The two of us were sipping cheap beer on a hot, humid, Bangkok night outside the Queen Sirikit Conference Center. We were both writers — travel writers — in town for a travel blogging conference (TBEX).
“What’s your travel style?” she asked.
“Well, if you’d asked me that 2 years ago, I would have said I’m a budget backpacker — no doubt. But now, especially now that I have a full time job and I travel more with my partner, I’ve finally drifted into flashpacker territory,” I said.
“Flashpacker?” She asked, “What’s that?”
Given the context, I was a little surprised to get the question. However, it was a good reminder that, even within the travel industry, ‘flashpackers’ and ‘flashpacking’ aren’t terms as widely used or understood as other travel styles. So if you too are in the dark, read on to find out what a flashpacker is, whether or not you’re a flashpacker, and tips for packing like one.
Flashpacker: A Definition
Loosely defined, a flashpacker is a backpacker with a slightly larger budget. Someone who still travels with a backpack, is budget-conscious, and travels independently, but at the same time is willing to spend a little more on comfort or to make the best use of their time.
Flashpackers tend to be a bit older, may have kids, and in most cases were probably a backpacker at some point in their early travel career. Often, but not always, they’ve already traveled around a bit.
Sometimes, they’re also known as “champagne backpackers.”
One point of contention is that flashpackers are also defined as tech-savvy travelers who carry electronics like laptops, nice cameras, smartphones, etc. As Nomadic Matt points out, this trait has become less of a distinguisher as more and more budget travelers and backpackers have started traveling with iPhones, tablets, or nice DSLRs as well.
When I first heard the term back in 2010 that was a part of my definition too. But now — several years of technological and personal evolution later — I agree that this part is less relevant. The key here is that flashpackers are independent, budget-conscious travelers who may splurge for a private room (instead of a dorm) or a cheap flight (instead of a 10-hour chicken bus ride). Backpackers with a larger budget, if you will.
Flashpacker vs. Backpacker
As you can see by the previous definition, flashpackers are very similar to backpackers — which gets confusing. What is the difference anyway?
- Independent travelers
- Travel with a backpack
- Try to travel on “the cheap” and stick to a low budget
- Generally don’t opt for luxury style tours, hotels, or transit
- Tend to seek off-the-beaten path experiences
- A backpacker would save money at all costs (e.g. staying in a 10-person dorm, only taking buses, and cooking all their own meals)
- A flashpacker prefers to save money unless a little more would mean more comfort or less hassle (e.g. spending more on a 4-person dorm, a faster bus, train, plane, or eating some meals out)
- A backpacker would pack more if it saves them money; a flashpacker wouldn’t
- Flashpackers tend to have more disposable income
- Backpackers tend to be younger
- Backpackers are more likely to have a flexible schedule
The Evolution of a Flashpacker
Like most flashpackers, I started out as a backpacker. I couchsurfed with friends and stayed in the cheapest places I could find. I hitchhiked, took chicken buses, and avoided taxis. During the 6 weeks I spent in Europe living predominately off of bread, cheese, and tomatoes. Cheap destinations, like Nicaragua and Morocco, were what I stuck to; whereas areas like Sweden or Norway felt more like far, faraway “some day” places to visit.
That day is now. More than 8 years since my first solo backpacking trip, I’ve graduated from college and have a job with a decent income. Now, I’m in a relationship with someone who also likes to travel (and who doesn’t want to share a room with strangers). Although I still like to travel independently, I’m OK with mid-range hotels and Scandinavian destinations.
Slowly, I’ve started to opt for the slightly nicer hotel option. Taxis are no longer a luxury. Gone are the days of sleeping in airports (mostly). Fifty dollars spent on a fantastic cooking class in Mexico was an investment that would have felt extravagant to my former self.
Are You a Flashpacker?
Sound familiar? Then maybe you’re a flashpacker too. If you want to find out, ask yourself the following questions:
- Would you pay $100 for a 1-hour flight over a $10, 10-hour long bus ride?
- Do you travel with a backpack?
- Would you be OK with eating out most nights?
- Would you prefer to travel independently, versus with a tour?
- It’s more important to be comfortable than save money, yes or no?
- You find two hotels in the city you and your partner are visiting. One’s $30 more expensive, but looks more attractive & is a mile closer to where you want to be. The other looks comfortable enough, but nothing special. Would you take the more expensive one?
- Do you try to choose destinations where you can stretch your money further?
If you said yes or maybe to 5+ of these questions… then you’re a flashpacker, my friend. If you said yes only to questions 2, 3, and 7, then you’re more likely a backpacker.
Flashpacker Packing List
Flashpackers are light packers, and almost always travel with carry on only. For light packing tips, I’d highly recommend spending some time with our definitive carry on packing list. For additional inspiration, I’d also recommend reading what this flashpacker carries in his bag.
To save you some time, below is a summary of how to pack like a flashpacker:
- Pack outfits for 5 – 7 days, not longer
- Aim to pack 2 pairs of shoes, 3 at most
- Wear what makes you comfortable and don’t worry too much about quick-dry items
- Always pack one nice outfit, or jewelry to transform a basic outfit into something classier
- Organize your clothes in packing cubes or compression sacks.
- Keep everything travel sized and stock up as you go
- Pack the bare minimum in terms of makeup
- Don’t forget a basic emergency medical kit, but don’t go crazy
- A bar of soap is better than body wash (you can hand wash your undies with it easily)
- Snacks + instant coffee — I always have a few Starbucks Via in my bag
- Quick dry towel — backpacker or flashpacker, you’ll still need it.
- Reusable water bottle
- Passport, WHO card, and other important documents.
Best Backpacks for Flashpackers
I travel with a Osprey 28 L backpack, but love what the features on the Tortuga provide for flashpackers. The thoughtful design of both the Tortuga Travel Backpack and the Tortuga Air make it easy to flash… pack. Getting your laptop in and out is easy and they keep your stuff well organized. If I’m feeling super radical, I’ll use the Tortuga daypack as my only bag.
Yes, yes, I know. I already said that the whole “flashpackers travel with expensive electronics” thing isn’t much of a differentiator anymore. Nonetheless, below are a few recommendations on what to pack for flashpacker (electronic) gear:
- Power bank for your electronics
- Laptop OR tablet + keyboard combo
- Camera OR iPhone
- Unlocked phone (however, a lot of new phones now come unlocked. Check on this before you buy a new one)
- Converters, never know where the road will take you
- Chargers, the cheap ones just don’t hold up
- Headphones, you’re not a backpacker, splurge
- Backup batteries, seriously
Though not technically an item to pack, if you’re a flashpacker, I’d recommend looking into travel insurance. It’ll protect your gear, help you out in the case of both medical and other emergencies (e.g. a natural disaster) and can protect you against trip delays, cancellations, or lost luggage. Providers like WorldNomads and Allianz are two of the larger travel insurance providers.
A flashpacker is an independent, low-budget traveler — much like a backpacker — but who is willing to spend a little more for more comfort or less hassle. Though similar to a backpacker in their travel style, flashpackers are nonetheless a distinct breed.
If you’re a flashpacker too, don’t forget to pack like one! Keep it light, get a bag with great organization, and get travel insurance to protect your flashpacker gear.
Image Credit: Frank Park