Any savvy traveller knows there is a big difference between the keen backpacker (ready to feel the true local vive and immerse themselves in the unique culture of the latest town) and the typical tourist (complete with: two cameras hanging from their neck, the latest walking attire and not forgetting those socks with sandals). Whilst those in the backpacking know get their kicks out the privileged chance to meet genuine local folk, unfortunately those straight off the package holiday air-conditioned coach are often happier being a snap-happy camera fiend; keeping the local culture at bay. Here are our top tips for avoiding the package tourist masses and discovering your own piece of backpacker heaven.


Top of the list is to keep your ear to the ground for tips from like-minded backpackers in the area. The long-term Aussie traveller staying in your hostel is more likely to know the location of beach paradise than the tour offered in the glossy brochure thrust upon you by a tourist tout.


Speaking of touts….smartly dressed, well-spoken natives will be after your attention and dosh in all of the major tourist destinations. Be aware that they are there and (throughout South-East Asia) may even be adorned with ‘official tourist information’ badges, but know that their aim is to sign you up with a private tourist agency. You can be polite but you will definitely need to be firm in order to avoid their advancements.


Independent travel is the key to avoiding the tourist crowds. For example, in Thailand you can visit the Khao Soc rainforest as a backpacker via: local bus, pickup truck and arranging accommodation in the guest huts of a local family when you arrive. The same experience as part of a tourist tour would involve spending your time as part of a largish group of Western tourists with a British guide, learning the names of your coach buddy’s latest boyfriends.


That said; use the tourist network to your advantage. There are countries (such as Cambodia) where crossing boarders often involves a payment (read: bribe) to the guards to avoid hours of hold-up. Services aimed at tourists can take you across boarders (in this example, of Vietnam’s Mekong Delta and into the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh by river boat) and arrange the boarder negotiations for an extra $5. Sometimes a little extra moulash makes a lot less hassle. The key is not to avoid all tourist services point blank but to make them work for you when you need them.


Escape from the well-worn tourist tracks and discovery the local hospitality. Go to the places which are less publicised by the package tours. Destinations such as the ancient city of Aleppo in Syria don’t see as many visitors. Local teenagers are often keen to practice their English lessons. Respectful and interested backpackers may even be treated to a dinner invite in the home of a local family. Now that’s what we think travelling is all about!