“Not all those who wander are lost.”J. R. R. Tolkien

A little behind on weekly hobby reporting for good reason; Week 14’s hobby took some time to accomplish.

What is Flashpacking? Dictionary.com defines it as “A backpacker who has considerable disposable income.” This is poppycock. While there is some margin for higher spend, Flashpacking is still a form of budget travel, and this careless line misses out its key differentiator; technology.

Flashpacking refers to a wave of techno-fuelled back-packers who, while still seeing the world on a budget with limited belongings on their back, are likely to shell out a little more for a decent hostel/hotel and expect nothing less than wifi to connect their laptops/iPads/iPhones to their digital SLRs to report in real-time about their journeys and keep in touch with the world from almost anywhere.

HostelBookers, a Flash-Packers best friend, sums it up succinctly over here.

What this means to me and you is that backpacking no longer needs to demand shelving your creature comforts to adopt smelly dreds, ‘hippy’ or ‘gypsy’ rag clothing and finger-staining rollies.

So with a brief gap between jobs, I embarked on a flashpacking trip to Thailand. Although I had my SLR, iPod and Kindle, I had safely stupidly tucked my iPhone into my desk draw, trading it for my less valuable Nokia. Once I’d recalled how to put the sim in and said goodbye to my social media life, I boarded my plane to Bangkok via Abu Dhabi.

This followed weeks of agonising over where to stay, how to move around the country and what I wanted to get out of my two weeks. Sites invaluable to this process, assuming flights have already been purchased, include aforementioned HostelBookers, Hostelworld, Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet, to name a few. The Guardian have a piece on a wider breadth of sites covering camping, eco-travel and city guides.

My travel stories will go into a different blog, but for hobby’s sake here’s a summary:

Arrive in Bangkok at night having lost six hours somewhere, sipping on the humidity in 36 degrees at 9pm. Taxi to the wrong hotel, spend the next half hour dripping with sweat and swear words, I find my hotel, shower and head back into the sauna for food. Find a pad thai on the street for £1, smile, gobble it making small talk with two Brits on where to stay on my return to Bangkok. On the way back, buying freshly sliced mango, I hear ‘Emily!’ in a long-lost-friend tone to find the suspiciously friendly concierge from my hotel waving his arms at me. I join him for a Chang (beer), maybe two, while he smiles at the simple delights of Bangkok and I can’t help but bathe in it too. When I try to return to my hotel he says ‘But Emily, it’s holidays!’ in a ridiculously carefree way which becomes my travel mantra.

Buddha statues, mosquitos and tuk tuks lead into an overnight train to Chiang Mai with a crazy train party with Sammy, the lady-boy, and nine others, that takes us into the small hours and instead of ending in Chiang Mai I join two new Canadian travel friends on a 4 hour bus to Pai for two nights of ‘chilling’  and trekking in the mountains. Back to Chiang Mai for a night street feast, jazz club amazement, splashing down a river bed holding on to a runaway elephant with my knees while my new camera dangles dangerously close to the water around a stranger’s neck.

Fly Chiang Mai > Bangkok > Koh Samui, meet Lucy and Dave on a ferry to Koh Phangan. A pool party, fire limbo on the beach, Half Moon party in the jungle, the world’s biggest water fight for Songkran (Thai New Year) before ferrying to Koh Tao for sunsets, snorkelling and aftersun. Ferry back to Koh Samui, tasty banana rotis, underestimating a little Thai lady who has her way with me with her bony elbows and knees in a traditional Thai Massage. Back to Bangkok for Muay Thai (boxing), a trip up Baiyoke’s 84 floors for quite a view, back to Khoa San Road for whisky buckets and French friends, a tasty trip to China Town and back on a flight to London.

Flashpacking is the love-child of budget and luxury, and means that you can now travel your way, without being boxed in by what you should wear or how you should act. This is one hobby anyone can do and make their own.

Common dilemmas:

Go alone / with partner / with friend?

I’ve done all and there’s no winning combo – it all depends on your current circumstances, where you’re going and for how long. When you’re on your own you dig deep to approach people to find company, friends, travel mates and information. This often better suits a more outgoing person, but is also when the quieter ones really find out what they are made of. It does mean you’ll have a few moments you might have wished were shared, there’s no one to watch your bags when you need the loo and in cases where dorms don’t exist and you’re paying for a room, it costs twice as much if you are on your own. But remember going alone does not mean you will stay alone as there are many new travel friends to be made.

Whatever you do, do not let ‘not having anyone to go with’ be a reason for not going travelling.

Take trains and buses or internal flights?

This depends on budget and time mostly, but in any scenario I’d urge you to take a long train or bus ride if you can. Apart from seeing the country and perhaps interacting with some locals, it is in long journeys that you forge relationships with other travellers that often continue after the destination is reached. My train journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (that was meant to be 14 hours and turned into 17), was one of the best experiences of my whole trip. I partied into the wee hours with buckets of whisky and coke, two Canadians, a German, a Swede, a Brit, a Belgian and a Thai ladyboy.

What to pack?

As little as possible if you’re going to be carrying it on your back – maximum 12 kilos with space in the bag to add anything you collect and preferably merge your day back so you’re not a front-and-backer.

Weather and country-dependent, it’s unlikely you’ll need a sleeping bag as most places provide – though if on a super budget I’d take a sleeping bag sheet liner if you’re anticipating flee-farms. And a mini-med-kit with plasters, immodium and paracetamol. And a travel adaptor if you are flashpacking, to charge all your gear.

Cash/traveller’s cheques/bank card?

Traveller’s cheques, while previously sought out for their ‘less chance of being ripped off’ abilities, became too much of a hassle in exchanging, and as such have pretty much died out.

Research the prevalence of ATMs in the cities you’ll be visiting, and what rates and charges you might incur in drawing overseas. The best combo is to exchange some currency to fuel at least two days – to get you from the airport to your accommodation, pay your first night if you haven’t already, a few meals etc. And enough to make a plan on the off-chance you go to draw money to finding out your f*cking bank has stopped your card despite you notifying them of your travels.

The key thing is to go. Backpack, flashpack, luxury – choose your style and get travelling. It would be a great pity to never have explored more than your home country and culture.

“For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.”Robert Louis Stevenson

One thought on “Back in a Flash – Flashpacking

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