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  1. Why backpackers in the 90s were cooler than you

    posted by Manita Dosanjh | 15 Comments

    Why backpackers in the 90s were cooler than you


     Remember the 90s?

    rad 90s

    Boyband Hair

    So rad.

    Ok. So the 90s may not have been the most chic time for fashion, music or haircuts.

    There was, however, one tribe that oozed so much coolness, they’ve left an entire generation trying to match their achievements…

    The Backpackers.

    In the time before the Gap Yah, the blog, Facebook and Twitter, travelling was a lot more mysterious, a lot less accessible and generally required a lot more hard work. Here are eight reasons why your travelling forefathers score higher on the coolness scale than your big trip ever could…

    1. They could disappear

    Smartphones? Not a thing in the 90s. Neither was the internet (well, it was around but nobody really cared). When you were gone, you were MIA for however long it took you to find a payphone and enough cash to use it. Which was not very often because 90s backpackers were just as broke we are.

    Pay phone

    21st century nomads are never off the radar for very long. Thanks to the wonders of the internet, our loved ones (and anyone who happens to be bored that day) can follow us on our travels through our blogs, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter feed.

    2. They didn’t take selfies

    If you only had space for 35 photos, you wouldn’t waste that precious film pointing the camera at yourself. 90s backpackers were all about perfecting their craft behind the camera, rather than trying to get in front of it.

    Nowadays it’s all about the selfie. 


    We are all guilty of doing it, but that doesn't make it cool.

    3. They used more brainpower

    Anyone can follow a blue dot on their GPS app. Back in the 90s, you didn’t leave home if you didn’t know how to read a map, use a compass, and be assertive when asking for directions. This required some serious intellectual engagement.

    Map reading

    Today, if we need something, we Google the postcode and tap it into our GPS.

    4. They had more social courage

    Discovering the coolest hostels, the craziest parties and the secret traveller hangouts could only be done by getting friendly with as many people as possible. This often meant approaching strangers who spoke a different language to you, or bonding with locals to get the juiciest information.

    Social skills

    In 2014, there are handy things like the Hostelworld app to fill you in on the best places to stay. And Google can take care of most of the others. This is not an excuse to keep to yourself though...the next time you feel shy, just ask yourself 'what would 90s me do?'.

    5. They had more muscle 

    For the legends of the 90s, carrying a backpack required a commendable fitness level. Along with 25 rolls of film, they had to lug around all their CDs, a Walkman, a pager, a camera, a guide book, paper print-outs of all the important documents, a fold out map, a phrase book…the list goes on.

    When we go travelling, pretty much all of our electronic needs can be met via the smartphone or tablet. This makes carrying the backpack a whole different story. Don't agree? Could you manage lugging something like this around during a 6 month trek across South America?


    Didn't think so.

    6. They were better at planning

    It was a lot more difficult to just wing it 20 years ago. Travelling usually involved meeting up with your buddies at least three times before you set off to get to know the destination, plan a route, make a mix tape and convince your parents not to worry. This whole ordeal got people excited, and travel buddies ended up bonding before they had even made it on to the road.

    Group Travel

    We now have the luxury of cheap airlines and last minute booking. Not to mention 3G and WiFi means you can do all your research on-the-go. Great for convenience, less great for the camaraderie that accompanies the planning process.

    7. They were better at managing money

    Back in the good old days, traveller’s cheques or hard cash were the main way to carry your money and you had to rely on your brain to calculate the exchange rate. 90s travellers didn't have the luxury of letting their debit cards take care of all the number-crunching and counting cash was the way to keep track of your finances. Now we all have an online bank account to keep track of our money for us, so our 21st centruy brains can focus on the spending...

    8. They were more organised

    Nowadays everything important is usually stored in your email inbox for safekeeping. Sadly they didn’t have email confirmations in the 90s. Travelling meant keeping all important documents in paper form and not losing them. Ever.

    If you lost your booking confirmation, plane ticket, passport or visa there was only one thing you could do:

    Don't agree? Let us know what you remember about 90s travel in the comments...

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     Thanks to chrisslanning, Edvvc, and Harsha KR, for thei mages from Flickr! Please note, all Flickr images were used under the Creative Commons License at the time of posting. 

  2. 15 Comments so far.

    Lydiasplanet.com said on 12/05/2014 at 1:56pm

    Ah.. yes! Thats why we who did it in the 90´s at first feel all at lost when nowdays getting on the road, and then once out on the lesser developed areas - rock! Yepp we still rock!

    Iván said on 02/05/2014 at 1:02pm

    Every country in Europe had their own currency, that has to be said, it was nightmare.

    Casey said on 30/04/2014 at 9:01am

    This is a great article and oh so true! I doubt I would be able to survive without WIFI and smartphones these days... that is so sad but so true! We have come absolutely dependable on them.

    jan willem said on 27/04/2014 at 6:44pm

    It was even better in the 70's : seen their backpack ? Any fleece or Goretex then ? (just wool

    Tracker said on 27/04/2014 at 6:07pm

    The first time I went backpacking, I remember the payphones in London costing a small fortune in coins. And there was no free internet anywhere! Now, lol, you can get a sim card when you get there and incoming calls cost nothing. All the hostels have computers and you usually get some free time on them. I believe it was attributed to Pliny the Younger, that the 'youth of today' are degenerate and ungrateful.

    Antonio Bernardo said on 27/04/2014 at 10:50am

    I was one of them! ;) Good old times!

    Jane said on 27/04/2014 at 7:33am

    Actually I was just thinking about this today as I walked past yet another "tour agency" targeting "backpackers". What the heck does a genuine backpacker need with a tour agency! It's getting pretty hard to tell the "backpackers' from the "contiki crowd"- and that my young backpacking friends - is NOT a compliment. I still travel pretty much the same way as I did in the 90's - I really do miss the ability to drop off the radar for weeks without it being an issue though. These days- I have to travel to pretty remote places to get that sense of independents again...

    Gaye Turner said on 27/04/2014 at 2:35am

    Lonely planet guide books were essential and excellent resources

    ed allen said on 26/04/2014 at 10:22pm

    LOL I was backpacking Asia - SE Asia in the '70s - I was MIA for 9 months, family didn't have a clue where I was - till I sent a postcard from Sydney, you had to be resourceful then, now I travel with my ipod and it's a doddle - want accomodation in Hue or Rangoon before you arrive mail em from Phonsaly and you're set up within minutes - definitely not the challenge it used to be but it's still the only way to travel.

    Nancy said on 26/04/2014 at 1:05pm

    We used to get off the train, and with "Let's Go" in hand, find a hostel to sleep that night. We had a Eurail pass so we could get off anyplace that looked good. Now everyone pre books via Internet so we must plan ahead. No serendipity. We really miss that spontaneity. We are now 73 and still backpack, but it is so different as you pointed out.

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