5 reasons why backpackers are the best travellers

Some of us travel in style in high-rise hotels and dine in restaurants. Some of us travel by foot, with backpacks strapped to our backs with only the essentials, our boots and street food carts to survive. Guess which one could save our planet...

Coming to university in 2011 really opened my eyes to how many different people there are in the world. People from different families, religions, countries and cultures. But the thing I noticed most was their wealth – or lack thereof – and by extension their views on travelling. While I won't claim to have any empirical data on this, it seemed more common for wealthy international students to travel in style: business class seats, gourmet restaurants, helicopter flying lessons and cars to pick them up when they were done. By contrast, the kids with smaller budgets – the rural Australian beach-town daydreamers – were jetting off to Vietnam on red-eye flights and bags half their size jam-packed with clothes, cups, toiletries and other essentials. Most of the time they returned in the same clothes they left in. The high-rollers came back with a Facebook photo album full of likes and comments like "So jealous! I want your life!", and the backpackers came back with sunburn, insane stories and ten bracelets on their wrist that were made by local kids in a Village they slept in one night when their bus broke down.

We're not all the same. Everyone travels differently, and health, money or time is usually what ends up dictating where we go, and how we get there. But what I've learned from seeing these travelers, and experiencing both forms of travel myself, the backpackers, ironically, are on the money.

Backpackers provide interesting insights into how people can act in more sustainable ways. The Journal of Sustainable Tourism found that backpackers acted more environmentally friendly, even without meaning to. Here are just a few of the ways backpackers travel to reduce their impact on the environment:

  • They carpool

Carpooling means not spending more money than is absolutely necessary, and you can get where you need to be faster. Gumtree, Coseats and are great car-sharing forums that you will frequently find backpackers scrolling through. and list cars and vans that need relocation across the country – so backpackers jump on these opportunities to drive it where it needs to be. Opting for driving over taking a plane lowers their greenhouse gas emissions, and frees up money for all the essential small purchases they make along the way.

  • Food waste is an abomination

If there ever was a time in your life where you were a student, you may have experienced days where leftover rice at the back of your cupboard was all you had left to eat in the world. Or if you came across a tin of tuna you struck gold because your meal didn't consist entirely of carbs. The average Australian wastes 200kg of food per year. This means that the water used to grow the food, the petrol used for harvesting, processing and transport is also wasted. Usually hostels have a kitchen and a communal fridge. This means that any food that goes uneaten is stored on the kitchen shelves or fridge for the next backpacker to go to town on. Free food shelves are nothing less than a godsend when budgets are tight, and it means no wastage.

  • They don't hoard stuff they don't need

The number of clothes, shoes, cosmetics and toiletries is strictly limited to the confines of your bag, meaning that being practical and resourceful is the only way about it. Over-consumption drives so many unsustainable practices, carrying only what you need reverses the mentality and teaches you to not place so much value in material wealth.

  • They know how to share

Before the "sharing economy" was a thing, backpackers were trading kitchen facilities, food, bedrooms and cars. Four beds to a room is often considered spacious. When resources are shared consumption goes down, and therefore limits carbon emissions and greenhouse gases.

  • They are completely open to cultural differences

Australians have a reputation in foreign countries of being loud, obnoxious binge drinkers, but with any culture, it's important to look past these stereotypes. Many Australian's want to demonstrate cultural respect in order to reverse the assumption many foreigners make. I've been told by more than one person overseas: "Wow, you're really relaxed," because I wasn't chugging beer and yelling at everyone.

It's hard not to be envious when your roommate walks through the door after a 3-week trek through Japan. But you can see the smile on their face, and the wonderlust to continue backpacking. While it can be tough, you might get sick, and you'll definitely get dirty, the cultural experience gained is unparalleled. Travelling this way opens your eyes to the world beyond what your credit card can buy, and lower environmental footprint you leave, the more fulfilled you'll feel.

What you can do

Fly less long-haul domestic flights e.g. Perth-Syd, Darwin-Melb

The average distance selected for a long-haul return domestic flight is about 5800km, or approx. 2000kg of CO2 pollution per trip.

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