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!

35 comments

  1. Great post! I didn’t know much about world travelers before (I’ve never been out of the US!!) but now I feel like I have some idea of what’s out there. I’m curious to see if other readers have ideas.

  2. Great post! I didn’t know much about world travelers before (I’ve never been out of the US!!) but now I feel like I have some idea of what’s out there. I’m curious to see if other readers have ideas.

  3. @Positively Present:

    Thanks! I’m the same way, actually: this trip will be my first out of the country. It’s only been through lots of research (and tons of help from the travel community, including the people linked to in this post) that I’ve been able to piece together a rough idea of what the scene looks like.

    I’m also very interested to see what others have to say. Categorization is an inexact science, and I’m wondering how other travel/lifestyle bloggers would categorize themselves.

  4. @Positively Present:

    Thanks! I’m the same way, actually: this trip will be my first out of the country. It’s only been through lots of research (and tons of help from the travel community, including the people linked to in this post) that I’ve been able to piece together a rough idea of what the scene looks like.

    I’m also very interested to see what others have to say. Categorization is an inexact science, and I’m wondering how other travel/lifestyle bloggers would categorize themselves.

  5. Hey Colin.. it’s total serendipity that our minds were synced on this topic today – I was actually polishing mine up when I got the alert that you linked to us. *grin* So I worked in your great post into ours.

    I think our two posts explore complimentary axis’s of this topic quite well. How wonderful! I love how you break down the different types of world travel.. whereas ours explores the different types of integrating in travel/life/career.

    We’re excited to virtually witness the journey ahead of you!

    – Cherie / http://www.technomadia.com

  6. Hey Colin.. it’s total serendipity that our minds were synced on this topic today – I was actually polishing mine up when I got the alert that you linked to us. *grin* So I worked in your great post into ours.

    I think our two posts explore complimentary axis’s of this topic quite well. How wonderful! I love how you break down the different types of world travel.. whereas ours explores the different types of integrating in travel/life/career.

    We’re excited to virtually witness the journey ahead of you!

    – Cherie / http://www.technomadia.com

  7. Thanks for the comment (and linkback) Cherie!

    I’m definitely glad that you published yours around the same time as mine so that we can get a rounder picture of these terms to give to people. Labels can play a big role in how people approach and view the world, so making sure that everyone is on the same semantic page is important.

    I’ve added a link to your blog post to my article, and I encourage everyone to check it out, because it’s very well done (and has a chart!).

    Very happy to have you as a reader, and I’m definitely a reader of yours, as well :)

  8. Thanks for the comment (and linkback) Cherie!

    I’m definitely glad that you published yours around the same time as mine so that we can get a rounder picture of these terms to give to people. Labels can play a big role in how people approach and view the world, so making sure that everyone is on the same semantic page is important.

    I’ve added a link to your blog post to my article, and I encourage everyone to check it out, because it’s very well done (and has a chart!).

    Very happy to have you as a reader, and I’m definitely a reader of yours, as well :)

  9. Hi Colin! It’s interesting how quickly the community is growing around location independence and lifestyle design, isn’t it? I’m glad you took the time to categorize the different traveling types. Thanks for mentioning Free Pursuits in the story.

    Another interesting category of people I’ve met while traveling are those who are semi-nomadic. These people hold “regular” jobs during half of the year or so, and spend the other half of the year living away from home. Anyone can create a lifestyle of travel (at least part-time) if they decide to make it a priority.

  10. Hi Colin! It’s interesting how quickly the community is growing around location independence and lifestyle design, isn’t it? I’m glad you took the time to categorize the different traveling types. Thanks for mentioning Free Pursuits in the story.

    Another interesting category of people I’ve met while traveling are those who are semi-nomadic. These people hold “regular” jobs during half of the year or so, and spend the other half of the year living away from home. Anyone can create a lifestyle of travel (at least part-time) if they decide to make it a priority.

  11. Great post, but don’t forget families!

    Many do not realize that this is a great lifestyle for families. We have been on an open ended world tour since 2006 and find the digital nomadic life and slow travel is perfect for families and the best possible education for global citizens of the 21st century.

    There are many families that have been doing this for a long time and more come every day.

    FOTR ( Families on the Road) is a great resource. Kim from Activated has been doing this since her child was in diapers and now he is grown and on his own!

    http://www.familiesontheroad.com/

    My passion is letting families know that this is easier, cheaper and more rewarding than most realize!

  12. Great post, but don’t forget families!

    Many do not realize that this is a great lifestyle for families. We have been on an open ended world tour since 2006 and find the digital nomadic life and slow travel is perfect for families and the best possible education for global citizens of the 21st century.

    There are many families that have been doing this for a long time and more come every day.

    FOTR ( Families on the Road) is a great resource. Kim from Activated has been doing this since her child was in diapers and now he is grown and on his own!

    http://www.familiesontheroad.com/

    My passion is letting families know that this is easier, cheaper and more rewarding than most realize!

  13. @Cody McKibben: No problem! I’ll definitely let you know when I’m heading your direction (maybe early next year? Depends on how my readers vote, I suppose!)

    @Corbett Barr: Yeah, it’s really impressive how quickly the branding for location independence has taken hold. It’s a great term and applies to so many people, and the folks who identify with it are doing a great job of spreading the word.

    I don’t think I’ve come across too many semi-nomadic people online. Do you know of any bloggers or websites that I should mention of theirs?

    @Soultravelers3: Ack! Big mistake on my part to leave the family travelers out! I’ll add you wonderful people on to this entry posthaste! Thanks for the heads up!

  14. @Cody McKibben: No problem! I’ll definitely let you know when I’m heading your direction (maybe early next year? Depends on how my readers vote, I suppose!)

    @Corbett Barr: Yeah, it’s really impressive how quickly the branding for location independence has taken hold. It’s a great term and applies to so many people, and the folks who identify with it are doing a great job of spreading the word.

    I don’t think I’ve come across too many semi-nomadic people online. Do you know of any bloggers or websites that I should mention of theirs?

    @Soultravelers3: Ack! Big mistake on my part to leave the family travelers out! I’ll add you wonderful people on to this entry posthaste! Thanks for the heads up!

  15. Hi Colin!

    I’d say I’m a backpacker who couchsurfs a lot. Does it mean I’m a backsurfer? or a couchpacker? LOL. Also, I’ve seen lots of people move from backpacking to flashpacking and I wonder if that’s a natural transition for someone who seems to backpack forever.

    cheers, Priyank

  16. Hi Colin!

    I’d say I’m a backpacker who couchsurfs a lot. Does it mean I’m a backsurfer? or a couchpacker? LOL. Also, I’ve seen lots of people move from backpacking to flashpacking and I wonder if that’s a natural transition for someone who seems to backpack forever.

    cheers, Priyank

  17. Thanks Colin! BTW, make sure you write a review ( not just thumbs up) for this on Stumbleupon. The first one who “discovers” a site MUST write a review or it gets put in the dead file. ( Or so I am told by experts at SU).

    Too good of a post to be in the dead file! Everyone who is mentioned should stumble it!

  18. Thanks Colin! BTW, make sure you write a review ( not just thumbs up) for this on Stumbleupon. The first one who “discovers” a site MUST write a review or it gets put in the dead file. ( Or so I am told by experts at SU).

    Too good of a post to be in the dead file! Everyone who is mentioned should stumble it!

  19. @Final_Transit: I’d say that you can define yourself however you want! Make sure that when you come up with a final definition, though, you post it here so that others can follow in your footsteps!

    @soultravelers3: Thanks for the SU advice…I didn’t realize that there was a dead file, so I’ll be sure to post actual reviews of sites I Stumble (though it feels weird reviewing my own articles :)

  20. @Final_Transit: I’d say that you can define yourself however you want! Make sure that when you come up with a final definition, though, you post it here so that others can follow in your footsteps!

    @soultravelers3: Thanks for the SU advice…I didn’t realize that there was a dead file, so I’ll be sure to post actual reviews of sites I Stumble (though it feels weird reviewing my own articles :)

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  22. Great list Colin and thanks for including LIPs on there.

    I think you’ve pretty much covered all the travelling types that I could think of although I guess if you get in to it, you could add the RVers, sailors or waterway (house boat) types. We’ve met quite a few sailors on our travels who spend a lot of time sailing from port to port for several months of the year (if not permanently) – not so many of them blog about it though…might be to do with the lack of decent internet out at sea :)

  23. Great list Colin and thanks for including LIPs on there.

    I think you’ve pretty much covered all the travelling types that I could think of although I guess if you get in to it, you could add the RVers, sailors or waterway (house boat) types. We’ve met quite a few sailors on our travels who spend a lot of time sailing from port to port for several months of the year (if not permanently) – not so many of them blog about it though…might be to do with the lack of decent internet out at sea :)

  24. Thanks for the kind words, Lea, and for checking out the post :)

    I think I may have to do a followup on this list at some point, adding in the more niche travelers who still very much contribute to the culture.

    Thanks, too, for providing such a great (and welcoming) community for new travelers like myself. Your various sites and products have really decreased the steepness of the learning curve!

  25. Thanks for the kind words, Lea, and for checking out the post :)

    I think I may have to do a followup on this list at some point, adding in the more niche travelers who still very much contribute to the culture.

    Thanks, too, for providing such a great (and welcoming) community for new travelers like myself. Your various sites and products have really decreased the steepness of the learning curve!

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  28. Flashpacking is a newly born trend appeared along with the budget flights. They seem wealthier than backpackers but they use more budget option than regular holiday travellers.

    In the positive perspective, it is a new, expanding market for hostels (or at least it was before the financial crisis, will see in the near future), on the other hand it could be quicksand if this is just a passing fashion.

  29. Flashpacking is a newly born trend appeared along with the budget flights. They seem wealthier than backpackers but they use more budget option than regular holiday travellers.

    In the positive perspective, it is a new, expanding market for hostels (or at least it was before the financial crisis, will see in the near future), on the other hand it could be quicksand if this is just a passing fashion.

  30. Great post, Colin. I’m lucky enough to be in contact with many of these digital nomads as well.

    And in addition to soultravelers3, there are many more families out on the road. I’ve met quite a few of them through Couchsurfing.

    Here’s the Families Welcome group:

    http://www.couchsurfing.org/group.html?gid=513

    It’s a great way to meet other families while traveling, but also to connect with other nomadic families

  31. Great post, Colin. I’m lucky enough to be in contact with many of these digital nomads as well.

    And in addition to soultravelers3, there are many more families out on the road. I’ve met quite a few of them through Couchsurfing.

    Here’s the Families Welcome group:

    http://www.couchsurfing.org/group.html?gid=513

    It’s a great way to meet other families while traveling, but also to connect with other nomadic families

  32. Just found this link Colin! Thanks so much for including me in the location independent rockstars. It’s so funny how all these movement have popped up. We are defining ourselves in these little unknown niches. Hilarious and awesome. Hope all is well in NZ. Road trip in US soon eh?

  33. Just found this link Colin! Thanks so much for including me in the location independent rockstars. It’s so funny how all these movement have popped up. We are defining ourselves in these little unknown niches. Hilarious and awesome. Hope all is well in NZ. Road trip in US soon eh?

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