While I am not (yet) comfortable sleeping in a hostel room with strangers, I am not beyond sharing a toilet/shower with them provided it is pretty decent and clean. I just don't know if I would be able to sleep. I would probably have my bag chained to my wrist, hugging it close to my chest, and have one eye open all night. How sad is that? I'm so jaded! But then I've never slept in a room with strangers in a strange country before, so maybe I am underestimating myself.
And though I love throwing caution to the wind and sampling street food , I also like to shell out a bit of money to have at least one meal in a nice restaurant. I like to visit museums, but I prefer doing things that will have me interacting with the locals. I like flying to my destination, but I also like moseying along a dirt road on a non-airconditioned bus if it means I see more of the countryside and how the locals live.
No, I have not done the 6-month hippie trail from India to Southeast Asia. But I envy those who have, or can. I simply cannot imagine leaving my job for that long, not yet at least. I still need the security of knowing I will have my space in the cube farm when I come home.
And though I set out to travel on a shoe string budget, I have been known to do a bit of shopping for local crafts. I don't want to go home regretting that I didn't get that buddha head or that beautiful painting by a starving local artist.
The two most common stereotypes associated with people who roam are the tourist and the traveller/backpacker. But there is also a third, lesser known type: the flashpacker. But just because you use your Lonely Planet guidebook as a pillow, sporting a 7-day stubble and a 10 gallon pack or you take packaged tours in airconditioned coaches staying in places with porters to handle your matching LV luggage doesn't mean you are one or the other. I believe it is a frame of mind, with each person's sense of adventure unique to him/her. There is no right or wrong way to travel if it is done with a respect for local culture and a thirst for discovery and adventure.
Speaking of packaged tours. As convenient as they are or seem to be, I detest them and will only submit myself to one if left with no other choice. I prefer not to follow a strict schedule and don't like to be limited with my time and experience in one place. I prefer to have my own rough itinerary which leaves me open to surprises and flexible to spontaneity. Experiences from that sort are usually the most memorable.
So what category do I fall under? I like to think that I am a flashpacker who can backpack.
10 Key Signs of a Flashpacker:
1. When you say you have the travel bug, you don't mean Delhi belly - you mean an around-the-world ticket and cash to spend.
2. Faced with the option of a 27-hour budget bus trip across Guatemala or a $250 flight, you fly.
3. The only person you share a bedroom with is your partner.
4. You earn a salary, not wages. Instead of part-time bartending, your CV features awards and achievements and runs to three pages.
5. Poverty is not a great opportunity to don a sarong, live like the locals and find inner peace, but something to be eradicated.
6. You don't spend all day emailing friends to tell how you hitch-hiked to Paris and saved $12. You're shopping on the Champs Elysees.
7. You remember when jeans sat around your waist, Belinda Carlisle was cool and Patrick Swayze was hot. You're probably a 30-something.
8. Shoestring travel means forgoing the spa treatment in Tokyo.
9. Wine comes in a bottle, not a $2 cask, and drunkenness is an indulgence, not a goal.
10. You have a keen eye for media hype, recognise this is all a joke and would cut off your own arm and eat it rather than actually call yourself a flashpacker. (see, I'm not ALL flashpacker)
So which type of traveller are you most like? This quiz might help you:
1 The bus doesn’t turn up and you’re trapped in an unfamiliar town. Do you ...
a) check your Lonely Planet guidebook to see if any local hostels will accept friendship bracelets as payment
b) rant at your travel operator, then draw up a list of people to sue
c) walk your Mastercard straight to the front desk of the nearest Hilton
2 You’re thinking of doing some trekking on your trip, but that means getting the right footwear ...
a) those army surplus boots you wore for the Duke of Edinbugh award will be fine
b) if you really do have to schlep from the hotel to the bar, your pink strappy sandals will take the strain
c) the new Extreme Arctic Trekking Sandals might be £115, but you can’t compromise on these things
3 You’ve just arrived in town, which restaurant catches your eye?
a) the one playing Basement Jaxx and offering all-you-can-eat banana pancakes
b) anywhere the tour guide takes you. I’ll have the menu in English, please
c) it’s a 20-minute cab ride away, but they say it serves the best snake soup on earth.
4 You bought it last holiday, it’s cluttering up the spare room ...
a) a didgeridoo — would you like to hear me play it?
b) a straw donkey — somehow, the irony rubbed off on the flight home
c) the deed to your 20 acres of protected equatorial rainforest
5 Most of your dinner-party travel stories start like this ...
a) “We started on the local beers, then something with no label on the bottle ...”
b) “We found it on the internet, 14 nights for the price of seven ...”
c) “We were actually the first white people the tribe had ever met ...”
Now check your answers ...
Mostly As: see you at the full-moon party — you’re pure backpacker.
Mostly Bs: there’s no shame in taking it easy — you’re all suitcase.
Mostly Cs: welcome to the new club, you’re most definitely a Flashpacker.
( I answered 2 As, 2 Cs, and 1 B, in case you were wondering :-) )