The Travel Tipping point: Backpacking In Australia
Written by Jaillan Yehia
The travel tipping point is the section where I talk about a worldwide destination or travel theme which seems to be having a moment.
3 is the magic number and I often find that good things come in threes – and that goes for travel too: if somewhere comes to my attention 3 times or more I sit up and take notice, and I may even write about it here.
This week I got to thinking about backpacking – and beg-packing- in Australia.
So, did you do a gap year?
I went travelling around Australia and Bali in my early 20’s. It was my first ever long haul trip and back then the whole ‘gap yah’ thing wasn’t anywhere near as big as it is now.
I went straight to university after school and worked hard in a series of jobs after graduating to save up for that big trip.
This meant that by the time I boarded my Garuda Indonesia (OK maybe I hadn’t saved up that much!) flight to Sydney, via Denpasar, I was a bit older and wiser than I had been while in full time education and I knew the value of money a little better. And I already knew that what money I did have, I wanted to spend on travel. 20 years later that hasn’t changed.
The idea of backpackers begging on the streets of Bangkok to fund their trips home to Europe or North America or onward to Australia and New Zealand – or beg-packing as it’s called – hadn’t even been invented back then.
Still I think I can safely say that even if it had, you wouldn’t have caught me expecting people in poorer countries (or any countries) to pay for the privilege of sending me packing, and back to my home or to my next destination.
From news reports it seems that the trend for beg-packing started in what have been dubbed the ‘banana pancake’ countries – Thailand, Cambodia, Laos etc. – i.e. those nations in Southeast Asia which are firmly on the tourist trail, precisely because of their value for money.
But I was surprised to read a shocking statistic that the practice occurs in Australia too and to such a degree that one study claimed up to a third of those looking for hand-outs on the streets of Melbourne were international tourists trying to fund their own flights.
Given that there are plenty of cheap flights to Australia, and a selection of low cost airlines flying from Australia to and within Southeast Asia, I find the idea of people who are wealthy and healthy enough to have made their way to the other side of the world asking for cash to be bizarre.
These people funded a flight to a country then resorted to taking resources away from those genuinely in need in the place they’ve landed which is really mind-boggling. Not only that, but the Australian authorities have noted that they spent large sums on dealing with the issue, meaning these travellers are actually costing the Australian economy money rather than contributing anything to it – hardly the basis on which their visa was granted or the story they told the immigration officer at the border, I’m sure.
I was vaguely thinking about this and my own time in Oz was being brought to mind by the fact that my younger brothers were on their own (self-funded) trip Down Under when I found myself watching the second Inbetweeners Movie.
The film does a pretty good job of providing a humorous pastiche of the Trustafarian crowd who hang about in Noosa, finding themselves, playing guitar and doing the kind of soul searching that only those of us who are privileged enough to travel are able to do.
On the one hand nerdy Will’s speech about the typical affluent British backpacker travelling to Australia made me never want to set foot on the East Coast of Oz again, yet when I spied locations that I’d visited years before I was strangely moved and keen for a return trip, meaning that backpacking in Australia reached a travel tipping point for me.
But I promise you this: if I do go back to Australia I’ll be paying for my own flight there, and 100% funding my own trip home again.
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