History Of Backpacking – The Lesson You Missed In School!

It’s post-Covid time, and you are all set to head out to the destination you have been eyeing for two years. You load up your trusty backpack and are ready to leave – but have you ever wondered what backpacking or any form of solo travel and exploring would have been like in the past? We have all heard the mighty ships and chartered crafts, able horses and vehicles of all kinds. But what about backpacking? Who started this and why did it even come into being? Let’s hop onto a time capsule real quick and take that history of backpacking lessons we missed, shall we?

history of backpacking
Source: Tropenmuseum

Who Are These Backpackers? Where Do They Come From? 

Source: tenor

Backpacking came to becoming a “thing” as we call it these days when a group of young people in the 1950s and ’60s set out seeking spirituality, freedom or simply a better outlook of the world! They set out exploring the Asian route covering Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan to Nepal and India, also touching upon Thailand.

This route later was popularly called the Hippie Hashish Route. This along with other factors, gave Asia the tag of the most popular backpacking destination for first-timers, despite the route being closed around 1979 due to the Soviet invasion! 

As we go forward in time, people started giving more prominence and significance to backpacking and it progressed from being – just people setting out to find cheaper marijuana and freedom! Travel Guide books started becoming popular by the 90’s and soon the internet became the holy grail for travelers. Communities were formed and the borders disappeared. 

Slowly, groups were established and people relied on a significant few for all their backpacking information. The old school books and maps, hours of research went off the grid. You could just get to your destination and have all of your itineraries. 

Backpacking as we know it now is something that combines hiking and camping into one; where the backpacker needs to spend at least one night in the outdoors and can only use what is in their backpack! It also came into being known as a minimalist and sustainable way of life. 

Quite the facelift there! We’ll get back to more of that in just a bit. Let’s dive deeper into how and why backpacking wasn’t just about convincing your parents, back then!  

Not Really Cakewalk, Was It? 

Source: tenor

Backpacking, along with being a way of self-discovery and liberation was also one of the ways people migrated from one place to the other. 

In the early 1900, when this was just emerging, many groups of people followed the backpacking trails and migrated from the west to escape the repercussions of war, price surges and the exuberant way of life. Most westerners found backpacking or travelling by local transport, walking trails and hitchhiking to be more exciting and cheaper.

This gave birth to the Hippie Trail. The ‘hippies’ mostly constituted of Europeans, Japanese, American, Canadian, Australian and Kiwis. They began their journey from Amsterdam or London before making their way to Istanbul, Turkey in order to further progress into Nepal or India via Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But, as we go on and look at a parallel time period between the late 50’s and early 80’s, explorers sure increased in numbers. Still, not all were recognized as backpackers or hippies simply because of the lack of material possessions. Their adventures, though significant, did not find a place in history.

A quick insight into the history of backpacking in India; this was around the time when most of the backpackers flocked to Indian beaches and exotic destinations. This was mainly due to the tightening of laws in Nepal throughout the early 1970s. Beaches In Goa were heavily populated, and backpackers checked in for everything from drugs to spirituality.

The scene however turned gloomy pretty soon, and overdose was one of the major problems around that time. Several travelers found themselves in jail, and several others became very sick!

Further down the backpacking history timeline, rules and laws were established leading to more restrictions along the borders. Warfare and political unrest made things a little harder for backpackers to pursue the Hippie trail as Afghanistan and Iran soon became unsafe for travel. 

This sure caused some unrest to the backpackers, but it wasn’t all thunder and rain – there is a more pleasant flip side to the story! Keep reading… 

The Calm After The Storm

As airfares became more affordable and new laws and routes started coming into existence, backpackers felt more liberated. Many countries started monetizing on this travel! For instance, South Asia started to flourish and gain popularity as a destination and several hidden gems were discovered. Places that were the most unlikely for inhabitance, started to be dug out by backpacking travel. 

Around this time, Lonely Planet (the very first people to put out travel guides) came up and rose to popularity. And in that very same internet deprived period, backpackers relied heavily on their guides and tell-tales from fellow travelers. 

Further down the timeline, much into the internet period, e-travel guides flooded the space. People started sharing tips, stories and advice through several blogging spaces. Travel planning soon became easier.

Then, smartphones came into being and the rest is history! Backpackers and travellers recorded every bit of their travel and started posting it online. While some of them were still in the form of blogs and travelogues, few of them resorted to social media. Which reminds me, do you know why backpacking is good for you?

Now, there has been almost a 360-degree turn in the world of backpacking. Along with accessibility, the abundance of resources makes this less stressful and also something appreciated and respected.

But, hold on… we can’t conclude this blog just yet! How can one conclude a backpacking blog without talking about… umm…well… THE BACKPACK!

Just imagine a backpacker without his backpack! It sure would be as bad as the Titanic ending! So let’s address the ‘backpackers’ soul mate’ – the one who doesn’t cheat **crying internally** 

How I Met Your ‘Backpack’

Source: Giphy

Had you been backpacking in the 18th century, you most certainly would have been the first few, but also would have just been carrying something like a knapsack for food and equipment. 

A little into the 19th century, the backpack situation would have been better. Your back and shoulders would thank Lloyd F. Nelson who gave a better frame to the older version of the bag. Also known as the “Trapper Nelson Pack” your backpack would have been a canvas bag affixed to a wooden frame.

Source: Carryology

After this, people started experimenting with different materials for the backpack other than animal skin and canvas. Internal frame backpacks came into existence and rose to popularity, merely because of ease of use and size. 

Today, internal frame backpacks are commercialized and available in umpteen styles as opposed to the external frame. The latter, however, still has a strong following among nostalgic hikers, hunters, and military/tactical owners. It is appreciated for the external frame pack’s ability to shoulder a heavyweight and the ample pockets available to store tools and gear.

With that let’s shuttle back to the present, but if you want a little more of the backpack time capsule keep reading.
With that, we come to the concluding lines of our history of backpacking lesson. But as they say, history is made only by people who decide to set out and create a name for themselves. Even though backpacking is highly commercialized, you can still be different and stand out. All you need to do is realise your true calling and ask yourself – Why do I want to do this? 

Which brings us to the question of the moment – What type of backpacker are you?

Source: Giphy
  1. The Gap Yearer 
  2. The Humanitarian 
  3. The Party animal 
  4. The Flashpacker 
  5. The Golden oldie 
  6. The Travelling couple
  7. The Seasoned Know-it-all 
  8. The Digital Nomad
  9. The Hippie Spiritualist

Let us know in the comments below! 

Until next time, Ciao!