17 Types of Backpackers you find in South America

By Jonathan Howe December 21st, 2014 Posted in South America, Travel Blog, Travel Guides 43 Comments

There are many types of travellers you meet along the way and the more you travel, the more you realize that some are specific to certain areas of the world, with the characteristics of each location attracting certain people on a quest to satisfy certain urges that are frowned upon back home. In Asia these are a very well known, but South America is a very different animal and attracts some very special groups of people.

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Every example given was recounted to us by fellow travellers on a long distance bus journey from Huacachina (Ica) to Cusco.

1.   The couple

We’ve all come across the ‘couple travellers’ on our journeys and they usually reside at either end of the social spectrum.

There are the couples who are travelling only to be with each other, perhaps they have been together for a while and are looking for new experiences together or may even want to test the strength of their relationship; travel shows a person’s true colours by putting every aspect of your being into a situation where you need to perform – decision making; fatigue; social engagement; tolerance…All of which can bring to light both strengths and cracks in a relationship. These couples are not necessarily anti-social, but they are less likely to actively seek out new people as they’re perfectly happen sharing their time and experiences with each other. Private rooms are essential!

The second group are travelling together, yet are actively enthusiastic about meeting new people and joining in with larger social groups. This almost completely contradicts the first couple, most likely due to their combined personality types and motivations for travel. They have been together for quite a while, long enough to be completely comfortable with each other and with little or no need to test the strength of their bonds. You often meet them individually, as they have split paths temporarily to pursue individual interests. They can even be found sleeping in separate beds in dorm rooms out of a willingness meet new people!

2.   The man who never sleeps

Occasionally from the dark depths of a party hostel one of these types of backpackers will emerge. They’re easily identifiable with a distinct half-insane half-high look in their eyes.  This backpacker will be always on the hunt for some of South America’s darker and illegal produce, jumping at the chiming of “la cocaina” from a shady looking man in the street. This person will load up for 3 days straight until they end up accusing Carlos the security guard of stealing 20 soles from them. If you stick around long enough you may even get to see his eventual downfall, at which point he’ll either end up in jail, in debt to the wrong people or if he’s lucky, rescued by mummy and daddy!

3.   The Perpetual Hangover

This person is always drinking at night and sleeping all day. They spend most nights getting crazy in different party hostels. Always with a new bizarre antic or story that could only have come from the mind of a small child, or a borderline comatose adult. Picture a young man in his twenties being escorted out of a Mc Donalds in Lima for collecting stray cats and ‘re-housing’ them within the restaurant and you’ll be somewhere close. True story by the way!

4.   The One Upper – Always has a better story.

If you’ve got an elephant, this person’s got a bigger one and a box to put it in. And it paints perfect reproductions of the Mona Lisa, obviously! This traveller hovers around a fine line between interesting and rather f#cking annoying. A real life example is a guy, who upon hearing a fellow backpacker recount their tale of a riverboat journey in the Amazon, gladly shared the story of the time he walked alone into the depths of the jungle with nothing but a machete and a loin cloth, chopped down a tree to carve his own canoe and lived as a fisherman with indigenous tribes until he became at one with the jungle and its furry inhabitants (this person exists!). All with a few un-subtle criticisms of riverboat tours and how the tourists on them are destroying the local habitat. This person shares much of their genetic material with Number 11…..and he’s a bit of an ass-hole!

5.   Silent assassin or More recently: The Tinder Tapper

Usually if not always male, this guy is an introvert by day, hiding behind heavily reflective ray bans and a batman themed cover case on their cellphone. Don’t expect too much in the way of conversation. But by night this unlikely looking crusader dons his hair wax and a lethal dosage of Lynx Africa and morphs into a super hero in the pick-up world, having a long line of Tinder girls and ‘bar girls’ at his hostel door.  No-one knows his name as he stays in a private room as to not allow any others to “cock block” his conquests. We’d hate to be the cleaners on duty when this guy checks out!

I met one of these guys on my travels once. He was a quiet young guy, clearly not brimming with self-confidence, but a really nice bloke nonetheless. We invited him out drinking with us and he threw back the vodka Redbulls like they were gonna run out. Before too long he suddenly vanished and we assumed he had gone home early to pass out. When we woke up the next day however, his bed was empty, untouched. He eventually returned in the same clothes with an elaborate story of how he met some local guys and was taken to a house party where he passed out. Believable enough, until some others in our hostel told us he was seen later in the night surrounded by half a dozen local girls. This was how the rest of his stay went, night after night!

6.   The digital nomad – Blogger

These are not always so easy to spot; they look the same as many other travellers; the come in various shapes; sizes and nationalities. The look like you, walk like you, talk like you, take pictures of food and get drunk like you. The difference is, whilst you’re curled up in a ball asleep on the overnight bus or talking to the passenger next to you, the blogger is tapping away on their laptop, working on another article ready to upload as soon as they can find WiFi. You never know they are there unless they have declared their identity and you never know when an innocent conversation could find its way into a blog article. Looking for a prime example? How about this exact article – I’m sitting on a bus to Cusco as this is being written!

7.   Volun’touring

Having tired of falling in love with paradise and having to leave to avoid spending all of their savings on accommodation, they start helping out behind the bar and cleaning hostel rooms in exchange for a free bed to sustain their stay for as long as possible. They know everyone on a first name basis, speak more of the local language than any other backpacker around and are far too skilled on the hostel Foosball machine!

 8.   Old Man Mountain

Aging bearded men who give out gems of wisdom about travel and life in general to anyone who will listen or just gets cornered and can’t escape. Some are true travellers with decades of interesting knowledge to share, but some are just drunk old men who love telling you what you’re doing wrong and how they did it so much better in ‘the good ‘ole days!’

 9.   Flashpackers

Just as passionate about travel and new experiences as any other backpacker, yet unable to part with the luxuries their life at home provides. Why should travel mean carrying your designer clothes on your back, when you have a perfectly good wheeled suitcase that easily holds your high heels, hairdryer, straighteners and party dresses?

Then you have the super-techy flashpackers, with every piece of gear possible, from fully branded hiking gear for walking around cities, to hydration systems and satellite GPS gadgets to get them from the museum back to their hostel – because maps are for losers!

 10.   The F#ckpacker

There are many reasons to travel – new cultures; experience; excitement; meeting new people; stepping out of your comfort zone and developing more as a human being, the list goes on. For some travellers though (again, usually male), there seems to only be one thing on the agenda – Getting Laid! At least once in each location is a minimum and particularly exotic nationalities and locations score extra points. These things on their own are fine, just a bit of fun, but when they take precedent over the truly beneficial aspects of travel and become a sole motivation, then it just becomes a bit sad and perhaps a sign of some deeper personal issues!

11.   The Extreme Bullshitter

A close relative of Number 4, this individual is a cross between James Bond, G.I. Joe and Bear Grylls…in their own head anyway. They are full of incredulous stories that individually may seem vaguely credible, but after the second or third tale of digging themselves out of a 10 foot avalanche with their bare fingers you start to smell something funky in the air. On the bright side, you can always have some fun with them; wait for a gap in their flow of crap and question them over and over again on one of their stories until it inevitably unravels on the floor into the tangled pile of lies it is, then sit back and smile!

 12.   Midlife Crisis Survivor

The saviours and creative geniuses of modern day backpacking; they have given us cool hostels, bars and adventure activities in countries all over the world. At some point in the long and distant past, they had a bad 40th birthday, suffered a divorce or simply realized that the big wide world was calling their name. After several years of roaming exotic locations and discovering a life of simplistic luxury, they know that they can never go back. They find themselves a small piece of paradise, fall in love with a beautiful local and start up some kind of business catering to the next generation of nomadic wanderers. They can usually be found with long, grey hair, propping up their own bar, drinking beer with young backpackers who have no idea that if they’re lucky, this could be them in 20 years’ time!

 13.   Single Ladies hunting Latino boys

The stereotypical foreign man in search of a petite, pretty Asian girl is so well-known and true to life that entire ‘industries’ have been constructed on the back of it. More than just a rumour, it’s a simple fact of life. What is less known, however, is that the South American equivalent takes a very different form. Young European and North American women travel the length and breadth of South America in search of young, dark and handsome Latino lovers to sweep them off their feet in a flurry of romance, cocktails, Ricky Martin dancing and sexual encounters only possible in movies and erotic novels!

 14.   The Facebook Fakers

This particular breed of backpacker leads a double life; constantly critical and complaining about everything around them, how inefficient, dirty and irritating a place is, comparing things to how they are back home, as if they would rather just be there. It makes you wonder why they even bother to travel at all! If however, they catch you of guard (or drunk) and trick you into exchanging Facebook details with them, you find that their profile is full of status updates proclaiming what an awesome time they’re having, backed up with daily, grinning selfies as if they were screaming to their friends, ‘Look, I’m really happy! I’m having so much fun!’ They then deposit their camera back into their padlocked pocket of suspicion and carry on their disapproving journey.

 15.   The cheapskate

We all haggle when we travel, unless we’re someone with too much money to care. Souvenirs, exchange rates, market food shopping – it’s all fair game and we get a little kick out of driving the price down here and there. It makes us feel like we’re winning!  The cheapskate, however, will haggle over anything just for the sake of it, even if it’s something that they don’t particularly want. Imagine spending 10 minutes negotiating a couple of cents off the price of an apple, looking really smug when you get it and then spending another 10 minutes banging on about how the seller tried to rip you off and you’ll be somewhere close!

16.   The Artisanos

These guys are usually pretty cool, very laid back and deserving of a certain amount of respect for their attitude towards life. They have taken a very fundamental approach to travel and life in general; learn useful and creative skills and create something to sell or exchange for food and shelter. For some reason, which we haven’t figured out yet, most of the travelling artisanos we meet are Argentinian. Perhaps Argentina has a culture that is very focused on the arts and creative pursuits, hopefully we’ll find out soon when we get there in a few months!

17.   The paranoid one

We all know that we need to be careful, informed and aware of our surroundings when we travel – it’s basic common sense most of the time. Don’t walk on your own in dark alleys at night, don’t walk around waving money in the air, and don’t try to carry illegal substances across borders!  Some though have watched Taken a few too many times, seen too many episodes of Banged Up Abroad and set out travelling with an irrational fear and paranoia that they are a walking target for thieves, con-men, corrupt police and kidnappers. They have padlocks on every pocket and zip of their backpack and quite often, they are the ones who find themselves the victims of unfortunate situations. This could be because their over cautiousness leads people to think they must be carrying valuable items and cash, or it could simply be that constantly focusing on negative situations causes negativity to be attracted to them. Either way, we’ve found that by being sensible and safe, yet always positive and trusting in humanity, that we almost always attract good situations and great people!

Many thanks to the following bus-buddies who helped make this article possible:

Glen Rawlinson – Young Kiwi medical student and the awesome ‘Cat Collector’ of Number 3!  Contributor of The man who never sleeps, The Tinder Tapper, Old Man Mountain and Midlife Crisis Survivor.

Michael Senti – This Swiss traveler contributed The Facebook Faker and The F#ckpacker (there was some speculation that the second was first-hand experience!)

Sophie Stone – An Aussie who was ‘fortunate’ enough to meet The One Upper from Number 4!

Orla Dempsey – Ireland – Contributed ideas and stories about various types of travellers she’s met.

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43 thoughts on “17 Types of Backpackers you find in South America

  1. My brother went off to America – Sweden & now Australia where he now has lived for 5 years I so wish I had the confidence when younger to go traveling but I married and started a family young. I couldn’t do it with 6 kids but I still would love to travel maybe backpacking at 50

  2. This made me laugh out loud! Though I’ve never been travelling, I can imagine all these different types of backpacker, You should write a TV comedy programme!

  3. I hate the “One Uppers”. I think it’s great to share your own experiences, but not just to show off.

  4. I’ve not done any travelling but if I did I’d totally be number 6, haha and probably the couple, too! Great post, I enjoyed reading this 🙂 xx

  5. Haven’t made it to South America yet, but I’ve definitely met a lot of these people in SE Asia! Great article 🙂

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Written by Jonathan Howe

Jon is the Old White Monkey. Born in the south of England, Jon spent much of his early childhood in Kenya and Malawi, before moving to the Lake District in North West England aged 13 where he acquired a northern accent and a love for lakes, mountains, waterfalls, black pudding and gravy! After 14 years of studying and working in various (very various!) jobs, he too felt the need to get out and see the rest of the world. He loves tropical beaches, surfing, hiking, the outdoors, yoga, adventure sports and motorbikes!

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