UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

In the middle of nowhere? A sociological guide to the beaten tracks of backpacking in the former British Empire William, Flynn


Since the 1970s backpacking travel has become an increasingly popular and desirable pursuit among young people from western countries. Guidebooks such as Lonely Planet sold young people the practical know-how that would allow them to travel ‘off-the-beaten-track’. The off-the-beaten-track travel experiences of present-day backpackers’ are one way in which youth lifestyle, geography and identity are consumed and produced away from home and apart from the everyday world. This thesis provides an historical, textual and ethnographic analysis of the practices and discourses which distinguish travel from tourism, and it examines how particular destinations and experiences are considered more challenging, and therefore more valuable, than others. In particular it seeks to answer the question of what makes India such a ‘special place’ in the world of backpacking as a ‘litmus test’ for off-the-beaten-track travel. It begins by analyzing the historical precursors and ideological antecedents of the discourses and practices of independent travel and tourism in 19th Europe, with a focus on England and the role played by independent guidebooks in that period. The textual strategies employed in the most popular guidebooks today, those published by Lonely Planet, are then analyzed in connection with the production and consumption of particular backpacking enclaves in Canada, Ireland, and India, where the promise of travel as a self-cultivating, authentic, and valuable activity is realized. Finally, through a combination of detailed, in-depth, qualitative interviews with 24 backpackers in Canada, India and Ireland, historical and contemporary analyses of the Lonely Planet brand and guidebooks, as well as a multi-sited ethnography in three popular backpacker destinations of Vancouver, Delhi, and Cork, the thesis analyzes how the ideological codes of travel and tourism are historically produced, textually and orally mediated, and geographically circulated in the field of backpacking travel.

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