Things used to be so simple. Back in the day, we were backpackers. We carried all our stuff in a pack, on our backs. Period. Then life intervened. I grew up, got a job, made lots of money, and shifted into luxury mode for the next 20 years. When midlife stole in, I found myself yearning for those simple times when I would slap on the backpack and wander. Before long I was again choosing the backpack over the traditional suitcase whenever I traveled, until one day I chucked it all and headed out to travel around the world for six months. But by that time I was 54 and not willing to carry everything on my back, so I stuffed all my essentials in a smaller pack (laptop, iPod, camera and lenses, wallet, swimsuit, sarong, book, etc.) and the rest in a small, 22″ Eagle Creek wheeled suitcase.

Backpacker, gap-packer, or flashpacker

I let my shadow lug around my daypack while I relaxed on the beach in Byron Bay, Australia

Throughout my RTW trip, I defined myself as a backpacker – after all, I was carrying some of my gear on my back, staying primarily in hostels, eating on less than $10 per day, and traveling to adventurous destinations. It was during this trip I learned about gap-packers, a term first applied to European students who take a year off to travel between school and university, or between university and their first job. A “gap year” so to speak. Made sense. Since I was taking time off to travel mid-career, maybe I was a gap-backpacker.

Lately I’ve been hearing the term “flashpacker.” The third time I heard the word, I had to look it up. Wikipedia defines flashpacker as follows:

“Flashpacking refers to affluent backpackers. Whereas backpacking is traditionally associated with budget travel and destinations that are relatively cheap, flashpacking … has been defined simply as backpacking with a bigger budget. A simple definition … can be thought of as backpacking with flash, or style. One school of thought defines the flashpacker as a rapidly growing segment of travelers who adhere to a modest accommodation and meal budget, while spending freely, even excessively, for activities at their chosen destination. A flashpacker has been further defined as tech-savvy adventurers who often prefer to travel with a cell phone, digital camera, iPod and a laptop, although none of these is required in order to be a flashpacker. The term also reflects a growing number of travelers who are forsaking traditional organized travel, venturing to destinations once the reserve of more adventurous backpackers, and the increasing number of individuals who leave well paid jobs or take ‘career breaks’, using the time to travel independently, but with greater comfort and many of the gadgets they are accustomed to at home.”

Who knew? All along I thought I was a backpacker; come to find out I’m really a flashpacker.