The History of Backpacking

Traveling has been a passion or a necessity for people the world over for centuries. People travel for the sheer love of discovering new places and experiencing new cultures. Traveling can be an expensive affair but there is a new breed of tourists that go down the backpacking route. Armed with their backpacks, world savvy knowledge and the thirst for adventure, these travelers wander the globe to see new places and new experiences. But how did this trend all begin? We look into the history of backpacking to understand how this trend came about.

First, what is backpacking? Backpacking is when you travel, go on a hike or holiday with all your belongings packed in one bag. Backpackers are a certain section of travelers who carry all their stuff and go off the beaten path. They travel on a budget and as cheaply as possible so that they can maximize their travelling time and even stay n shared accommodations to save on funds.


Travelling wasn’t always seen in such a positive light. In earlier centuries it was perceived as a negative thing – that you travelled because you were on the run from something or someone. It was only in the 17th century onwards that travelling was seen as a way of educating yourself and experiencing more of the world to give an all rounded education – especially to people who could afford it. It’s a lot like how people now take a year off from work or studies to travel the world. In the same fashion, young men would take a ‘grand tour’ of the countries in Europe before they settled down in life – which meant getting married and what not.

The 1950’s saw a huge change in travel. Until then travel was more or less confined to the nobility or wealthy class – those who could afford to travel to the ‘Continent’ to get a taste of life. In 1955, a group of University students decided to follow the famous Silk Route which connected the East and West. Their journey which followed the footsteps of Marco Polo was documented and soon the Hippie Trail was created.

The Hippie Trail was one that extended from Europe to India. It is in this period in time that the concept of backpacking truly emerged. The price of airfare was quite exorbitant and out of reach for the average Joe which prompted the backpacker movement. Westerners were curious to see the far off places for themselves and traveling by local transport, hitch hiking and by walking trails. The route that the backpackers took usually started off at Amsterdam or London and they made their way down to Nepal or India via countries like Istanbul, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

People from countries like America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and Mainland Europe took to this trail and the temptations of perfect sandy beaches with the easy availability of legal drugs tempted many of these visitors to break away from the chains of the rigid frameworks of society. To jump aboard the counter culture wagon, bus companies offered transportation and a lot of travelers bought motorbikes and minivans to get them through their 6,000 mile long journey.


As airfare became cheaper, more people decided to venture out into the world to discover the treasures of each country. Notes were exchanged, word of mouth and books soon spread the word of various destinations and travel to distant lands became more accessible. The ‘Lonely Planet’ was born which stated the best place to visit and things to do and this helped people who were planning their trip. With the advent of the internet and smart phones, knowing which destinations to head to and planning ahead of time became easier, opening the world out even more for backpackers.

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