with a chicken. They almost certainly travel with multi-trip insurance from someone like BUPA, and are more prepared for emergencies than travellers of previous decades. A flashpacker will insist, rightly in most cases, that they’re not all about five-star hotels, gourmet food and flashing the cash at every opportunity. But if a few extra quid will pay for a room with a nice view, a hotel with a pool or an upgrade on a long flight, then they’re more than happy to get their wallet (or purse) out. It’s something in the attitude, not necessarily the income bracket.
Who are flashpackers?
Flashpackers don’t fit neatly into a certain demographic, much to the frustration of travel firms and their marketing departments. As we’ve already established, this is more about state of mind than state of bank account. Certainly these are people with a little extra cash or credit, but they’re often more technologically savvy than most, happy to drag iPhones, digital cameras and laptops across the globe with them, and they tend to be people who are pressed for time in their normal lives. Hence taking flights rather than buses or trains, and careful planning of accommodation and itineraries using apps like TripIt. But flashpackers will find the time to tweet and blog about their exploits to the folks back home of course.
They may be retired types who are still young at heart, and feel the pull of destinations that their kids have rhapsodised about, or they may be students who’ve worked two jobs to spend the summer wild swimming in Brazil. What unites them all is that they’re independent-minded travellers for whom the thought of a package holiday is anathema, but would seek out that little boutique hotel and the hip pop-up serving the best local food.
Where do flashpackers go?
The easy answer is you can flashpack anywhere in the world, but there are definite trends in terms of destinations well suited to the average flashpacker. Travel blogger Flashpackerguy, suggests that places where relative luxury can be found cheaply lend themselves to the daring flashpacker. So Indonesia would be on the list rather than Vietnam and Thailand, both because of its natural beauty and the fact you can stay in a five-star hotel for £60 a night. Peru would be chosen over South American neighbours Colombia and Ecuador because of its more defined and great value cuisine. And if the flashpacker has the correct travel insurance, then a trip across India might be on the cards, with its wealth of new experiences and sporadic ex-colonial splendour.
The cost of flashpacking
So how much is this costing our flashpackers? Well a survey by the travel company The Flash Pack, suggested that some 30-something, professional flashpackers might spend up to £3,000 before they even leave their home. Splurging money on digital devices to keep in touch and record their foreign adventure, trendy clothing for the trip, and plenty of cosmetics to make sure they look fresh at all times, will all add up. And that’s before you factor in the rooftop pool bars and private beach access.
The future of travel
So what does the future hold? Is the traditional concept of the backpacker exploring the world with nothing but a map, compass and Shewee dead as a Dodo? Well, not quite. Lonely Planet has stated that there will always be travellers that enjoy roughing it, trekking through remote areas with little plan or resource. And yet, there is statistical evidence that the flashpackers are on the rise. Some destinations like Sri Lanka have recorded an 80% growth in the ‘informal’ accommodation sector, covering independent, boutique hotels. It’s clear that as our expectations of comfort, service and connectivity have increased in our day-to-day lives, our travel aspirations have also shifted, with more of us demanding that little bit extra.