02 Apr A Guest in a Place Others Call Home: Backpacking Culture in Southeast AsiaThis blog is part of a series where we unpack our Backpacktivist Manifesto using video, articles, music, and other forms of media. We invite you to critically reflect with us on what it truly means to be an ethical traveler.
A backpacktivist is a guest in a place others call home. Adhering to local traditions and customs allows us to understand the value of cultures different from our own. It opens the door for a greater understanding of our similarities, not just our differences.Written by our very own Southeast Asia Regional Coordinator, Sidney Jhingran, this piece is a reflection on the backpacker culture that has taken over the region. With a critical look on the positive and negative effects of this transient lifestyle, Sidney unpacks just what it means to be conscientious in our travels. I am a backpacker. There’s no denying that. I live in Southeast Asia. Bangkok, Thailand, to be exact, though right now I am in Siem Reap, Cambodia. Like I said, I’m a backpacker; I don’t really live in one particular place. As I live in these two places – two epicenters of backpacking culture in Southeast Asia – I am constantly immersed in this transient and very unique lifestyle, both as an active participant and as someone outside of it. This has led me to few interrelated insights that I feel inclined to share. Travelling is an inherently selfish enterprise – we do it for ourselves, for experiences and encounters that will enrich our own lives and broaden our perspective of the world. The paradox is that the places we come to visit and the hosts that welcome us thus become a backdrop to our own self-fulfillment. In extreme cases, it’s this kind of self-centered mentality that has led to the hedonistic, drunkenly reckless atmosphere that has overwhelmed Khao San Road or the island of Koh Phangnan, or has given rise to exploitative and unethical tourism practices such as Thailand’s questionable tiger temples, hill-tribe treks, or elephant riding excursions. All of these are essentially manufactured experiences aimed at satisfying and garnering profit from our drive to consume what Southeast Asia has to offer.
Questions for Thought…
- Sidney says, “travelling is an inherently selfish enterprise”. Do you agree or disagree?
- When travelling, what is the difference between a “manufactured” experience and an “authentic” one?
- If you’ve travelled before, have you encountered the “backpacker culture” that is referred to here? Did you find it was disconnected from the “local” culture?
- How can we act respectfully when exploring regions that are unfamiliar to us?