While backpacking has been the go to activity for adventurous late teens and young adults to indulge in for decades, it's fair to say that the meaning of the word backpacking has been subtly changing over the last few years. The word still holds many of the same connotations; a young person going out to experience the world in a raw, hands on way. Indeed, backpacking is still seen by many as a rite of passage, a way to gain experiences and wisdom, with a daring edge that can only really be found when travelling around an unknown environment.
However, while the connotations remain the same, the reality has changed. A word that once had adventurous, challenging connotations has become a sterile and unmysterious shadow of its former self.
The Modern Reality
Worried parents used to have to wait for weeks at a time before they would receive another communication from their distant child, and the communiqué in question would most likely be a letter, not a phone conversation. Modern backpackers are just one phone call away, albeit a comparatively expensive one.
Differences are also stark when it comes to equipment; as well as acting as an ever present lifeline to the distant family unit, mobile phones can simultaneously function as an accurate map, a knowledgeable guide, and a camera that takes instantly sharable photos. Families no longer need to wait until there adventurous scion has returned home before they are accosted with photos of their travels. Backpacks offer greater comfort, as well as better protection for the items carried inside; international transport services often offer specific backpacker targeted deals; there are numerous backpacking targeted blogs offering accurate, useful advice...
It's fair to say that backpacking has become a considerably easier undertaking in recent years. While it's true that the comparative lack of danger is welcome, what of the challenge? What can you do if you still seek the mystery and adventure that the word 'backpacking' used to bring to mind?
When approached the right way, the same modern technology and sensibilities that have robbed backpacking of its wild spirit can be harnessed to ensure that adventurous souls can enjoy an old school backpacking adventure, without the unnecessary risks of old.
The best of both worlds
The primary way to bring back the immediacy and sense of adventure of old school backpacking is to minimise your usage of technology; our constant connectivity means that we're always in our comfort zone. In essence, it's less of an adventure when everyone else you know is along for the ride with you. You can tell everyone about your adventures, and share your amazing photos when you get home. Even better, restrict the number of photos that you take; too many people experience entire holidays through their camera viewfinder. Live in the moment!
Now that you've taken steps to ensure that you're not carrying your entire family and social group around with you on your trip, and that you're actually living through an experience rather than just recording it, it's time to take advantage of the extra safety that modern technology can provide.
It pretty much goes without saying that a mobile phone should still be utilised as an emergency contact device, there's a few apps out there that allow you a greater degree of safety, not to mention peace of mind for loved ones, such as the Guardian Messaging app. One of the simplest Backpacker safety apps, the Guardian Messaging app will let your selected contact(s) know if anything untoward happens to you. In essence, if you don't respond to an alarm that's activated at intervals of your choosing (say 9am, 12pm and 3pm, for example) a custom message is sent to your chosen emergency contacts, allowing them to summon help on your behalf instantly.
Apps like the Safer Travel App, created and distributed by the Caroline's Rainbow Foundation, provide a more general service, including the contact details and locations of any local facilities that are useful in emergencies, such as embassies, hospitals and tourist offices. The Safer Travel App also provides information on local crime and areas to avoid in the vicinity, allowing you to stay one step ahead of potential problems.
The beauty of the apps listed above is that they limit intrusion on to your holiday; you're left free to enjoy the experience of a lifetime in almost total safety.
It's not just technology that has grown more attentive to the needs of travellers in recent years, though. Insurance has also evolved to meet the needs of travellers, no longer are the policies necessary to cover backpacking holidays prohibitively expensive, travel insurers such as us offer specialist long term travel based gap year, student and backpacking travel insurance, which is ideal for long stay trips.
With the right insurance cover, and the correct, minimalist application of technology, it's still possible to enjoy the adventurous experience of old school backpacking, while still utilising the best of modern protection.
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