Why I Hate Backpackers: An Illustrated Guide


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).



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.



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.



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.


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.


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.


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.


Why Backpackers Tend to Hate Each Other

Ugh. Just look at them.

I hate backpackers. They suck.

You know what I’m talking about.

They sit in authentic-seeming cafes that are secretly made just for them, wearing technicolored tie-die pants and scribbling seriously away in twee Moleskine notebooks. They congregate in great hordes in backpacker-approved areas, drinking beer out of strange, unwashed receptacles and showing one another their interesting, “ethnic” tattoos.

They carouse until late hours of the evening, and are fond of playing dub-step music right above your head when you’re attempting to drift off to sleep. They will, as a friend recently reported, freak out when they’re overcharged 12 baht for a lousy Khao San road hotel room, and will trek for miles to ensure they get a somewhat-cheaper pad thai lunch—and they will decide that looking at rice paddies for days on end “gets kinda annoying.”

By any measure, they are a pox on humanity.

However. I’m being a hypocrite.

Because by any standard, I too am a backpacker when I travel abroad. I’m in the right age demographic. I’m traveling independently. I’m not exactly over-endowed with money. I even write things.

So why do I hate my fellow backpackers so much? Why can’t we just kumbuya, maybe have some poorly advised sexual relations, go zip-lining together?

Herein lies the contradiction: I’m pretty sure most backpackers hate other backpackers, too. Sure, they might hang out with each other. Make out with each other. Drink curious blue liquids out of buckets together.

But I suspect many of these backpackers are secretly thinking of one another: “If only you weren’t here. Then I’d be having a real adventure.”

This is likely the root of the problem.

It’s really easiest if we just blame this man.


Most backpackers adhere to the Anthony Bourdain view of travel, wherein the milling and zombie-like hordes are “tourists” and the clear-eyed and intrepid and attractive are “travelers,” who grab unsuspecting exotic locales by the nuts and seize the day, or something like that—I may have become lost in the metaphor.

Third world countries like Cambodia, where I live, tend to attract more of the Traveler flavor, who started trickling in here after the war ended and have never really let up, eager to tell their friends about the Killing Fields, avaricious tuk-tuk drivers, and that time they did shrooms in Sihanoukville in roughly the above order.

Travelers here in Southeast Asia, like in all locales, really like to feel that they’re the only person ever to gaze upon the curious expanses of the Irrawaddy, the towering pyramid of Koh Ker, or that sparkly and probably mythological white-sand beach that requires a water-buffalo ride and a small-scale vision quest to reach. They are concerned with street cred.

Travelers (capital-T) not so secretly wish that they could be intrepid explorers of a latter era, able to claim they had fair-and-square discovered a place to those mouse-like folks back home—never mind how many natives were actually contentedly living in it at the time. (I submit Angkor Wat as a sterling example of this principle).

Unfortunately, this is all but impossible these days as the world becomes ever flatter and more globalized, forcing Travelers to either take greater and greater risks (hard, expensive) or live in a state of what can only be called denial—denial that they are not the first Westerner to set foot in the Deep Dark Catacombs of Prince Wazoo of Ancient Eastern Laos. If they can convince their friends back home that they are intrepid—well, that’s probably enough.

Showing the folks back home how sexy and adventurous you are is a major priority indeed, and this explains the Moleskine notebooks, which usually harbor profound observations that will make it into a critically-acclaimed book someday. Or at the very least, a Tumblr blog  called “Epic Adventures” or “GETTING OFF THE GRID” or “Sexy Girl 24 Globetrotter.” Extra points if these blogs include a photo of you eating a tarantula.

What backpackers think tourist attractions look like when one other Westerner shows up.


In some exotic locales, a chance meeting between backpackers becomes something of a Texas standoff, involving two somewhat unwashed people wearing Camelbaks, water sandals, and practical waterproof travelers pants in an earth tone.

There will be a lot of side-eye and glaring and pretending the other doesn’t actually exist, or, preferably, can actually be willed out of existence. They will take photographs at opposite ends of the attraction from one another, and will mutter darkly under their breath if their fellow Westerner accidentally ambles into a shot, entirely ruining its profound authenticity. The two backpackers will be forced to circle one another like jackals around a kill, sizing one another up.

If a conversation does occur, there will often be protracted one-up-mans-ship. This can escalate quickly.

“Oh, you didn’t take a row-boat steered by a triple amputee down the Clackabacky Rapids of Sudden Death? What a shame—that was the highlight of my trip,” says one backpacker, looking intensely bored as he chews on an imported Kudos granola bar.

The rival counters, clutching her bottled water with dogged intensity:

“I rode a mossy log down the Clackabacky Rapids of Sudden Death 20 years ago, when the triple amputee was just a double-amputee. We were nearly eaten by a crocodile. It was way better back then, I’m telling you.”

This conversation may continue for hours, but one thing is clear: these two will continue to not-so-secretly think the other totally sucks. Or at least has a stupid face.

Travelers do occasionally come together in dive bars, where they can continue to one-up each other over beverages and local, somewhat unsuccessful approximations of Western cuisine. Later, they may come to some form of mild understanding over some of the local booze: preferably the hyper authentic variety renowned both for its extreme potency and its ability to induce sudden, horrifying blindness.

UGH. TOURISTS. (Being awesome—just look at that lady on the right).


Not all tourists hate one another—tourists, of course, being what your average Traveler so fervently wishes to avoid with every atom of his or her being.

The average visitor to Disney World or the Louvre or Big Ben may harbor a certain white-hot hatred towards the people in front of them in an ever-expanding line, but they likely do not loathe the others simply for having the audacity to be there.

The average Tourist, for that matter, is not generally under the impression that they are expressing some sort of innate, wild pioneer spirit by taking Billy and Bobby and the ol’ lady to see Mickey Mouse, Niagara Falls, or Rome over the summer holidays.

When Tourists do manage to infiltrate an adventure-travel destination, the Travelers in the vicinity will often react to their presence as if they had suddenly been assaulted by a swarm of camera-toting bees.

The Travelers will often decamp en-masse from a formerly lovely spot when the Hawaiian-shirt attired masses make their appearance, speaking loudly among one another about the evils of tourism, tour guides, and the Industrial Entertainment System, or something like that. I think the argument all comes down to capitalism—those sort of arguments almost always do. Try not to be too offended if this happens to you, Tourist: hey, now you’ve got that beauty spot all to yourself!

If a Traveler happens to stand really really close to your tour group so he or she can listen to your guide’s informative spiel, while still managing to look bored and unconcerned, do not be alarmed. That is just a Travelers special way of expressing how useless tour guides really are!

Here’s me not being a tourist! I’m so awesome.


Heavens, yes.

I was drinking the Anthony Bourdain Kool-Aid from the age of 15 on, when I acquired a copy of “A Cook’s Tour” at a London book-sale and was forever turned into the sort of warped person who considers drinking cobra blood and contracting unmentionable parasites an enviable tourism goal.

I can also successfully blame my up-bringing: my grandfather was known for telling stories of drinking still-warm deer blood from the twitching carcass when he went hunting in Korea, ye these many moons ago.

Both my grandparents are in fact fond of telling me exciting adventure travel stories from their years in Asia and Europe, then ending it with a rather depressive—yet–haughty “But of course, I’m certain it’s ruined now” postscript. (Love you guys!)

So you could say that blood-drinking and adventure travel, the somewhat snobby kind, are endeavors I was destined to pursue from an early age—and you should direct all complaints to my relatives.

How do I travel? Usually scornfully, if I’m on a particular banana-pancake-suffused track.

I am not sure scornful travel is particularly pleasant, as one does spend quite a bit of time wishing that men who wear Angkor Beer tank-tops in public, revealing their lobster pink shoulders and hairy nipples, would kindly cut it out. That takes a lot out of you.

Further, this does cut down on my social opportunities, as if I step into a backpacker bar with reasonably priced mixed cocktails and esoteric local beer, there is a very high probability that I will be forced to listen to a man with remarkably poorly-maintained dreadlocks tell me how “Into the Wild,” like, changed his life.

And if that happens to me one more time,  so help me Christ, I will move to Iowa and sit in a corn field and never talk to anyone ever again.

That’s a lie. Also that book was OK. I don’t want to know what you thought about it.

Also; I don’t carry a Moleskine notebook, but I do write about travel and in fact even occasionally have a rudimentary, deep thought. You’re reading this, for example.


This is an interesting philosophical question. I suppose we could start with an international Anthony Bourdain ban, but I’m pretty sure the damage has already been done. It is too late for that.

I might ask why it really matters, if this is a problem actually in need of fixing. The essence of backpacking is a prickly desire to get away from it all, to bust out of one’s old paradigms—to make discoveries, even if they are not exactly new to science.

Adventure necessitates novelty: many backpackers would rightly wonder they’re even bothering if everyone else has been down the same old beaten track. Basically, backpackers are hipsters wearing about 20 percent less chic clothing.

Furthermore: I have derived some measure of pleasure out of somewhat confrontational one-ups-man-ship discussions at various bars around the world. Inadvertently, we learn from one another. Sometimes we even befriend one another, allowing us to swap travel tips and mildly disapprove of each other with the great equalizer of the Internet.

So I say: backpackers, keep on hating on each other.

Something would be forever lost from the adventure travel world without that small, pedantic spirit of superiority. We might as all just book ourselves on package tours, then.

(And have you seen those people?)