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Ignorance or Arrogance: The risks backpackers are willing to take for the experience of a life time.

Ignorance or Arrogance: The risks backpackers are willing to take for the experience of a life time.
Author: Matti Seila
2 Commentries
Since Cohen (1972) introduced and published the definitions for these backpackers - the explorer and the drifter -, the industry and the research conducted on them has seen a substantial increase of interest. These drifters, act and behave with almost no regard to the well being, raises the question about their motivations and reasons for these risk-taking adventures. Therefore there is a need of defining their motivation and the risks that might occur, and what is there to gain from it.

These backpackers are mostly defined by being pleasure seeking tourists, who withhold the control over their actions, rather than giving it away to specific travel agents. They also tend to travel to multiple different destinations during their very lengthy and flexible journey, whilst offering them a firsthand experience of the local culture and providing something of a local look.

The backpackers typically in today's world travel alone, or with one other person, but enjoy the company of many whom he or they have familiarized with throughout their journey. They then continue to visit locations outside of their normal periphery, which help them to shift and forget their domestic responsibilities and constrains. Similarly Desforges (2000) enforced these assumptions, as he notes that, when travelling independently or with a friend, the backpacker feels as though he was, for the first time really living and a part of something unique. They actively continue to form connections between different groups and societies, in which the backpacker will then spends his or hers majority of the time, when visiting and residing in particular road stops and destinations. Here they continue to practice and court different types of risks and adventures (Maoz, 2007; Elsrud, 2006).

The motivations for these journeys play the most important factor for backpackers, as these motivators guide and persuade them to take part in very risk-taking endeavours and force them to ignore their instincts of self preservation. They act against their own cultural norms and values by constructing different priorities and responsibilities, as well as convince themselves to be more 'freedĀ“ from their normal domestic constrains. But because these backpackers are outside of their normal 'comfort zone' and are surrounded by other individuals with the same perceptions, they begin to perceive the daily risks and dangers less threatening and continue to participate in risky activities. They also forget or become ignorant towards the simplest dangers, such as health issues when consuming unfamiliar foods.

In order to win, one must risk something, thus acting and facing a threat has the potentiality of bestowing the risk-taker with a preferred identity and value (Elsrud, 2001).

Risk plays an increasingly important element for the modern societies, while providing something exceptional. And as seen in many different occasions, the concept is manufactured into nearly everything and anything. It is portrayed that participants generally accept the presence of risk, while taking part in different activities, and that the value of it, is an important factor to grasp (Hunter-Jones et al, 2007; Cater, 2006). But the risk is not there for a single reason of providing excitement, it is there sometimes to provide a learning experience as well. And as stated by Cater (2006), without risk you will not know and / or appreciate fully the activity you were getting into. The adventures take intentional risks to fulfil their need to experience something self-constructive, and new, while at the same time alter their perception danger. Even when disasters strikes close by or minor injuries diminish their capabilities, their behaviours are not affected. And as the travellers in most cases know the full extent of the dangers and risks associated with the activity, they are partly considered to be voluntary risks (Elsrud, 2001; Elsrud, 2006).

In conclusion, each year the backpackers continue to experience numerous different disasters from minor injuries to fatal accident, from tidal waves to tsunamis, with no regard to the consequence of them. They begin to be oblivious to these accidents and the destinations where they have occurred, and do not take almost any actions to prevent or avoid further trips to them. Ultimately their behaviour does not change according to their domestic actions but rather advance to another level, where they consider the risk to be a part of the solution. These risks and actions they are willingly take part in, give them so much more, and help them to 'nullify' their sense of safety and lowers their defences in order to experience something worthwhile. These backpackers underestimate the consequences and consider themselves to be more experienced and have the fairytale idea of nothing ever happening to them (Lepp and Gibson, 2003 Richards and Wilson, 2006; Uriely and Belhassen, 2006).

Realistically, for the backpackers to control these risks which they participate and to cancel out the consequences of them is without a doubt an impossible task. But even so, they continue to risk their health and security in the search of profound experiences and stories to use when constructing their self-identity. They became ignorant of risks and endanger their well being for thrills.


Desforges, L. (2000) TRAVELING THE WORLD Identity and Travel Biography, Annals of Tourism Research, 27 (4) pp. 926 - 945

Elsrud, T. (2001) RISK CREATION IN TRAVELING Backpacker Adventure Narration, Annals of Tourism Research, 28 (3) pp. 597 - 617

Maoz, D. (2007) BACKPACKERS' MOTIVATIONS The Role of Culture and Nationality, Annals of Tourism Research, 34 (1) pp. 122 - 140
Risk taking tourists
Author: Amanda Carrell
This paper caught my attention initially due to the similarities that it has with my own chosen topic, the idea of tourists choosing to take risks and put themselves in unsafe situations intrigues me.

The main issues that were identified in this conference was the motivations for journeys taking to risky environments, the idea of risk was very broad within this paper and did not deal with a specific type of risk, such as crime or natural disaster but looked at a wide range of risky environments and situations.
The paper portrays clearly the motivations for risk taking, the idea of an escape from everyday life, and also to get a real experience away from cultural normality, quoted by Elsrud (2001)

'In order to win, one must risk something, thus acting and facing a threat has the potentiality of bestowing the risk-taker with a preferred identity and value'

As I discovered in my own paper travellers that participate in backpacking experiences are more concerned with self identity and an authentic experience, the idea as you have identified is to be in completely different cultural environments that challenge the traveller. (Handler and Saxton 1988) This type of tourists get much more from engaging in risk associated destinations and activities feeling that this kind of travel is unique to them, often travelling to numerous destinations. The piece also identified that backpackers would often travel alone or with one other, generally meeting up with other travellers on they way.
What I found interesting about this paper was that the focus was not on risky situations involving crime and terrorism but also the issue of tourist ignoring basic dangers, including health risks. Some tourists could be put of from visiting a destination that has health warnings; however some tourists do not see this as an issue. (Barker et al 2002) The different types of tourists were identified and the paper was concerned with the drifter from Cohen's tourist types, drifter or even the explorer are those travellers that want to be 'of the beaten track' and away from the main tourist routes but it is the drifter that will expose themselves to risky or dangerous situations.

The piece was interesting and had a good structure, and encouraged me to learn more. The paper could have been more in-depth and insightful if the writer would have focused on just one type of risk, such as natural disasters or health issues. Different types of risk may affect the type of visitor that will travel and also have different levels of impacts on tourists.
The paper seemed to fit in well with other papers that were in the strand but focused more on motivations and what the traveller gets out of the experience. Overall the paper was very insightful and was an interesting read.

Barker, M S.J. Page and D. Meyer, Modelling tourism crime. The 2000 America's cup, Annals of Tourism Research 29 (2002), pp. 762-782.
Handler, R., and W. Saxton 1988 Dissimulation: Reflexivity, Narrative, and the Quest for Authenticity in Living History. Cultural Anthropology 3:242-260.

In order to win- one must risk something
Author: Patricia Mutter

This conference paper is very sound in its knowledge and raises good points about the motivations of backpackers taking risk adventures. This work is similar to mine in the sense of travelling with an amount of risk. Finally, your arguments round off some of my statements and made me consider new directions as well. As you defined the "backpacker" as pleasure seeking tourists who withhold their control over their actions and prefer flexible journeys it is obviously that this topic fits well into the strand ethical challenges and risky territories.

The paper contains a variety of literature and reliable sources which can be proved in your amount of journals you have chosen. I suppose your detailed argumentation of the motivations of backpackers show that you did an independent reading throughout this study. Furthermore it was written in an interesting way and provides much qualitative information.
I agree with you that backpackers usually travel alone or with a small number of persons as well as visit destinations which are far away from their domestic life to forget their responsibilities. As you mentioned in your paper backpacker travelling independently and residing in particular road stops and other places, which can force types of risks and adventures for them. I would like to add at this stage that Cohen (1973; 6) found out that the archetypical backpacker travels with no set itinerary. Consequently, the drifter's restlessness and attendant uncertainties are good preparation for the future life. To be more precise backpacker see their trips as a self development in which they learn about themselves, the society as well as the culture (Cohen, 1973; 28). Backpackers are also motivated to travel in order to reach personal growth (Moaz, 2007; 122). In order to win, one must risk something, thus acting and facing a threat has the potentiality of bestowing the risk-taker with a preferred identity and value (Elsrud, 2001). This statement, which you have used in your paper, underlines my previous argument very well.

I agree with you that the term risk provides something exceptional and has a significant role in our society. At this point I would like to make a connection with my conference topic. Adventure tourists as well as extreme sport tourists want to be different. A healthy life-style, security etc. are attributes of the "usual people". As a result people see risk as a main factor to be different. This behavior of the postmodern adventure and extreme sport tourist is definitely applicable to backpackers as well (Hall, 2007: 11).

Finally, I like the way in which you investigated the role of risk in your last chapters. But I would like to make one suggestion at this stage that you researched the term risk in a general way. In my opinion it would have given the work more profundity and clearness. Besides I agree with your opinion that backpacker's cannot control the risks which can occur. But isn`t it the "uncontrollable risk", which lead these people to do this kind of travel?


Maoz, D. (2007) Backpacker`s motivations - the role of culture and nationality, Annals of Tourism Research, 34 (1) pp. 122-140

Hall, S. (2007) Introducing a risk assessment model for sport venues, the sport journal, 10 (2) p. 3

Cohen, S. (1973) the global Nomad- backpacker travel in theory and practice, Ontario: Channel View publications p. 6-11