A new study of backpackers in Latin America published in the International Journal of Tourism Anthropology suggests that while most follow the pattern of “Western” backpackers as in other parts of the world and adhere to the general code of honour they are more likely to finance their journeys through artisanal activities, such as selling self-made jewellery and other souvenirs.
Many people travel on a low budget in their youth, seeing the world independently of travel agent itineraries, meeting new people taking in the sights and culture of foreign lands. It is often referred to as “backpacking” and is often undertaken during a so-called “gap year” before or after an educational transition. While many backpackers simply travel with money saved beforehand others find bar work or other casual jobs en route in order to help subsidize their travel, subsistence and entertainment. This is the common backpacking code of honour of Westerners that was distilled into five maxims by Peter Welk in the book The Global Nomad:
- Travel with rather limited expense
- Get to know new and different people
- Be free, independent and open-minded
- Organise the trip to be independent and self-contained
- Travel for as long as possible
Anne-Katrin Broocks of the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, at the University of Hamburg, Germany, and Kevin Hannam of Edinburgh Napier University, UK, suggest in this new published paper the addition of one more ‘badge of honour’ which applied to the artisan backpackers in Latin America: namely a deep involvement in the local, often indigenous culture and nature, including interaction with and absorption of knowledge relating to the local populations. The team explains through their ethnographic research how they have discerned differences between the travel plans of Western backpackers and the artisanal backpackers of Latin America.
“Lack of sufficient monetary resources shapes the ways in which artisan backpackers travel,” the team reports. “They use different modes of transport and accommodation to other backpackers and they need to plan their days around their economic activities: crafting and selling their jewellery and other products. … Crucially, the artisan backpackers produce the souvenirs of the backpacker culture in order to be able to participate in it.”
The team has found that because such artisanal backpackers must trade and bargain with members of the public and other travellers, they improve their business skills, their English language skills, and their geographical and touristic knowledge. This not only gives them useful life skills to take to the employment market, sometimes even overseas, when their backpacking expedition comes to an end but it also means they become more embedded with the local population in order to negotiate their own identities.
“For the artisan backpacker the Western mainstream backpacking culture provides unique opportunities to participate in the globalised world and can also open up options for further education or other entrepreneurial activities and helps to build the resources for ongoing mobilities,” the team concludes.
Broocks, A-K. and Hannam, K. (2016) ‘The artisan backpacker: a development in Latin American backpacker tourism’, Int. J. Tourism Anthropology, Vol. 5, Nos. 1/2, pp.152-164.