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.
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.