You’re in South Africa on a two-and-a-half-week holiday. You're backpacking, but not really.
It's more like you're carrying your stuff with you as you move from one fabulous destination to the next, with plenty of fun-filled stops in between. You use your gadgets (your phone and iPad) to enhance your travel itinerary, checking in with Facebook, Twitter and TripAdvisor to share your photos, exchange ideas about tourism attractions and book your seat at the next adventure.
In a nutshell, you’ve used digital media to help upgrade your real-life travels. There’s a word for it: flashpacking.
Jennie Germann Molz is a sociologist who studies globalisation, travel and technology. In her paper, The Social Affordances of Flashpacking: Exploring the Mobility Nexus of Travel and Communication, she introduces flashpacking as an emerging travel trend and describes the behaviour patterns associated with it.
According to the paper, travellers have long taken the advice of friends and family, but flashpacking brings the digital media space into the travel planning equation, and inspires ‘connected’ travel itineraries drafted with the help of your phone, iPad or laptop. It's also a term used for 'flush' travellers, with the adventure mindset of a backpacker, on an extended holiday budget – as opposed to the traditional definition of a budget backpacker.
1. What does a flashpacker look like?
Think of a backpacker, and then add budget and gadgets. The typical flashpacker has money to spend while on holiday and backpacks with a phone or two, a laptop and/or a tablet. But they don’t just travel with their digital knick-knacks; they use them to stay in touch and connected while out and about.
They update their Facebook page, Instagram albums and Twitter account as they travel, and use digital apps and mobile sites to plan their next visit to a tourist attraction, usually based on suggestions or rankings sourced online. Money is less of an issue; having a once-in-a-lifetime experience is more important.
2. Is flashpacking here to stay?
For sure. While the term is intended for use as an add-on to backpacking, flash-type travel is trending all over. In fact, it’s become mainstream practice. More and more travellers are using digital technology to help drive their travel itinerary, whether they’re backpacking, glamping or living it up with a big, fat holiday budget.
3. Has flashpacking changed travel?
Yes and no. Humans are inspired by the same drivers as always to go travelling – we want to escape the pressures or boredom of our lives, we want to build an identity for ourselves, we are looking for new experiences, we want to know more about the planet we inhabit, and we’re on the hunt for some fun. These drivers haven’t changed.
What has changed is our ability to share our experiences, images and travel notes immediately with a digital family – be they real-life relatives or not. What has changed is our ability to document the drivers of travel, as we travel.
4. Is flashpacking about making the people back home jealous?
No. The paper uncovers two interesting snippets of evidence. Firstly, the research reveals that many flashpackers view their connection to a digital family while travelling as a kind of safety net. This connection and perception of the digital family can inspire a longer stay away from home, and can even motivate the traveller to go places and see things that he or she would ordinarily be a little reticent to do (because now they can share the experience of their adventure).
Secondly, the paper also says that many flashpackers actually work while travelling, and so have become lifestyle travellers who combine flashpacking with making money (usually via freelance writing or online sales), using the same digital tools.
5. Is backpacking in luxury, flashpacking?
Not always. Not unless there is a digital relationship with travel being encouraged at the same time.
Flashpacking as a tourist phenomenon is as much related to lifestyle as it is to travel. If you are a person of above-average income who shares your life experiences, dreams and everyday photos via social media, then chances are you’ve already flashpacked. If you’re a more conservative adopter of digital media, and fall into a smaller income bracket, then you won’t necessarily have flashpacked – but you’ll most certainly have been affected by it.
Ever arrived at a hotel without checking and it was fully booked? Missed out on that online ticket sale? Got to the theatre, only to be turned away because all the tickets were sold out three days ago? This is the other side of flashpacking. And while you might not want to share your holiday details with a family of strangers, it’s silly not to take advantage of the digital interventions that really can add value to your holiday.