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Backpacking: A Modern Day Grand Tour? Young People's Access to Tourism

Backpacking: A Modern Day Grand Tour? Young People's Access to Tourism
Author: Hayley Cantrill
1 Commentries
An analysis of the ways in which the contemporary trend for young people to partake in extended travel, often independently and referred to as backpacking, differs or is similar to the way tourism has been accessed by young people in the past.

Key Words: Young People, Backpacking, Grand Tour, Access.

The term 'young people' offers an unclear definition of specific ages it relates to. It has become increasingly difficult to distinguish between 'young' and 'old' as the world's demographics change. In many of the generating regions for tourism the birth rate has slowed, childbirth has been delayed and a decline of traditional family patterns means there are declining numbers of young. (United Nations 2001)

There has been a dramatic increase of youth tourists now compared to the time of the Grand Tour, with a fifth of all international tourists between the ages of 18-30 - it has been suggested that the changes to the collective life has allowed for this, for example, later marriage, increased levels of education and the changing role of women. (WTO 2008)

One of the earliest forms of significant youth travel occurred with the Grand Tour and was in keeping with the early philosophy of travel for reasons of pilgrimage as it sought to further the education of the aristocracy in the 17th and 18th centuries. (Cohen 2001, Brodsky-Porges 1981) It became fashionable for the rich parents of young males to send their eligible sons across Europe to acquire 'tastes essential for life.'

Characteristics of Grand Tour have been recreated by the contemporary trend for backpacking - extended travel often for between one and two years and independently or in small groups, spending time in different locations depending upon their perceived significance. Many authors agree that the typical backpacker is young, aged 18-35, educated and price conscious. (Allon 2004, Loker-Murphy 1997, Bell 2002, Adler 1985, White & White 2004) It can be assumed that a lack of an education may lead to diminished access if the majority of those tourists who have or are taking part in backpacking are educated.

The way travelling has been accepted as a part of young people's lives suggests that it is viewed as some form of a rite of passage. Van Gennep (1960) defines a this as a transition period between more stable periods, and as 'junctures in life.' (White & White 2004) These definitions offer suggestions as to why young people travel at the age they do, as the stable periods may have been represented by their formal education and then their career or marriage, facilitating access to travelling between being the juncture.

There remain some limits of access to tourism, for example, like the Grand Tour which was dominated by the aristocracy of Europe, young people from New Zealand taking part in their overseas experience are often middle class and white. Such restrictions suggest that there are still limits to access for the young people of certain countries as the Maori and Pacific Islanders are much less likely to take an 'OE'. (Bell 2002) It is also dominated by people of a western origin and culture. Other countries are growing in their number of youth travellers such as Japan and Israel. The rise in the number of different cultures taking part in youth travel illustrates the heterogeneous nature of backpacking. (Uriely et al 2002)

The Grand Tour saw the wealthier youth travelling Europe however the contemporary backpacking traveller is more conscious of price and much more likely to stick to a budget. (Murphy 2000, Loker-Murphy 1997, Allon 2004) This demonstrates the way in which tourism is much more accessible now than previously as even lower income people are able to take part. Accessibility to tourism by women has also improved as increasing numbers of young travellers are female, in contrast to the predominantly male participants of the Grand Tour (Sorabella 2010, Rosenberg 2010, Bell 2002)

Destinations have recognised the importance of the young traveller's expenditure, as 'young people spend more than any other group on international travel.' (WTO 2008) The supporting industry has grown massively and the rise in the number of youth hostels and trips aimed at this market is further evidence of how destinations are providing improved access for young people to their tourism product.

Young people have taken part in extended travel for centuries, from the Grand Tour of the 17th and 18th centuries to the contemporary backpacker, it has almost come full circle. Where access was once governed by social class and financial constraints, the development of tourism has opened access to many through advancements in technology and competitive pricing.
The cultural acceptance of such travel increases its accessibility, as does it being viewed as a rite of passage. Previous restrictions to access have been removed and allowed the current generation of young people greater access than has been previously held by young people all of which is evident in the increasing number of participants and the share of the market they hold and the lengths the tourism industry is going to, to cater to their needs and attract their business.


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

Sorabella, J. (2010) The Grand Tour, Available from: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/grtr/hd_grtr.htm [Accessed April 12th 2010]

World Tourism Organisation (2008) Youth Travel Matters: Understanding the Global Phenomenon of Youth Travel, Available from: http://pub.unwto.org/WebRoot/Store/Shops/Infoshop/482C/09E7/89D4/2506/AA82/C0A8/0164/F5B4/080514_youth_travel_matters_excerpt.pdf [Accessed April 12th 2010]
Young tourists; different values in the 21st century
Author: Katherine Knoff
I am aware of that this comment I leave is not on my own strand, but as my topic was volunteer tourism I came across information about backpacking as well and I thought that this paper is very interesting and brings up the question about young travelers access to tourism. Young tourism is included in niche tourism which was a part of my topic.

WTO (1991, 2002), defines young tourists as persons between 15 and 29 years, or less that 25 years. You mention that the number of young people in some regions are declining due to birth rate has slowed and childbirth has been delayed. This may be so, but the growing market for young tourism is growing at the same time as the travel lust and spending power, which will lead to more attention to this market (Richards and Wilson; Novelli, 2005).

When it comes to Grand Tour it was originally based on attractions in relation to experience and was designed for educational experience for the young men of the European aristocracy. The tour included visits to historical and cultural sites. The gentlemen that took part of the Grand Tour in the nineteenth century were motivated to go to see attractions like universities, art galleries, museums and architectural marvels. The key destinations were Bath, Buxton, Baden-Baden in Germany and Vichy in France. These destinations may not be so interesting for backpackers and young travelers in the 21st century, (Faulkner, 2000). By comparing young travelers and backpackers in this century also visits historical sites and monuments, but there is a significant difference as today’s travelers also go on trekking, shopping and spend time in caf├ęs, due to backpacking can occur in world cities such as London, Paris and N.Y., (Novelli, 2005).

Backpackers can be seen as the global nomads of the 21st century and the reason for the growing market and accessibility may be because of the growing networks of budget hostels, flexibility in work and lifestyle patterns and ease of international travels. Moreover the motivations for backpackers are seeking something different from everyday life, (Richard and Wilson, 2004).
In addition to the young travelers market, there are also potential for the older audience to go backpacking.
As you mention, The Grand Tour travelers were of economic wealth and the young traveler in the 21st century is more price-conscious. This seems to be true as most of the backpackers are currently students on a gap-year or ex-students with low income. Benefits of being a student on a budget-tour are that they can use their student- discount on train, bus, food etc, (Novelli, 2005).


Faulkner et. al.(2000) Tourism in the 21st century. London: Contiuum

Novelli , M. (2005) Niche tourism, contemporary issues, trends and cases. Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann

WTO (1991) International conference on youth tourism. New Delhi: Final report 18-21 November 1991, 13 pp.