48 Shares

istanbul cafe laptop

One of the biggest travel myths is that backpackers are cheap tourists who don’t provide economic incentives for tourism boards to focus on catering to them. At first glance, it’s easy to see why many make this assumption, most backpackers take great efforts to spend as little as possible, trying to stretch every cent efficiently at the cost of numerous comforts. The opposite perception is that luxury travelers pay top-dollar for resorts, dumping loads of cash into local economies over packed weekends at seaside resorts.

For a long time, backpackers weren’t really studied in terms of their spending habits but growing evidence shows budget travelers spend as much as luxury ones. Additionally, figures indicate a larger percentage of backpacker money spent goes to benefiting local economies. Tourism boards around the world: take note.

Time Versus Money

Many people in sectors of the travel industry often harbor a slight disdain for backpackers, complaining they are practically useless for their overall bottom lines since they “don’t spend.” According to researchers from MIT, people around the world tend to spend the same percentage of their overall time, and budget, traveling. Called the “Time Travel Budget” Theory, anthropologists have determined that the more free time we have – the more we travel; independent of our economic class.

kosovo clock tower pristina

Spending The Same Over A Longer Period Of Time

Even in the most liberal of European nations, vacation times around the world for full-time workers tends to top out at around a month. The average backpacker travels for nearly twice that time – about 58 days. Although these figures vary from country to country, it’s estimated the average American spends about $3,251 for a 12-day vacation.

bogota journalist park

According to budget travel expert Nomadic Matt, $50 a day for a backpacker is a reasonable goal. (Keep in mind all of these numbers include transportation, meals, lodging, etc.)

Adding it all up, backpackers and regular travelers spend about the same amount on traveling annually; just over different periods of time.

Spreading The Wealth

There’s also growing evidence that larger percentages of money spent by backpackers goes to local economies. Most resorts and international hotel chains in third-world countries are owned by foreign companies. The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) estimates that only 20-60% of first world income makes it back to local economies from traditional travel expenditures. Studies like these on the tourism leakage effect are why nations like Malaysia and South Africa are focusing more on enticing backpackers.

bogota fruit vendor

Getting off the beaten path is also a backpacker trait and when they do, they also spread the money they’re spending outside of large cities and traditional tourism hubs according to this study of Australia. (Backpackers add 3.2 billion U.S. dollars annual to the tourism industry there.)

Why It’s Important

Backpackers are often under the perception of being economic leeches. Such misconceptions have lead tourism boards globally to dismiss catering to this growing portion of travelers; plus all the money they spend locally. Like the myth that Americans travel less than other people around the world, backpackers not having a positive economic impact has lead many poor countries to focus on luxury travelers – a group of visitors who might spend a bit more in less time but whose cash goes a little further out of local range.