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Age Concern: Backpacking just for the young?

Age Concern: Backpacking just for the young?
Author: Lucy Blackburn
2 Commentries
Backpacking is often associated with the younger travellers, but as more and more evidence arises showing that the older generation are also taking part is it fair to keep this view? Looking at both sides this paper aims to see if there is room for both types of travellers in backpacker tourism.

Key Words
Backpacking, age, older generation, young travellers

It can be said that different age groups have a different outlook on the risks associated with travelling as well as having different motivations to travel and where to travel to. Kattiyapornpong and Miller (2008) say that "motivations for travel varies between age groups", as well as distances travelled by tourists varying with their age (Collins and Tisdell, 2002) therefore looking at these motivations as well as the different types of risks that could affect destination choice could explain why backpacking is popular with young people but also if in fact the older generation motivations are changing as society grows older.

From the beginning the typical backpacker profile has been "young (18-35 years), educated, adventurous and price conscious" (Tourism NSW, 2010) with a travelling style to match. Including having the drive to find new destinations, which some researchers such as Laing (2008) confirm with findings such as 80% of the 19-24 year olds that were asked visited new destinations where as less than 50% of the over fifties that were asked selected new locations to visit. This could be for a number of reasons such as being on the search for the authentic, which is also one of the features of backpacking that could be seen as taking a risk, as it will involve a lot of involvement with the locals and the local food etc, which some authors such suggest that younger travellers are more open to experience with Ryan (1995) talking about how "age is a predictor of familiarity" and how often the older generation will stereotypically want to go to places they know and enjoy.

The age factor was tested in research by Richards and Wilson (2004) , which had the result of 70% of backpackers asked were in fact students and 60% percent were between 20 and 25 and only 5% were over 30%. With authors such as Bell (2002) offer an explanation for these results by describing backpacking as an "investment. The travellers have invested in their own life experiences, gaining cultural capital with which to participate or compete conversationally. Travel experiences are the content of their future nostalgia." Whereas this cannot be applied to the older generation as they will have already collected all of this already. There is also the negative imagery that can go alongside younger backpacking such as such as in Thailand, Richards and Wilson (2004) talk about how to begin with especially the authorities there were very disinclined towards backpackers, with Cole (2008) going as far as saying that "Indonesia's official tourism policy has either tacitly ignored or actively discouraged or actively discouraged backpackers." As well as how backpacking can be marketed and targeted at younger people such as booze tour' on a Kontiki bus, legally smoking drugs in Amsterdam to name a few (Bell, 2002) which a lot of authors says that the older generation are less than likely to want to take part in.

However this does not mean that the older generation can be ruled out all together as there is more and more research surfacing to suggest that the older generation are actually taking part in backpacking with one backpacker saying "It used to be something 20 something's do but the age range for doing it is getting wider. I now meet people in their 60s in hostels and backpacker guesthouses when I travel." (Mell, 2008), with the travel operator Saga (2009), a travel operator that offers deals only to those over 50, that "32 per cent of people asked wanted to experience new cultures, 17 per cent were thrill-seekers on the lookout for adventure and seven per cent were keen on meeting new people." What has to be realised is that as Gonzalez (2008) says they are often considered "dependent, weak, lonely and physically or mentally limited, when in fact in full possession of all their capabilities," there are a lot of cases where the older generation are being embraced into backpacking such as on the Lonely Planet publications website there is an 'older traveler' chat room subtitled "spend the kids' inheritance and hit the road." (Lonely Planet Publications, 2010). So if a big publication such as this can see that age is no longer as big a factor when talking about who goes backpacking then why do researcher still think this?

In conclusion it can be said that the older generation is overlooked when it comes to defining the backpacker, as there is more and more evidence of the older generation backpacking which is being picked up by both the younger backpackers and also companies involved in backpacking such as Lonely Planet Publications, meaning that any age can take part in backpacking as long as they are willing to take the risk.

O'Reilly, C, C. 2006. From Drifter to Gap Year Traveller: Mainstreaming Backpacker Travel. Annals of Tourism Research. 33 (4). Pp 998-1004.

Patterson, I. (2006) Growing Older: Tourism and leisure behaviour of older adults. Oxfordshire: Cromwell press. Pp 66-87.

Richards, G and Wilson, J. (2004) The Global Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice. Clevedon: Channel View Publications. Pp 14-92.
Age Concern: Backpacking for the older generation - why not!?
Author: Hayley Cantrill
I have chosen to comment on this paper as it is most closely related to my theme of backpacking and offers an interesting topic for discussion with the potential for older generation travellers taking part in this popular form of tourism.

This paper is well written and has the potential to provoke interesting debate on whether old people can be classed as backpackers and whether they should be as involved in this form of tourism as the 'young.' It clearly discusses the motivations for young backpackers and offers explanation on how these do not fit with older tourists, as well as referring to destinations to illustrate her points.

It offers interesting debate as to why older people would go backpacking in terms of 'investment' and the gain of cultural capital and life experience which is often cited by younger backpackers, where older people have many more years to gain this. (O'Reilly 2006)

There is also the potential for the discussion of the authentic which is considered important to backpackers, with the reasoning that an educated mind is more able to distinguish between the authentic and that which is pretending to be, (Allon 2004, Loker-Murphy 1997, Bell 2002) an older backpacker would be more successfully able to be aware of what is truly authentic.

Much of the available literature discusses backpackers and the typical profile of such a tourist as between the ages of 18 and 35, educated and price conscious. (Allon 2004, Loker-Murphy 1997, Bell 2002, Adler 1985, White & White 2004) However there is a distinct lack of reference to older people.
It should be discussed whether the age of the backpacker could be increasing due to the ageing populations in much of the generating regions of the world (United Nations 2001), though of course it is still increasingly popular with the young, this could be a possible reason explaining the increase in the numbers of old people taking part. There could also be reference to the influential travel writers of the mid 19th century who may have impacted upon the current older generation when they were younger, for example, Kerouac and Thompson. (Richards & Wilson 2004)
Ateljevic & Doorne (2000) suggest that extended travel takes place at 'transition periods' in a person's life, this could be applied to older travellers moving into retirement. Backpacking is often considered a rite of passage (Van Gennep 1960, White & White 2004) which has no age restrictions and should be equally open to the older generation.

The growth of such a demographic offers an opportunity for tour operators to capitalise on a new market in this area and would be in their best interests to research this group and use the results to modify tours and promote them to this potential market.

In conclusion, this offers an interesting twist on a popular topic and discusses the potential new market which could benefit both the participants and the tourism industry, further discussion of the similarities and differences between young and old would explain motivations for travel and this special group.

Allon, F. (2004) Backpacker Heaven: The Consumption and Contruction of Tourist Spaces and Landscapes in Sydney, Space and Culture, 7 (1) 49-63

Bell, C. (2002) The Big 'OE' Young New Zealand Travellers as Secular Pilgrims, Tourist Studies, 2 (2) 143-158

Loker-Murphy, L. (1997) Backpackers in Australia, Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 5 (4) 23-45
The changing perception of backpacking
Author: Kristina Sloka
This paper does not relate to my topic, however the content of the study made me interested. After conducting the research, it was identified that over the past few decades independent travel has grown (O`Reilly, 2006). Once, this was seen as an unusual activity undertaken by hippies and adventurous drop-puts, however at the moment it is widely accepted for young people (O`Reilly, 2006).

It is important to identify backpackers. Backpackers are self organized pleasure tourists, on a multiple destination journey with a flexible itinerary (Sorenson, 2003). Moreover, they prefer budget accommodation and have emphasis on meeting both locals and travellers (Locker-Murphy and Pearce, 1995). It is important to add, that most of backpackers have finished high education and hold an academic degree. As you noticed, predominantly backpackers were young people in the age of 18-35 (Sorensen, 2003). Some other state, that older backpacker is more than 40 years old. In this case, I would agree, that there is a growing number of older backpacker, as Adkins and Grant (2007) stated that at the moment there is a growing number of mature category 26 to 44. However, more scholars see the biggest part of backpackers in the age range of 18-33 (Sorenson, 2003).

The research on backpacker market segment started to grow only in 90s. Even though many theories and definitions about backpacking exist, is that true that older people did not backpack in the past? As a result, it was identified by Richards and Wilson (2003), that while younger people want to be called backpackers, older ones are more likely to opt for traveller. It was also found out that older backpackers most popular accommodation type is staying with friends or relatives rather than using hostels or camping (Markward, 2008).

I would disagree that young and older people have got the same motivation. Older people are seen as backpackers now, as they are returning to the destinations of their youth with their children. It is interesting to add that Scheyvens (2006, p. 78) identified the new definition for nowadays backpackers "people of all ages who are seeking a reasonably priced, adventuresome and "less tourist" holiday option during their two or three week vacation". According to this, Patterson (2002) identified that single women travel more due to the low cost accommodation and availability of no-frills travel.

It is important to understand, that backpacker experience is usually a "self imposed transition or rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood, and occurs in the time between the end of formal education and the beginning of fulltime employment" (Adkins and Grant, 2007, p. 189). In the case of mature backpackers, it is a transition during life course such as marriage breakdown, "mid-life" crises or career transition. It is important to notice that travel wishes made the transition in life, not the other way round (Sorenson, 2003). So young and mature backpackers have different motivations in order to escape from ordinary life and go backpacking.

In conclusion, backpackers start their experience as a transition in their life, no matter if they are young or older. Once backpackers were seen as young people on a multiple destination journey with flexible itinerary, however things change, and the way backpackers travel change as well. There is no age limit for backpacking, so everyone can go.

Adkins, B. and Grant, E. (2007) Backpackers as a community of strangers: the interaction order of an online backpacker notice board. Qualitative Sociology Review,3(2), pp. 188 - 201.

O`Reilly, C.C. (2006) From drifter to gap year tourist: mainstreaming backpacker travel. Annals of Tourism Research, 33(4), pp. 998 - 1017.

Sorensen, A. (2003) Backpacker ethnography. Annals of Tourism Research, 30, pp. 847 - 867.