Traveling Labels – Flashpacker versus Backpacker

I just have never identified myself with the traditional backpackers.  In my mind, backpackers have top loading backpacks, filled about 8 inches above their head.  They hunker down in dorm rooms at hostels seeking out the absolute cheapest accommodations possible. They subsist on peanut butter sandwiches and spaghetti cooked in the hostel kitchen.  They are often times single.  This may be unfair, but I identify them with the loud, drunken young kids I see in the common areas of hostels, often a guy who has not taken a decent shower in a few days, fairly hairy, and hitting on some young, blonde Australian or German girl.

Me and My Backpack, Croatia

I am most certainly not a backpacker.  I’m kind of old, I’m fairly married.  I often stay in hostels, but won’t stay in a dorm room.  I travel with a backpack, but it is more of a conversion pack. I am more likely to have a hip messenger bag or a travel sling bag across my chest rather than a second backpack carried on my front. I try to keep myself clean.  I drink often, but not a lot.  I’m still on a budget, but am willing to splurge.  All the crappy, dirty hostels I have stayed in, allows me to save on my budget to splurge at a later time, perhaps on a villa in Bali.  Because of this, I label myself more as a flashpacker.  It made me wonder, though, what is the difference between a flashpacker versus backpacker?

Just as there are numerous definitions and ideas of a backpacker, the same holds true for flashpackers.  The Wiki definition is a backpacker with a larger budget, but is there more to it than that?  Wiki also adds the term poshpacker into the mix – backpacking with more style and money.  There is nothing about my travel that exudes style, so we can eliminate that label.

In addition to an increased budget, flashpackers have been defined in terms of their choice of accommodations and the amount of technology they carry.  They may be more focused on eco-friendly travel accessories or luxury amenities. Eric adds in the wrinkle that a flashpacker can often access airline miles and hotel points to splurge on a fancy stay.  Even we don’t agree on the definition. 

It got me thinking, though, what is the true definition, and does that label fit me?  I asked some of my trusted travel blogger friends for their definitions, to help me draw my own conclusions on the debate: flashpacker versus backpacker. 

Hostel Kitchen and Eric Behind Bars, Nicaragua

Flashpacker at Forty

John’s blog, Flashpacker at Forty, has the word flashpacker in its title, so he’s a good place to start:

A flashpacker is a low-cost budget traveler who seeks out best value when purchasing any travel related services, which is usually not the cheapest option available but incorporates minimum standards e.g. a hotel with private bathroom.

[W]e’d definitely consider ourselves flashpackers, because were not always searching for the cheapest travel options but those that offer a certain level of services, but fall within our flashpacking travel budget.

Four Jandals

Cole, from Four Jandals seems to agree with John’s definition: 

[A] flashpacker is someone who likes to think of themselves as a backpacker, but generally likes their comforts more than most backpackers. While they may travel to unique destinations, and experience life on the road, they would rather have a hotel and restaurant than cook in a hostel kitchen.

Cole is also honest about where he falls on the scale:

In short, they have a bit more money than most stingy backpackers like myself. While I would love to live a life of luxury, unfortunately I am too much of a cheapskate to travel as a flashpacker.

Ah, Cole, I am a cheapskate about a lot of things, so that I can splurge on others – I think that might be part of the definition of a flashpacker.

Hecktic Travels

Being a couple, I assumed Dalene and Pete from Hecktic Travels would focus on the increased budget allotment that comes with traveling as a couple, similar to my philosophy and John’s definition, i.e. no dorm rooms.  Their expertise is in housesitting, though, so perhaps privacy in a hostel is not a concern.  

But, they surprised me by focusing on the technology side of the equation, something I had not really considered:

I think nowadays, there are more flashpackers than not, and I believe it has everything to do with electronics.  Anyone who can’t travel without their digital devices falls into this category.

They definitely consider themselves flashpackers:

We may even carry more devices than the normal duo. Oh, and I have flashy silver flip flops, so I think that counts too.

Sure does Dalene. 

Me and My Mac, Costa Rica

The Planet D

Similar to Hecktic Travels, Dave and Deb, from the Planet D, also focused on technology:

To us, a flashpacker is a traveler who carries a lot of technical gear when traveling. They’re loaded with computers, iPhones, iPads, DSLRs, GoPros and all the latest multimedia gadgets. It’s the people who document their travels and share it on social media or blogs. A Flashpacker is always connected. Be it to their friends, family or followers, a flashpacker will figure out a way to get online and show the world what they’re doing each day.

I used to think that a Flashpacker was a backpacker who carried a computer, but now I think it is for anyone who stays online when traveling. Luxury traveler or budget traveler if you are loaded up with electronics, you’re a flashpacker. I definitely think we’re flashpackers. We carry a lot of equipment.

Under this definition, Cole, no worries, you are a flashpacker! And, Dave takes some amazing photos with all of that fancy equipment.


Always the practical one, Matt from Landlopers, agreed with both John and Dalene’s definitions.  

This is a backpacker with a larger budget than a ‘normal’ backpacker who, in addition to having more disposable income, also usually travels with a lot of tech gear.

I think we are getting somewhere. But, Matt is not a permanent traveler.  He is neither a backpacker or a flashpacker, but instead travels with his trusty roller board in tow. 

Nomadic Samuel

Although his blog says he is a “perpetual backpacker” Samuel, from Nomadic Samuel admits he is transitioning more towards flashpacker, but what does that mean to him:  

In the most extreme cases, a backpacker is considered someone who stays in the cheapest dorms, eats street food three times a day and never visits any attractions that cost money whereas a flashpacker is the type of traveler who is looking for comfort and luxury at every corner. …  When I think of ‘flashpacker’ the first thing that comes to mind is an individual who carries nicer electronics and is willing to spend a little extra money for value upgrades on accommodations, meals, transportation and tours.  A backpacker is an individual who travels with minimal possessions and is constantly looking for ways to cuts costs and extend travels through the act of being frugal.

Similar to Dave and Deb, Samuel adds in the term luxury.  Although not on a backpacker budget, I hardly consider myself a luxury traveler – I would save that phrase for someone like Matt, who loves to work the magic of points and miles for fantastic rooms and upgrades, for affordable luxury.

Splurge: Roasted Bone Marrow at St. John, London, at $10, Affordable Luxury

Her Packing List

A great deal of Brooke’s time on her blog, Her Packing List, is spent analyzing backpacks and what to put in them, but how does she label the people who carry all those bags: 

When I think of a flashpacker, I think of a backpacker that isn’t exactly “roughing it” and those who use and carry a lot of technology. Nowadays, flashpackers are probably the more common of the bunch… or maybe that’s because I seem to be one myself.

Back to the basics of budget, a little luxury, and lots of technology.

Katie Aune

After all of this analysis, one of the best responses came from Katie Aune, a fellow recovering big law attorney and world traveler: 

I personally don’t really care for labels like backpacker and flashpacker – I never really considered myself either.

And, in the end, perhaps that ends the analysis.  I don’t like the debate over traveler versus tourist.  Perhaps I am a flashpacker, with my increased budget and back full of tech gear.  Or not.  For years I struggled with the label of attorney, one that did not fit.  I travel, set my budget, try to keep to it, travel with electronics, avoid dorm rooms, and seek ways to explore on my own terms, flashpacker or not.

After all of the advice and help from my fellow travel bloggers, perhaps we should step away from the labels to just travel, and enjoy what we do! 

What type of traveler are you?

13 thoughts on “Traveling Labels – Flashpacker versus Backpacker

  1. Amber Hoffman says:

    Adam, agreed there. It seems that everyone at a hostel now has something with them, but perhaps it is the amount of tech, and the quality that matters. Between my husband and I we have a Mac Book, iPad, 2 iPhones, 2 cameras, a telephoto lens, 2 iPods, a Kindle . . . It's a little ridiculous and redundant at times, but we both work online, which might set us off from a backpacker who uses their mobile to check in with folks back home and nothing more. Thanks for weighing in!

  2. Amber Hoffman says:

    Cute Dale! We carry two adapters and so many plugs. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out which cords could work double duty to limit our weight – my kindle can be charged with our camera USB – things like that. Before we got the second adapter we struggled with charging everything, we created a new catch phrase "ABC = Always Be Charging"! Yeah, we carry a lot of tech.

  3. Flashpacker John says:

    Hey Amber – what a great piece, interesting to see all the other perspectives which I agree with. IT infrastructure is still an essential part of being a flashpacker, no internet cafes for us. Thanks for sharing this piece, a great read.

  4. Corinne says:

    I love this. Sometimes the definitions do get confusing. I guess I'm a flashpacker, too. But before I read your post I thought I was too old to be a flashpacker…

  5. Amber Hoffman says:

    Corinne – thanks for your comment. I generally think there is nothing I am "too old" for, well except for dorm rooms at hostels. . .

  6. Jess says:

    I always think of backpackers as being much more intense then I am – people who look like they could hitchhike around the world at any given moment. Even when I am actually carting around a backpack stuffed with everything I need for a month, I don't see myself as a 'real' backpacker.

  7. eemusings says:

    We are definitely flashpackers in Asia but perhaps we'll fall more toward the backpacking end when we hit the Northern Hemisphere – it's going to be a lot more pricey up there, we've yet to stay in a dorm room but I imagine we'll soon be getting our first taste…

  8. Suzanne says:

    Great article. I travel on points to upgrade to luxury and never heard the "flashpacker" term until my New Zealand trip as I used the Magic Bus for transit w/roller bag and rather than stay in hostels w/backpackers on bus, I stayed at hotels and did lux experiences. I saved money with the bus in order to upgrade experiences but I was also older than others w/larger budget. I don't think electronics affect labels as everyone has a smartphone – I consider myself a traveler which fits me best

  9. Amber Hoffman says:

    Suzanne, thanks for the comments. Sounds like you might be a flashpacker!! But, in the end, who really needs the labels.

  10. Victoria says:

    This post is so funny. I definitely consider myself a flashpacker although I used to be a backpacker back in the old days; sleeping on the coach (bus), sharing mixed dorms (gulp!), cos it was only £2 a night, and discreetly "packing" my breakfast as lunch!
    Now, I'm an "older mother" and a professional corporate trainer and besides, although our son has travel in his blood, my German husband would rather not go somewhere than succumb to "suffering" and no WIFI!
    So when we travel we too have a laptop, an iPad, four mobile phones (one for emergencies!), two cameras and huge camera bags, two kindles and one Nintendo 3DS!

  11. Amber Hoffman says:

    Yeah, Victoria, you definitely fall into the flashpacker category. But, I wonder if there is a term for a flashpacking family?

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