Faine Opines

Southeast Asia, liberation technology, drones, and pontification

Why I Hate Backpackers: An Illustrated Guide

ALWAYS WITH THE KRAMAS

ALWAYS WITH THE KRAMAS

I am regularly asked by acquaintances and friends why I hate backpackers. They are used to seeing my anti-backpacker screeds on Twitter or when they meet me at the bar, ready with my latest story about those horrible people who wear elephant-patterned pants and talk incessantly about spirituality. They conclude the obvious: I loathe backpackers and if I do not wish harm upon them, I do at least wish acute bedbugs.

Allow me to be honest: I don’t really HATE backpackers. Hate is a strong and meaningful word, a phrase that should properly be reserved for things that warrant it – such as, say, ISIS, neo-Nazis, and people who walk a bit too slowly on sidewalks. I would rescue a drowning backpacker. I would save a backpacker from feral dogs. I might give a backpacker marginally accurate driving directions. (I would not lend a backpacker money).

While I do not actually hate them, per-say, I do find them obnoxious, and that is really the root of all the effort I exert on mocking them, and why most expats I associate with share the same low opinion of their ilk.

For, picture this common scenario: you are over the age of 22 and a person of moderate aesthetic expectations residing in Southeast Asia. You spend time and money journeying to a supposedly bucolic island in the middle of nowhere, and on that glorious white sand, you find a pack of American frat-boys drinking Smirnoff Ice and hooting at one another. You are displeased. You thought you left this behind.

Someone proceeds to mock you for asking them to turn down the repetitive dubstep music. They are all doing shrooms and making out with each other and they are not even sharing their beer. Your displeasure turns to raw, vicious hatred.

The list of grievances – beyond this oft-repeated scenario – goes on. Backpackers show up at bars with acoustic guitars in the angelic hope of being scouted for “talent.” Backpackers will occasionally grow emotional for no particularly good reason and read you their poetry, which is inevitably heavily inspired by both Bukowski and that Kings of Leon song that really touched their hearts back in high school. Backpackers noisily demand that they be able to enjoy the trappings of home, from Family Guy reruns to chilled Snickers bars, wherever they noisily alight – cackling and domineering, like a flock of shitting starlings. Backpackers smell funny. Backpackers have better iPhones than you.

I could continue in this fashion, but it wouldn’t be very interesting. So, I thought I would explain with the assistance of some illustrations why I think backpackers blow, and maybe even offer some explanations for why I – and so many other expats – feel this way.  (Hint: it comes down to self-loathing, kind of).

jackals-finished

BACKPACKERS ARE THE WORLD’S LEAST OPPRESSED PEOPLE

Backpackers make for convenient targets because they are roughly the exact opposite of an oppressed group, the antipode of the world’s wretched, starving, and afraid. This makes them convenient: it’s true that making fun of disabled people, impoverished women, or the gravely mentally ill is cruel sport that is justifiably condemned by everyone with a conscience.

But backpackers are by definition among the planet’s most fortunate people. Unlike most everyone else, they are able to spend a good portion of the most productive and physically fit bits of their lives knocking around the world and doing inordinate quantities of shrooms.

Most are either attending a nice university or will soon head off to do so after gaining “life experience.” Most have nice families who care about them and wish they would get on Skype more often. Most will walk into decent jobs that appreciate how “worldly” they are after they finish contracting skin cancer in Sri Lanka.

All this makes them delightfully guilt-free targets — the Diet Coke and rice cakes of cruel humor. Mocking a backpacker does not harm them beyond the occasional bad feeling, but brings great pleasure to bitter expats undergoing existential crisis. Further, most backpackers are completely disinterested in the opinion of weird expats wearing business clothes in the first place.

Everyone (kind of) wins.

Sketch221235430

BACKPACKERS ARE HAVING WAY MORE FUN THAN US

Backpackers exist at an absolutely infuriating distance from real life, a division that often manages to annoy the piss out of locals and expatriates alike. Locals are often merely scraping by in their native country, subject to the whims of corrupt governments and poorly-planned economies. Expats usually are at least making a good faith effort at sustaining themselves in their new country (with varying degrees of success), and are subject to the usual concerns of paying their rent and soliciting paying work.

Into this situation, then, the backpacker saunters onto the stage with savings, a trust fund, or seriously poorly-advised credit decisions, and then proceeds to do nothing whatsoever but chill and eat marijuana-infused pizza.

At the same time, everyone else is selling fruit, closing real-estate deals, teaching English, driving tuk tuks, or analyzing political affairs — all pursuits a lot less fun than doing body shots off of mysterious but sexy Australians.

This can do nothing but breed a certain amount of resentment among people who are incapable of fucking off for two months to cover themselves in glow paint and drink buckets full of questionable liquor. Angry muttering ensures.

Backpackers, it’s true, do have their uses, as anyone who runs a business that caters to the drunk and stupid backpacker market will tell you. Purveyors of fine happy truffles or pizza, ladies who sell cans of Coca-Cola at Angkor Wat, the guy who does thousands of “tribal” tattoos each week: they acknowledge the economic usefulness of backpackers, but they’re probably not overwhelmed with love for them, either.

Expats aren’t often economically dependent on the backpacker market but will usually (under duress) cede one use for backpackers and their obnoxiously free-spirited ways: they are convenient if you find yourself lonely and questioning your existence at the dance club at two in the morning. And they don’t know any of your friends.

backpacker-money

BACKPACKERS ARE CHEAP BASTARDS

Despite their obviously blessed position in life, backpackers are cheap bastards. Young Breeze may reside in a mansion in Malibu during her summer holidays, but while vacationing in Vietnam, she turns into a merciless penny-pincher – arguing virulently with aged women attempting to mark up cans of Coca-Cola by 50 cents in front of tourist attractions. They will always take the cheapest bus, even it has been known for decades that said bus is run by a professional thievery cartel and occasionally plummets off of cliffs. Hotel rooms filled with cockroaches, festooned with poorly-concealed blood stains,  and set directly over a low-end strip club? No problem –  it cost $3 less than the other place.

Backpackers are regularly seen savagely chiseling people over tourist trinkets, t-shirts, and things that have very visible price tags stuck to them. Some will even attempt to bargain with the wait staff at restaurants, apparently unaware that that is not actually a thing that happens. They will occasionally attempt to whittle down the price of a $5 souvenir t-shirt while at the same time texting on their latest-model iPhone.

Backpackers are also known for walking out on hotel tabs, absconding with random items in guesthouses and restaurants, stealing the toilet paper, and attempting to “borrow” $20 from you because they just haven’t quite been able to to get their mothers to Western Union them spending money yet. (Do not lend them $20. It is a trap).

They find their cheapness to be a point of pride, and will express both awe and derision if you mention spending more than $6 on basically anything. It usually goes like this: “You spent $12 on a three-course French meal, with wine? Ugh, are you insane? I just eat canned tuna for every meal, man.”

Despite their relentless bargaining, backpackers are more than willing to spend the average annual salary of a Cambodian farmer on liquor during their adventures through Southeast Asia. Pointing out this logical inconsistency only annoys and occasionally enrages them.

You know who they are.

You know who they are.

BULLSHIT SPIRITUALISM

Backpackers are founts of bullshit spiritualism, a habit most likely directly resulted to the fact that they’re not actually worrying about making a living and thus are filled with a sense of serenity and happiness. This curious, opiate-effect of word travel is well known: many young people in Asia have informed all their friends on Facebook and thus the world that they are traveling to the Mysterious Orient to Find Themselves.

That’s fine to a point, I suppose, but the problem comes when you’re just trying to have a casual chat at the bar and someone wants to rave at you about how awesome Jack Kerouac is, or how that time they did pyschedelic drugs on the beach with roughly 15,000 students at Leeds University really saved their life man, or how they’re totally going to become a Buddhist monk next month, really.  (I also believe that the movie “Into the Wild” – the point of which everyone seems to miss – ought to be banned with extreme prejudice).

This fondness for silly manifestations of spirituality is often wildly inflicted on the locals, who are dubbed “deep” and “so beautiful” by moon-bat travelers — who seem unable to appreciate that the locals are actually just fellow human beings trying to live their lives like anyone else, instead of exotic zoo animals with funny accents.

This grows especially ridiculous in Cambodia with its attendant Khmer Rouge history, where backpackers seem to feel the need to wax lyrical about how Khmer people “smile all the time, despite all the loss they’ve suffered.”

You are expected to nod and agree with the profound depth of this statement, as you are expected to smile and nod at all statements made by a backpacker with the faintest whiff of spiritual depth.  Claiming you in fact think these observations about the solemn oneness of the universe (or whatever) are hilariously stupid will be greeted with mute incomprehension.

OH JUST A LITTLE SELF LOATHING

I freely admit that my public emissions of hatred towards backpackers are deeply rooted in self-loathing. I suspect this is not uncommon, and is part of the reason why backpackers are treated with such keen hatred by the expat community in most places.

The fact is that I often find it hard to figure out what differentiates me from them.

I mean, look: the below illustration is a typical backpacker.

awful-backpacker-not-like-me

And this is me definitely NOT being a backpacker. Somehow.

note i do not differ materially from the backpacker portrayed above

I think I’m not alone in my near-biweekly identity crisis. Most expats with functioning consciences are keenly aware of being interlopers in a foreign land, and we are also aware that in terms of both our appearance and our bank accounts, we are often rather hard to tell apart from the backpacking brethren.

Local people add to this sense of insecurity, scrutinizing us with amusement and saying “Oh, you LIVE here!” when you say something halting in the local language or express some vague knowledge of local geography.

I am often very afraid that someone in Cambodia will insist that I do NOT live here – and indeed, it has been a while since I really have. If I do not live there, where exactly do I live? Does that mean I’m just a backpacker who regularly showers and on  very rare occasions collects a paycheck?

How terrifying.

I take out this insecurity and lack of confidence in my social position on a convenient target: backpackers. Sure, I might be inept and suck at the language, but I’m not wandering around monasteries with my be-furred nipples hanging out of an Angkor Beer shirt. Nor am I haggling with an old woman over 50 cents.

I have fallen, perhaps, but they have fallen so much farther and don’t even *know* about it.

This helps me sleep at night.

This is why I hate backpackers.

 

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32 Comments

  1. Expats usually start of as backpackers then are too old to backpack. So elevate their Identity crisis to the label of an expat (NOT ALL). Stay in a country usually out of hatred for their own. Then think somehow they are better than what they were. Even though a declaration ,sometimes true, that they Love th country they are in is basically driven by cheap booze and cheap women. They are no different that the backpacker it labels here. Not everyone is the same. This article makes some good points, but not all backpackers are funded by mummy and daddy and disrespectful to locals and cheap etc etc How many times Ive seen expats screaming at locals and telling people ‘they dont understand’ because the dont live there? The backpackers you speak of here are more likely to end up in Cambodia and Thailand. Outside of SE asia you dont meet as many with this stereo typical backpacker attitude. Because for all the back patting some of the self labelled hard men living in big bad Cambodia do. You act that way in say Colombia they will blow your face off on the street. You are getting the term asshole and backpacker mixed it. All though of course a lot of the time they are not exclusive.

  2. Nice illustrations and funny article !
    Hahaha, you should write one about us expats in Phnom Penh.

    Said that, i think there’s a bit of envy in your article towards all the attention-whoring the backpackers are gathering from friends and online, let alone in the publishing industry where there’s a vast literature written by smelly backpackers on yaba which to add insult to injury is also selling well.

  3. Even though I do see your point, maybe you should be more critical to your beloved expat friends as well. Although it seems like they’re doing valuable things with their lives… 9 out of 10 times they are in South-East Asia because they can run their American business online while spending almost nothing and living the high class life. When I was an expat in Asia I noticed that a lot of the English teachers were just alcoholics who always called in sick while 60 of the local kids they cared so much about were waiting for them.

  4. This is very few though.

  5. This is an utterly brilliant post – in both the written word and in pinpointing a deep feeling I often feel. The elephant pants get me every time…I just don’t understand.

    As per the cheapness, this seems to be the most ubiquitous point. I remember about 5 years ago staying in a pretty nice hostel in Romania that had a really interesting, cool bar with ice cold beer in frosted mugs for like $1.25. In an attempt at being social I asked my Australian ‘roommates’ if they cared to have beer, to which they replied “Naw, this place is expensive. We are going to get beer for $1 at the corner shop and drink in the street.”

    Street drinking in cheap plastic bottles ensued.

    At some point I just decided to remove myself from this entire scene as the cheapness factor hit a point where I just would cringe all the time and not want to be guilty upon association.

  6. Hi Faine. This. Is. Awesome! The whole read I was torn between laughing and being utterly offended. The whole read I was thinking “shit this is me, shit this is what my whole blog is about, but I’m not that bad surely!” Your humour is subtle but intelligent. I really like it. Now where’s that Facebook like button so I can be simultaneously ridiculed and humoured more often..?
    Crystal: http://www.poorexplorer.com

  7. This was brilliant. Especially the part about what cheap bastards they usually are….while on their iPhone and Macbook.

  8. Hilarious! We find this rarified species here as well, although less so than in say, Playa del Carmen, which is the Mecca of hippiness in southeastern Mexico.

  9. I can completely relate to this article, especially the part how many backpackers brag about finding the cheapest room when it usually only costs 3 extra dollars to get a private room without blood spatter on the wall and a hot shower. Yet, as they brag about the cheap room, they are tweeting on an I-phone 5 and on their 5th beer! And I understand the self-loathing part also. I can’t help but feel I am one of them but also I am not. Great read!

  10. You sound like a very frustrated person, I don’t mean it in a bad way, I just think you focus too much on what you don’t likem and why they have more fun than you. Try doing that, have fun.
    Best regards!

  11. I really enjoy your article about backpackers! So much fun! Im a local in Cancun, & like your work,

  12. What a load of bullshit. You need to wake up in the world and instead of spilling your depression out across the net. Instead be more constructive and creative and give something positive back.

    Thank you,
    Chris

    • What a load of bullshit. You need to wake up in the world and instead of spilling your ANGER out across the net. Instead be more constructive and creative and give something positive back.

      Thank you,
      Adam

  13. I have backpacked for 40 years and while I associate with other travelers who carry backpacks (they have the best info), I am nothing like what is described. We carry backpacks because we go to out of the way places where you must carry your bag or pack for sometimes miles. We are not tourists who get on a tour bus at 4am to go to the next sight, take photos, get back on the bus, and repeat. When you have to ascend several tall flights of steps to get to a train platform, it is much easier with a pack. There are, in fact, many times when it is just not possible to have a suitcase on wheels. Backpackers are attacked here as a group, and as I am sure you know, you cannot judge all people in a group by the way a few of them act.
    BTW: I have lived in 4 countries outside the US.

  14. Thanks for opining my eyes! As president of the Alaska Backpackers Association, I will resign my post and go back to Thailand and sell my backpack. I will also go to the temple and confess my sins. Oh…. I feel better already! Love your site.

  15. You have a very small idea of what a backpacker is.
    Certainly, this should probably be coming from a person who has not gone to a lot of places.
    Its okay to write opinions, based on your experiences, but to write about a certain “type” of people based on your limited knowledge and what to appear as your judgement is something else.
    But hey, internet is a free world.

  16. My biggest complaint with backpackers is their backpack. When they turn around with it, they forget they are worth 3-4 people and hit people around them 🙂

  17. Thanks for an entertaining read:) Never been a backpacker or an expat (yet) but can totally see your perspective. Backpackers generally come from a privileged group and are having the time of their life often in an ignorant, loud alcohol-fueled fog — easy group to loathe.

  18. Funny stuff love, u are a great writer. Love a bit of travelling myself, wish I had the time to bagpack become one with nature…alas no trustfund here. I also like showering so it doesn’t bode well for me. Stay in touch and keep up the great work. TPJ x

  19. I’m not quite sure how to take this post? Are these really deep seated thoughts and stereo type images you have? Are you just trying to be funny or controversial?

    I can identify with some of the characteristics you highlight but I certainly would not attribute such character traits to everyone who fits the “backpacker” name.

    It is more than 20 years since I back packed around Europe. It was a great experience at the time for someone in their early 20s. However I prefer my form of travel now which is comfortable, with private hotel rooms, modern transport and so on.

    I know of a wide range of backpackers. Some fit your stereotype and many do not. This idea that they have lots of money yet choose to take the cheapest forms of transport etc is not fitting to all. I know of many who have no funds from home and make their way travelling but getting whatever job they can.

    Travel is an amazing education for all those willing to learn. I agree that those who just want to travel to party, smoke weed and think they know it all will be far from people I choose to be associated with.

    I’ve been a backpacker, I’ve been an expat for a year and a half. I’m now a frequent business traveller who flies to places around the world virtually every month. In all three of these categories I’ve found some of the most vile, annoying, self centred and out of touch people you could ever meet. I’ve also met some gems of personalities who make me feel humbled to have enjoyed their company.

    I appreciate the context of the article, however for clarity please don’t stereotype everyone who has a backpack as being like this. It simply is not true.

  20. Actually you look so depressed , i don’t even hate people that much to write so much about why i hate someone i think is quite hilarious. I think no one should judge other people , i mean . Who the hell you think you are ? you think you are smarter ? with more money ? you speak more languages ? you never take pictures? i dislike many things that most of the backpackers do , use the lonely planet, they feel they are in europe or in the us , they litter everytime , they dont care about the culture anyway , but everyone travel for some reason , and i think you are no one to say , “this is the right way to travel” Because there isn’t one . Whatever you do you should start enjoying it , and stoping writting blogs about how much you hate poeple. I think you should take a break and stop being a cunt with the people.

  21. It’s not so much about being a back packer or not but not taking any of it so seriously in the first place.
    They’re playing the back packer game, you’re playing the snarky-would-be-writer game. We are tend to get a little (or lot) lost in the role we think we are.

  22. Hey Faine,

    This is ridiculously funny and entertaining. It is so damn true too! The elephant pants bit and the cheapskate bit hit the spot without a miss. I’ve been working in Phnom Penh now for about a year and a half and have seen/felt about 90% of the above myself. All true! All too true!

    By far the most creative rant. lol

    Kaye

  23. Hi Faine,
    As a backpacker slash expat I really enjoyed your article. I think your blog is an affectionate piss take of both backpackers and expats with heavy doses of self deprecation. I never ever comment on anything online but reading the comments here I felt I had to post something along the lines of … ‘Jesus some people can be stupid, rude and humourless. Never mind the bollocks, Keep on blogging.’ so there it is;)
    keep on blogging.

  24. I consider my self as a backpackers and I do not reside in a mansion in Malibu during my summer holidays cose i do not have summer holidays . I do not borrow monney, i never had an iphone, i don’t make selfies, my cheapness is not a point of pride but a necessity (same at home), i don’t want to be a monk, i do not use pyschedelic drugs, i do not have a trust fund, my bag don’t smell, i do not drink a beer a 10am.
    I stay in cheap guest house, that’s true, but i do not act differently when i’m traveling in my own country. So, where is the problem for you? I travel cheap, yes, but that’s better than staying home and never seing anything from the world. If someone want to think the world differently, where is the problem for you? I met myself a lot of expact, staying for years in country and not able so speak or read a fucking word of the language of the country who host them, just here to make a maximum of money and get the fuck out, but i do not make generality of a few cases as you do. This is a lot of bullshits with a touch of jalousy…

  25. While I appreciate that a lot of the points made in this article are true for a large amount of the backpackers that you do meet, you have to see that this article is a huge generalisation and very much insults people who genuinely go to a county or region to experience its beauty and culture. Also, would it really be better if we lived in a world where people didn’t leave their own country and comfort zone to experience other places… Yes they may be a total tosser when they set out, but for some people that stereotypical ‘life changing experience’ might actually happen and they may be able to move beyond the media centred ideals of their own society and become a delightfully bitter expat just like you!

  26. THANK YOU for this. To add perhaps, the terminology: people “doing” countries, as opposed to”visiting”, “traveling to”, “living in”, etc. Makes me shudder every time one of those hipster 20somethings say it. You don’t DO countries, you superficial twat! Personally seeking authentic volunteering opportunities where I can…but yeah the volunteer commerce is another topic altogether, I’m having a hardtime finding these at the mo,

  27. I LOVE THIS !!!

    I’m a 24 year old living in Bangkok and I couldn’t have said it better myself. The thought of Backpacking gives me total anxiety.. Love this !!!

  28. I stumbled on this post while looking for stereotypical photos of backpackers to illustrate a tweet about someone stealing my loofah out of the toilet. (Not really a loofah but a sponge with plastic loops for scrubbers.) Of course, backpackers steal other people’s food all the time. As someone who loves to cook and share food, it makes me furious. Anyway, I could go on and on about the petty thefts.

    I’ve been in Buenos Aires for over 5 years and founded a popular tour. I learned very early to forget about marketing to backpackers, with their $350 95l backpacks, iPads, DSLRs, iPhones, 15 changes of clothing, 3 pairs of shoes…you get the picture. Plus inevitably, a group of young backpackers are the worst sort of guests. They bring their hostel drama with them, they don’t listen, they’re not engaged. And this always amazes me: They’re know-it-alls.

    This isn’t a generalization. It has been: Every. Single. Group. Most I don’t even see, thank the gods. They spend a hundred dollars getting drunk in the hostel but are too cheap to pay 20 bucks to learn extensively about the history, culture and art of the country they’re spending a month in., as well as getting a chance to meet street artists, chat with contemporary artists and gallery owners, see local underground films, and on.

    The tour used to be cheaper and I would love to keep it that way. I love my barrio and love sharing it. But after several bad experiences I deliberately priced it higher to weed out the cheap bastards. In Manhattan, my friends called the rich assholes with a house in the Hamptons (the sort of person Sex & the City was really about) The Horrible People. That’s what I call backpackers now.

    I’ve met some incredible folks in hostels but they are a tiny percentage lost among the Horrible People you describe in this post.

    (On the other hand, I find the typical expat pretty, uh, square.)

  29. Hmm, I only slightly agree with this. You have described maybe a third of backpackers however I will agree with a few other post. Most expats begin as backpackers, and most backpackers are nowhere near as bad. I have now been an “expat” in two different countries in the last 20 years. And as much as some backpackers still make me cringe there are many who just want to see the world and learn/grow/understand. My suggestion is to have more of a look at yourself as an expat and see how you can contribute to this

  30. This started out so strong, but falling into the pit of trying to argue it away from self-loathing made it apparent that really, there’s just a lot of bitterness here.

    I can’t afford to travel. I have a long career ahead of me in academia and I can’t expect to make a lot of money for travelling, or really just ever being able to afford leaving work. My hatred for backpackers is rooted in their privilege; as you said, they are the most fortunate people in the world. They are also fortunate, then, that they lack any sense of obligation to greater society. That is why I hate them, and I am using hate with all of its strength here. I hate that there are people out there literally floating through life, doing NOTHING with their talents and their time, and then coming home to some soulless job they fucking hate to tell me about how “worldly” they are like I am supposed to be impressed. These are people that didn’t even try to learn about the history or culture of the places they were going before they left.

    I remember, I traveled to Paris in my grade 12 year of high school, with my school’s travel club. I went to the Louvre. I knew nothing about art. When I came back, I eagerly talked about my travelling with my friends, and they were shocked and repulsed that I would go to the Louvre even if I knew nothing about art. I was angry at the time, but now I understand their point.I feel like backpackers are that same ignorance taken to the next level.

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