In this article we’re going to put on table the institution of “travelers”. As a person who lives on the travelers’ route, my observation about travelers has inspired me to write this article.
In entire Europe, going on a world trip is a considered a traditional 1 month – 1 year activity of seeing new countries and finding out about new cultures to fill up the free time during high school and college. For the Israeli, is it a must-do activity, for men and women, after being discharged from military duty.
As you know, “Backpacker” means low-budget traveler who travels by the road with their backpack. Though it is a new movement in some countries, the history of “backpackers” dates way back. Most of those travel Bloggers you follow won’t know the history, let me explain for you.
THE SILK ROAD
The Westerners’ Eastward travel begins in 1955 with a group of English university students’ striding through the Silk Road over which Marco Polo has traveled 700 years ago. This route is called “The Silk Route” and it represents the archaic period of backpackers’ history. This period has made way for the 68 Flower children and Hippies, and the “Hippie Hashish Trail”.
The “Hippie Trail”, traveled by mostly American, Aussie and Kiwi hippies, would begin from London or Amsterdam where they took off, continue over Turkey and through Iran and Pakistan and end with their arrival at Nepal or India. The Beatles’ trip to India in 1968 stimulated the period’s desire for exploring the east since youth, and passion for “going over to Kathmandu and starting revolution”. Hippies eager to take on the East’s immorality sank in hedonism with quality and legal drugs and free sex during this 6000 mile trip while taking interest in yoga, meditation and Buddhism and becoming familiar with various mystic Eastern philosophies. Their getting too familiar with drugs caused them to stray away from their ideals, but let’s not get off point.
The traveler guide called “Lonely Planet”, published by a group of Australians in 1973 broke new ground during years the internet was not yet discovered. The first publication was on Asia.
Guided by the Lonely Planet booklets, Australian (Aussie) and New Zealander (Kiwi) backpackers went to explore untouched paradises of Southeastern Asia; Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos. This trip was called “Banana Pancakes” and Vietnam got included in the route after the foreign expansion policy.
It is the name of the sailing route to Central and Southern America traveled by free spirited hippies who have gotten tired but not enough from the Hippie Trail.
TECHNOLOGY AND THE EVOLUTION OF THE BACKPACKER
Over time the internet and smart phones have become a part of our lives and like many other things, have corrupted the chemistry of traveling. Now you can make an online reservation at the guest house you will stay in, buy the ticket online and use your phone for navigation without making any contact with the local people. So you’re not taking risks when you hit the road anymore. The element of adventure is lessened. Whereas contacting with the local people, eating and staying with them without being tied to any plan in unknown lands was in the spirit of backpacking. Today things have reached a point where backpacking means staying at same guest houses with other backpackers like you, visiting only restaurants, gift shops and Tuktuk-taxis without contact with the locals.
The hippies of the 60s were a youth that wanted to get away from the capitalist culture and went out exploring the East with its culture, history and philosophy. Today we’re talking about a band of people, mostly English and Aussies, who have no interest nor knowledge in the country’s flag, recent history or by whom it is run, who drown in cheap alcohol and drugs, chase “Full Moon” parties at Thailand’s islands wearing tank tops, flip-flops and damn elephant pants. This band of people lodges at places like the “Mad Monkey Guest House” which has many branches across many Asian countries, mostly visited by the English and Aussies where they can drink 50 cent beers till they die. If they have no business, they won’t event talk to other backpackers whose mother language isn’t English, let alone contact the locals. After many English backpackers I have come across and spoke to in Cambodia told me they have heard the Khmer Rouge, Pol Pot regime, death farms from me for the first time, I felt embarrassed for them. Who cares about this historical process with great impact which can still be observed on the Cambodian people? Beer for 50 cents, cheap joints from the Tuktuk driver and chit-chat about the party location, taking a picture at Angkor Wat and sharing it on Facebook and Instagram… Who gives a fuck who had it built, or why? Posing in front of it and telling about it to friends saying it was “amazing” must be “cool”. Not to mention the druggie, alcoholic band’s impertinence and inappropriate clothing in public. Though they are tolerant of foreigners, they are quite a conservative people on the inside. Sometimes on Youtube, we see them Muay Thai the living hell out of tourists who push the limits in Thailand.
To sum it up: The concept of alienation which has been discussed since Hegel has gained a new dimension when consumption society met technology. Entering our pockets in the form of smart phones, technology has made a Black Mirror* character out of each of us. The individual’s alienation from himself, his labor and nature, as mentioned by Karl Marx, has become his alienation from others today. You can observe socially isolated people sharing the same tables everywhere. In an age where accessing technology is as easy as a few clicks, humans’ lack of interest in information, research is appalling. It’s sad to witness that Backpacking; a spiritually fulfilling alternative to commercial mass tourism by tourism agencies, is losing its soul and becoming another consumer ritual. Your grandfathers who took off to exploit the 3rd world had ignored these people and made the most of the blessings of this geography. I view your laying down and having a good time on the tropical beaches of these countries without even knowing the colors of their flags as the extension of this colonist tradition. Instead of making bookings, use those smart phones to read about the stories of the people of countries on your route for a change. And please stop defining everything you see as “amazing”.
*Black Mirror: A British TV show about alienation of people by technology today
Translated by : Ünzile Figen Manisalı