The Unwritten Backpackers Code

Yes, there’s actually an unwritten backpacker code all backpackers must follow. Whether you follow them or not, determines if you’re a true backpacker. The community is wide spread throughout the world. We share the common interest of travel itself. The code is simple and known by most backpackers without having to think about it. Here’s the list:

You watch me, I watch you

You watch over me and I’ll watch over you. The idea is that we all look after each other in any given environment. An example of this is if you notice someone mistakenly left their wallet on their bed but the person is not in the room and you’re about to leave. Following the code, unless you know this person and guaranteed to see them again, hand it over to hostel front desk for safety. We as travelers need to work together.

Don’t eat my food

susi stealing frankfurter.

susi stealing frankfurter. by seppomat

We understand that everyone has a budget and eating for as cheap as possible but at no given time is it ever right to steal food. Most hostels have a free food section provided by other travelers who did not want the food they had. Again we are in this together and surely if you need some salt, ask and it’s yours.

Be respectful to the culture you’re in

man praying

man praying by bstoke

This code essentially should be followed by everyone regardless of being a backpacker or not however this definitely deserved a mention. Set a good example to locals of travelers passing by and be respectful to the culture of the country you’re at. A simple example is to take off your shoes entering temples within Thailand. Do a little research before you arrive and talk to fellow travelers on anything you need to know about the place you’re at. If you disagree to the way a culture does things that’s fine however you still need to be respectful. The same as you would with your parents.

Stay Chill

Calm

By myself Michael Tieso taken in Chang Mai, Thailand

Don’t over heat in a bad situation. Thing’s will go wrong, it’s part of the journey. Learn from it and continue the travels. No matter how much you prepare at home, experience is the best lesson. Of course no one wants to be in a bad situation but it happens even at home. Understand that if someone doesn’t understand your language, they’re still taking the time to try to help you. No one likes to be with a traveler that gets angry. If you want to get angry, do that with your PowerPoint presentation at home, not with people.

Speak In The Same Tongue

Naturally, traveling creates friends from different parts of the world. Especially in a hostel environment where people are coming in from every corner of the globe under one roof.  Usually English is the common language amongst travelers though your native language may be something else. If you happen to meet someone from your country but you’re with a group of only English speakers at the diner table, it’s polite then to speak English. This goes for any common language the group may have. Speak in the language everyone can have a conversation in. It’s rude to leave off other people when there’s a common language everyone can understand and speak.

What do you think of the code? Is there anything that should be  added? Any stories of a backpacker not following the above?

49 Comments

  1. goteresago on January 2, 2010 at 7:01 pm

    Great tips any traveler should follow! It makes traveling a lot easier =)

  2. Transcendental Gypsy on January 2, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Great tips any traveler should follow! It makes traveling a lot easier =)

  3. Scribetrotter on January 3, 2010 at 3:24 am

    Nice list. I’d add another code: Share. Most backpackers are willing to share what they have. You mentioned food – but there’s also medicine, transport, books… There’s a silent agreement that no one can afford it all so if you have it and can, then share it with other travelers.

    • Michael on January 4, 2010 at 8:48 am

      That is very true. I usually never have to buy guidebooks because there´s always someone that has left from there and willing it trade the book for something else. I always try to tag along on rides as well and we all chip in with fuel. Good code!

  4. Scribetrotter on January 3, 2010 at 4:24 am

    Nice list. I’d add another code: Share. Most backpackers are willing to share what they have. You mentioned food – but there’s also medicine, transport, books… There’s a silent agreement that no one can afford it all so if you have it and can, then share it with other travelers.

    • Michael on January 4, 2010 at 9:48 am

      That is very true. I usually never have to buy guidebooks because there´s always someone that has left from there and willing it trade the book for something else. I always try to tag along on rides as well and we all chip in with fuel. Good code!

  5. Anil on January 3, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    As dorky as it sounds, ‘know your boundaries and be courteous’ have got to be two of them. Sometimes people completely forget manners and etiquette when away from home.

    • Michael on January 4, 2010 at 8:49 am

      Agreed. It amazes me that their even traveling at all.

      • Vi @ Travel Tips on January 14, 2010 at 4:48 pm

        So may be they travel just because they can brake all rules they at home?

  6. Anil on January 3, 2010 at 2:13 pm

    As dorky as it sounds, ‘know your boundaries and be courteous’ have got to be two of them. Sometimes people completely forget manners and etiquette when away from home.

    • Michael on January 4, 2010 at 9:49 am

      Agreed. It amazes me that their even traveling at all.

      • Vi @ Travel Tips on January 14, 2010 at 5:48 pm

        So may be they travel just because they can brake all rules they at home?

  7. Matt Preston on January 7, 2010 at 5:48 am

    I’m always surprised how some people never realize these fundamental things. It’s common sense to most people thankfully but it’s always a surprise how many don’t think. Hopefully some will read your blog and think a little more!

    • Michael on January 7, 2010 at 8:25 am

      So true. Well it makes for a great example of what not to be like.

  8. Matt Preston on January 7, 2010 at 6:48 am

    I’m always surprised how some people never realize these fundamental things. It’s common sense to most people thankfully but it’s always a surprise how many don’t think. Hopefully some will read your blog and think a little more!

    • Michael on January 7, 2010 at 9:25 am

      So true. Well it makes for a great example of what not to be like.

  9. pinoy boy on January 15, 2010 at 3:49 pm

    on my last trip to siem reap, there were a couple of youngster backpackers walking around, obviously drugged and are smoking weed on the streets. i don’t care about whatever they do, its just that it sucks to know some people still don’t get it. backpackers/travellers don’t own the place, like all of us… we’re just visitors right?

    http://www.jerik76raverz.blogspot.com

  10. jo on January 20, 2010 at 9:01 pm

    LOL it is common sense. But true!!!!!

  11. jo on January 20, 2010 at 10:01 pm

    LOL it is common sense. But true!!!!!

  12. luisaTieso on January 21, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Michael, will you be coming out with a book soon? It would wonderful to have all your adventures and advise in one place to carry. I’m sure all your reader would agree. There are a lot of information and books out there, but your writings are UNIQUE.
    thank you

  13. luisaTieso on January 21, 2010 at 9:00 am

    Michael, will you be coming out with a book soon? It would wonderful to have all your adventures and advise in one place to carry. I’m sure all your reader would agree. There are a lot of information and books out there, but your writings are UNIQUE.
    thank you

  14. Samuel on March 15, 2010 at 9:07 am

    Great list. I’m about to travel, so I haven’t yet had the possibility to really test myself out – but I hope these things would fall natural. In any case it was a fabulous article to a newbie, so thanx for that!

    • goteresago on March 15, 2010 at 2:55 pm

      Glad the list could help! Where are you traveling to?

  15. Samuel on March 15, 2010 at 10:07 am

    Great list. I’m about to travel, so I haven’t yet had the possibility to really test myself out – but I hope these things would fall natural. In any case it was a fabulous article to a newbie, so thanx for that!

  16. Aaron's Worldwide Adventures on February 19, 2011 at 5:58 pm

    Great code! I think “be respectful of the culture you’re in” is the one people tend to forget the most. After all, some places might consider it offensive to run around totally wasted acting like an idiot, but I could swear that I’ve seen one or two backpackers doing that before somewhere…

  17. Aaron's Worldwide Adventures on February 19, 2011 at 6:58 pm

    Great code! I think “be respectful of the culture you’re in” is the one people tend to forget the most. After all, some places might consider it offensive to run around totally wasted acting like an idiot, but I could swear that I’ve seen one or two backpackers doing that before somewhere…

  18. Saskia on March 7, 2011 at 12:45 pm

    How about respect in general? I run a hostel and am sometimes surprised at the total lack of respect (whistling me over, leaving the bathroom a total mess, taking over the entire kitchen so nobody else can cook)….

    • Michael on March 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm

      So true. I wonder if that’s how they are at home.

  19. Saskia on March 7, 2011 at 1:45 pm

    How about respect in general? I run a hostel and am sometimes surprised at the total lack of respect (whistling me over, leaving the bathroom a total mess, taking over the entire kitchen so nobody else can cook)….

    • Michael on March 7, 2011 at 10:10 pm

      So true. I wonder if that’s how they are at home.

  20. Don on April 3, 2011 at 7:02 pm

    I would add another code. Be respectful to other backpackpackers. Be quiet when getting back from a night of drinking. Some people at the hostel/hotel want to get a good night’s sleep and maybe they have to get up early for a bus, train or plane trip.

    • Michael on April 15, 2011 at 3:56 am

      I’ve met a number of people who are just oblivious to their actions. They come in storming and can’t understand why everyone is upset at them in the dorm.

  21. Don on April 3, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    I would add another code. Be respectful to other backpackpackers. Be quiet when getting back from a night of drinking. Some people at the hostel/hotel want to get a good night’s sleep and maybe they have to get up early for a bus, train or plane trip.

    • Michael on April 15, 2011 at 4:56 am

      I’ve met a number of people who are just oblivious to their actions. They come in storming and can’t understand why everyone is upset at them in the dorm.

  22. Lmarcin on April 28, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    One thing I always appreciated was how backpakers helped me put my backpack on I found that in Europe it went without saying. That was 20 years ago, I hope it is still the same. Lorenza

    • Michael on May 1, 2011 at 8:03 pm

      Was it because your bag was heavy?

  23. Lmarcin on April 28, 2011 at 7:03 pm

    One thing I always appreciated was how backpakers helped me put my backpack on I found that in Europe it went without saying. That was 20 years ago, I hope it is still the same. Lorenza

    • Michael on May 1, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      Was it because your bag was heavy?

  24. 暗番 on January 24, 2012 at 2:43 pm

    Great post, except that I have to take exception to the Speak the Alpha Language rule. Ain’t nothing wrong with Babel. And it’s double-plus-ungood for those with native or near-native English to be tooting the English horn. They leave Perth and Pittsburgh for distant lands, to “see the world”, only to go around complaining about how he, she, they or I could’ve but just wouldn’t accommodate their English-only ways. 

    As an aside, I checked into a couple of hostels in South America a few years ago and it was interesting how travellers who spoke Spanish but not English got brushed aside and ignored by the Anglophone / Nordic majority of backpackers.

    • Michael on January 24, 2012 at 3:34 pm

      I think you got it wrong. Here’s my example: I’m sitting in a table with a 2x dutch, a german, and a french and myself. We were in South America. They invited us to dinner. Wasn’t at a hostel. They spoke perfect English and Spanish. However, three of them decided to speak only german. Leaving the french and I speaking to ourselves. It was rude. It made me feel like they were talking about us without us knowing. This situation is a lot worse when in groups of three and I’m often left out because I have no idea what the other two are talking about. 

      And as for your experience in South America: I found spanish speakers in South America stick with other spanish speakers. And a lot of english speakers that could not speak much spanish besides very basic words. It was often more trouble than it was worth to communicate with spanish-only speaking people. I’m fluent in spanish so this didn’t apply to me. I always made sure someone sitting with us wasn’t left out of the conversation.

      Spanish speakers are definitely not brushed aside either. If anything, they probably get more of the local experience than english-only speakers in South America.

      • Amanda on February 9, 2012 at 10:42 pm

        One issue in Latin America, though, is you often have a lot of people who only speak English (possibly plus their native tongue, no Spanish), and a lot of people who don’t speak English, just Spanish. If there is no common language, someone is stuck being translator, something which has happened to me, and it gets to be a drag.

        I agree that when there is a common language it should be spoken, but that isn’t always the case.

        • Michael on February 11, 2012 at 9:52 am

          Translating is pretty tiring sometimes! I feel exhausted translating after awhile.

  25. 暗番 on January 24, 2012 at 3:43 pm

    Great post, except that I have to take exception to the Speak the Alpha Language rule. Ain’t nothing wrong with Babel. And it’s double-plus-ungood for those with native or near-native English to be tooting the English horn. They leave Perth and Pittsburgh for distant lands, to “see the world”, only to go around complaining about how he, she, they or I could’ve but just wouldn’t accommodate their English-only ways. 

    As an aside, I checked into a couple of hostels in South America a few years ago and it was interesting how travellers who spoke Spanish but not English got brushed aside and ignored by the Anglophone / Nordic majority of backpackers.

    • Michael on January 24, 2012 at 4:34 pm

      I think you got it wrong. Here’s my example: I’m sitting in a table with a 2x dutch, a german, and a french and myself. We were in South America. They invited us to dinner. Wasn’t at a hostel. They spoke perfect English and Spanish. However, three of them decided to speak only german. Leaving the french and I speaking to ourselves. It was rude. It made me feel like they were talking about us without us knowing. This situation is a lot worse when in groups of three and I’m often left out because I have no idea what the other two are talking about. 

      And as for your experience in South America: I found spanish speakers in South America stick with other spanish speakers. And a lot of english speakers that could not speak much spanish besides very basic words. It was often more trouble than it was worth to communicate with spanish-only speaking people. I’m fluent in spanish so this didn’t apply to me. I always made sure someone sitting with us wasn’t left out of the conversation.

      Spanish speakers are definitely not brushed aside either. If anything, they probably get more of the local experience than english-only speakers in South America.

      • Amanda on February 9, 2012 at 11:42 pm

        One issue in Latin America, though, is you often have a lot of people who only speak English (possibly plus their native tongue, no Spanish), and a lot of people who don’t speak English, just Spanish. If there is no common language, someone is stuck being translator, something which has happened to me, and it gets to be a drag.

        I agree that when there is a common language it should be spoken, but that isn’t always the case.

        • Michael on February 11, 2012 at 10:52 am

          Translating is pretty tiring sometimes! I feel exhausted translating after awhile.

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