Posted on May 25, 2009 by Colin

Field Guide to World Travelers

After slowly investigating and integrating myself into the world-traveling community for a few months, I finally have a fairly good sense of the people involved, the methods available and the lingo that is used in this culturally rich and quickly growing community.

One aspect of this (dare I say?) movement that I find absolutely fascinating is the semantics involved; what people choose to call themselves and what they do. When I first started thinking about traveling the world as part of my day-to-day, I would tell people that I was undertaking a project that would involve my living in a different country every four months. I thought this was a pretty simple explanation. Boom. Done. Send it to the PR people and turn off the lights on your way out.

The deeper I get, though, the more I realize that a lot of people in this field actually have much better, in some cases one-word explanations for what they are doing. It’s boggling, really, and I want to do a quick run-down here of some of the major categories of world traveler for the uninitiated.

Backpacker: generally considered to be one of the cheapest forms of travel, backpacking involves packing up just the necessities of survival (plus maybe an iPod and laptop…you know, for blogging), cramming it all in to a framed backpack and wandering around, usually on a pretty small budget (the key here is spend less, see more). Backpackers are known for their fondness of hostels, ‘roughing it,’ low-cost airlines, meeting locals and avoiding tourist traps. Some great resources for backpacking are: Backpacker Magazine, Ben’s Backpacking Travel Blog and Go Backpacking.

Flashpacker: this term usually refers to a backpacker that is carrying a bit more money, more technology and in some cases more luggage (though not much more…they are still very much into the minimalism). This breed of backpacker will usually make more use of gadgets than backpackers (though the line blurs a bit here as portable electronic devices like mobile phones and laptops become more widespread and cheap). Because of Flashpackers, more and more hostels are springing up around the globe that cater to a slightly higher-budget clientele, offering amenities that aren’t usually available at hostels. Another common trait you’ll find in Flashpackers is that they work while traveling and sometimes travel IS their work. Generally the means to this end is travel writing, photography, travel hacks and tips and advertising/product revenue (from their websites/blogs). Some Flashpacking websites include: Nomadic Matt, Rolf Potts’ Vagabonding and The Flashpacker Guide.

Gap-packer: this group is typically made up of students in Europe who are backpacking during the gap year between school and university. They tend to move at a fairly breakneck speed through several countries and also tend to move in larger groups than regular backpackers. Resources for this group include: GapYear.com, GoGap.com and The Gap Year Guidebook.

CouchSurfers: usually members of the popular (and free) online service CouchSurfing, people in this group travel cheaply through what’s called ‘hospitality exchange,’ wherein members share their couch (or extra bed or sleeping bag) with other members who are visiting from out of town. It’s kind of a karma-based system where you share your space and time, knowing that there are thousands of other people on the site who are just as willing to do the same for you when you travel. CouchSurfers are know for building thriving communities (they exist in 232 countries and territories, at the moment) and their ranking system (so you know whether or not the person coming to sleep on your couch might be an axe murderer). Find out more at couchsurfing.com.

Location Independent Professionals: sometimes referred to as ‘Digital Nomads’ or ‘Technomads,’ this quickly growing demographic likely got its name (and if not, definitely its popularity) from Lea and Jonathan Woodward of LocationIndependent.com. People who fall into this category are professionals of any age who are able to work and operate professionally from anywhere in the world (so long as there is an Internet connection or other means of communication to the world at large). There is a definite emphasis on freedom, choice and flexibility in this group, and there is no shortage of entrepreneurial ideas and websites involved. Some other location independent professional websites include: MineYourResources.com, ThrillingHeriocs.com, EpicSelf.com, FreePursuits.com and Technomadia.com. Location Independent also has a swiftly-growing social network through Ning called the Location Independent Clubhouse.

Families on the Road (FOTR): this growing group of mobile families touts the benefits of traveling the country (or the world) with their kids in tow, roadschooling, and living a mobile, RV lifestyle. Sites like Families on the Road are incredible resources for this group of travelers, and SoulTravelers3.com is a great example of a family taking this idea international: two unique parents raising their daughter with the world as her classroom. There are dozens of other families living this lifestyle listed on the FOTR families page.

UPDATE: The lovely people over at Technomadia have just published an excellent article entitled “Digital Location Independent Lifestyle Designing NuNomads” in which they also break down the types of travelers and lifestyle designers out there. Definitely worth a read!

What genres of travelers and websites within these categories have I missed? Would you use a different definition? Let me know by leaving a comment!