Flashpackers are a subset of the international backpacking community, noted for their affinity for technology and little luxuries along the tourist track. Where backpackers are most likely in search of the best hostel bargains and the cheapest place to get a bite to eat, flashpackers are more likely to splurge here and again when the mood strikes. In a word, flashpackers are just backpackers with a bankroll.
Backpacking is traced to the hippie movement of the 1960s, when travelers set out for portions of the Silk Road that cut through the Middle East and once connected the Chinese silk industry with European markets in antiquity. It underwent a renaissance at the turn of the century, when spending a year abroad became a popular activity with gap-year students.
Like mainstream backpackers, flashpackers embrace the adventurous and independent travel spirit, forsaking organized and package tourism in favor of a free-wheeling itinerary. They travel in the same circles as backpackers, but have more options and the financial means to splurge on a finer restaurant or more comfortable hotel at their own discretion.
Flashpackers also resemble backpackers in their quest for cultural exchange. This is one of the greatest forces driving them away from package tourism. While they do visit the local sites, they also devote a significant portion of time to meeting locals and mixing with other travelers.
The financial breathing room that flashpackers enjoy can be attributed to a number of factors. Here are a few of the most common scenarios:
- Flashpackers aren’t always students or graduates. In many cases they have careers back home and have arranged extended leave. This gives them greater financial stability.
- Other than taking leave, travelers with careers at home may be transitioning between jobs, leaving a few months between leaving one employer and starting with the next.
- Some flashpackers are university students taking a semester or more off and using student loans to subsidize travel.
- Young-at-heart travelers are also taking up flashpacking, especially retirees on a pension who can get the most out of their monthly stipend by sticking to budget offerings.
The call sign of a flashpacker is an arsenal of gadgets that traditional backpackers either can’t afford or opt to leave at home. In the old days, luxuries like these were too heavy to carry on your back. As technology advances, gadgets get sleeker, lighter and most specialized, and flashpackers use them to their advantage while on the road.
Today, as many as one out of five backpackers carries a laptop, putting them in the running for flashpacker status. Prepaid cell phones, digital readers, iPods, digital cameras, noise reduction headphones (for those cheap but noisy buses) and GPS machines are increasingly popular in the world-travel community. Add to this a bundle of cords, adapters and memory cards and you’ve got a full load.
All of these expensive gadgets make the flashpacker a prime candidate for petty theft, and economy hostels and hotels are responding with a greater range of security options. Some hostels are also keeping up with the movement by providing wireless internet.