That’s not backpacking

On a night out in Roppongi, a group of us from the hostel ran into a bunch of other travelers (well, they were Germans working out here in Tokyo, some were on internships though; so part travel part work).


After the obligatory introductions, one of the guys exclaimed:
‘Is it really backpacking in Japan?’

A number of people took offense to that – I personally thought it was funny but Christina and I were the only ones laughing.


He tried to save the situation by saying:
‘Don’t you backpack around less developed countries?’
And between you (the reader) and me, that did not save the situation.

To this man, the notion of backpacking could only occur in countries that were not first world – which seems silly.

To me, backpacking is essentially the same as purposeful travelling.
Here’s what I mean.

There’s travelling – where you go shopping, visit the main attractions, order room service, that sorta jazz.
Fun it its own right!


Then there’s purposeful travelling – where you travel (with or without a backpack) to engage with a new culture, going through the path less traveled to meet locals and fully immerse in ways of life that are different from your own. This is purely for learning, often its not relaxing like a holiday is, but again, fun in its own way!


Both forms of travel are not defined by a certain country or by a certain standard of living – they are defined by certain actions you take.

Someone can have a backpack and live in the cheapest hostel in Costa Rica, but not leave their room the entire time – instead living off UberEats and Netflix.


Another can live in a fancy hotel, but still take daily trips out into rural Thailand to help out and engage with village life there.

The country – and the state of which it exists – does not define travel or the essence of it.

Travel is an incredibly personal experience, formed by the intentions of the travelling individual.

So I guess what I’m saying is –
You do you.
Travel widely.
Be open minded.
And think before you speak – if not you’ll find yourself digging a socially awkward hole like that German guy was.

Ryan Cheng is the founder of The 88, and is passionate about telling stories surrounding travel, culture and identity.

Get in touch ~
Instagram: @chinkinthearmour


  1. Backpacking – from what I’ve seen – is a bunch of people heading to the same hostels and bars that everyone has been before them while thinking they are being original. The Beach with Leonardo di Caprio is probably the most true description I’ve seen. That’s not to be offensive but just an observation based on my living in Australia where backpackers are a huge part of our tourism industry and the past 3 years exploring Asia and Europe.

    • That’s fair enough! I’m from Australia too and we are fiends for that haha but I think I’ve been lucky in terms of the people I’ve met on the road 🙂 I’m not a big pub/bar person so we spent a lot of time really immersing in the culture – which I’m super grateful for!

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