When you travel abroad, you’re bound to meet many types of interesting people along the way. Backpacking in particular will introduce you to the weirdest and most wonderful personalities. Distinct from other tourists, these travelers opt for communal accommodations to maximize their budget, experience the lesser known, and meet other like-minded globetrotters.
Don’t assume backpackers are all the same, though. If you’ve been to a few hostels, you know that certain character traits stand out and repeat themselves, no matter where you’re staying. Here are the most common backpacker types you’re likely recognize while abroad:
The Gap Yearer
Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, these 18-to-25-year-olds often come from Europe, New Zealand, or Australia. (However, the trend is now gaining interest in the United States, too, with up to 40,000 Americans taking part each year.) These travel newbies take a year off to see the world for the first time and experience other cultures either right before or after college.
Social and overly enthusiastic, they can be found hitting the bars at night and all the major tourist attractions by day. They tend to follow the major stops connected by the round-the-world ticket, congregating in Europe, Southeast Asia, New Zealand, and Australia.
For this type, traveling is just an aspect of their higher mission. Their trips are based on volunteer opportunities, disaster relief efforts, wildlife conservation, and community development projects. They’re the biggest advocates for “volun-tourism.” They’ve traveled to countries you’ve never heard of, and their photos and stories will bring you to tears. While they’re great storytellers, they sometimes put a damper on your self-enriching vacation. They’ll tell you how nice the hostel dorms seem after staying in countless huts without running water, heat, or electricity.
The Party Animal
This is probably the most common type of backpacker. Although there’s a little overlap with the gap year students, the Party Animal puts late-night drinking and socializing above all else. They know where the best bars, clubs, and happy hours are in town and are happy to show you a fun night out. Most days, they can be found sleeping in and nursing their hangover before moving on to the next party destination. Somehow, they’re able to afford their nightly drinking routine by staying in hostels and passing on most daytime activities.
This type doesn’t stay at a hostel out of necessity. Rather, these travelers view backpacking as an authentic travel style of choice, even though their budget would allow for more.
It’s common to see them slumming it in the dorms one night and then getting dressed up for a fancy steak dinner the next. When you ask them what’s on their itinerary, it will include some extravagant excursions and reservations. Their high-end clothing, accessories, and gadgets just don’t add up to the $5-per-night hostel you’re staying in. They may even switch it up by staying at a luxury resort or hotel later in the week. This type of backpacker just wants to experience it all.
The Golden Oldie
Let’s be honest — the typical backpacker is usually in their 20s or 30s. That’s why these midlifers stand out when you’re staying in a hostel. The Golden Oldie seems to be reliving their youth or experiencing what they missed after decades climbing the corporate ladder. They’re chasing adventure in Baby Boomer hotspots. They might have money to spend, but they’re opting to stay in hostels for their youthful energy, central location, and communal spaces. Sure, they’ll talk your ear off over breakfast or during the hostel’s weekly wine night, but they’ll have some amazing stories to share.
The Traveling Couple
This type can go either one of two ways. Some couples are out for a good time, travel well together, and want to meet as many people as possible (especially other couples and older travelers). They tend to gravitate toward the most romantic international destinations. However, other couples seem to only enjoy each other’s company. They always rent out the hostel’s deluxe private room, keep to themselves during tours and meals, and come off as extremely territorial if someone of the opposite sex tries to cut in. If anything, avoid them at all costs if an argument breaks out. They’ve likely broken up three or four times during their trip.
The Seasoned Know-It-All
This traveler has been everywhere. They’ve done everything. Backpacking is their only style of travel, and they have every imaginable story to back it up. If you’ve just been scuba diving in Malaysia, they’ll tell you about the time they went swimming with sharks. If you found the best hawker stall in Singapore, they’ll list all the Michelin-star restaurants they’ve tried. It’s a waste of effort to one-up them on any topic.
Don’t let this put you off completely, though. These backpackers can also be a wealth of usable information. Ask the right questions, and you’ll be able to pull out the best recommendations for the rest of your trip.
The Hippie Spiritualist
Usually found in South America, India, and Southeast Asia, these backpackers are on a journey to find themselves. They can talk endlessly about different religions, cultures, and philosophies. They’ve studied with monks in Thailand and Nepal, done ayahuasca in Peru, and have tried an assortment of different yoga and silent meditation retreats. Even though they’ve been at the hostel for months, they seem to be weeks-overdue for a shower.
The Digital Nomad
These folks have made traveling a full-time priority. So much so they’ve taken a location-independent, technology-enabled job to break free from the normal 9-to-5. Now they hop from country to country, working remotely wherever they can afford. According to MBO Partners, there are now 4.8 million independent workers who currently describe themselves as digital nomads.
Equipped with the latest laptops, smartphones, cameras, and other gadgets, they can be found touting their free lifestyle online, meeting via phone or Skype, and sharing beachside or mountain-top photos captioned “Just another day at the office.” You’ll find them only at hostels and cafés with reliable Wi-Fi.
When’s your next backpacking trip? Next time you’re at a hostel, try to pick out these common backpacker stereotypes. You might even be one yourself! Swift Passport & Visa Services can help you secure a travel visa to get there.
Rob Lee is co-founder of Swift Passport and Visa Services. Originally from Michigan, Rob is an avid fisherman and SCUBA diver who enjoys adventure travel.