The new global nomads: Youth travel in a globalising world
Pre-publication version of Richards, G. (2015) The new global nomads: Youth travel in a globalising
world, Tourism Recreation Research, DOI:10.1080/02508281.2015.1075724
Increasing youth travel has led to young people being labelled as ‘nomads’. This paper examines the
phenomenon of youth nomadism in the tourism literature as well examining recent empirical evidence.
A review of the literature around youth nomadism identifies two major themes: analyses of the growth
and development of youth travel niches, such as backpacking, volunteer tourism and educational
exchange, and broader approaches linked to the rise of the mobilities paradigm. A major global
survey of youth travel (34,000 respondents) indicates three major travel styles related to different
forms of ‘nomadism’: the backpacker, the flashpacker and the global nomad. The traditional
backpacker can be seen as a form of ‘neo-tribe’, gathering in self-sufficient enclaves. In contrast the
flashpacker, or ‘digital nomad’ utilises existing digital and logistic infrastructure to maintain a fluid,
individualised lifestyle. The global nomad, or ‘location independent traveller’, tries to integrate with
the local community, while trying to avoid the strictures of ‘system’.
Keywords, youth travel, nomadism, backpacking, digital nomads, global nomads, mobilities
In recent years research on youth travel has revealed a growing amount of mobility among young
people worldwide (Richards and Wilson, 2004a; Hannam and Ateljevic, 2008). The number of youth
travellers has grown steadily as the volume of tourism in general has expanded, and young people in
many regions of the world have attained more purchasing power.
But the growth of youth travel, as in the case of other tourism markets, has also led to increasing
diversification and fragmentation. The classic figure of the backpacker has been joined by a host of
other young traveller types: the traveller, the tourist, the volunteer, the language student, the
exchange student and the intern. This growth and fragmentation of youth travel has produced a
divergence between two levels of analysis – the more specific consideration of emerging youth travel
niches and the more general analysis of mobility. At the more specific level there has been a rapid
increase in attention for different youth travel niches, including studies of backpacking (Richards and
Wilson, 2004a), volunteer tourism (Wearing, 2001; Tourism Research and Marketing, 2008), student
travel (Morgan and Xua, 2009), student exchange (Brown and Holloway, 2008), students as pioneers
of inner city accommodation (Russo and Arias Sans, 2009), internships (van ‘t Klooster et al., 2008)
and language travel (Laborda, 2007).
In recent years, youth travel has also started to be considered in a wider mobilities context. In
heralding the ‘mobilities turn’ Cresswell (1997) argued that mobility is the ‘order of the day’, in a world
where nomads, migrants, travellers and explorers exemplified the new fluidity. Urry (2000) then went
on to argue that growing global movement was leading to a view of the ‘social as mobility’ (2000:2).
Not surprisingly this new paradigm was rapidly picked up by tourism researchers, and in particular by
youth travel researchers, who have long been familiar with the ‘nomad’ metaphor. A call by Hannam
and Ateljevic (2008) for a mobilities perspective on backpacker travel, was rapidly followed by others:
including studies of backpackers in Sydney (Allon et al., 2008), educational exchange (Frändberg,
2009), and mass youth tourism (Knox, 2009). Hannam (2009) heralded the ‘end of tourism’ with a
shift to ‘nomadology’ and the mobilities paradigm. The volume entitled Beyond Backpacker Tourism
(Hannam and Diekmann, 2010) began to underpin this shift with empirical evidence, with
considerations of how backpacking was being transformed into virtual mobility (Paris, 2010) as well as
the emergence of ‘flashpackers’ (which Hannam and Diekman, 2010 define as older backpackers with
larger budgets and a predeliction for expensive electronic equipment).
In this proliferation of research on youth travel niches and mobilities (Hannam, 2009), the nomad has
served as a regular metaphor for movement and fluidity, but also of change, as the ‘nomad’ became a
postmodern hyphenated category, encompassing many different travel styles related to the diversity
of mobility in a globalising world. This review looks at some of the main strands of youth travel
research over the past 40 years, in order to trace the roots/routes of nomadic ideas of youth mobility
and nomadic styles of youth travel. These ideas are then matched empirically against a recent major
study of global youth travel.
Changing views of mobility
The rise of youth travel is one marker of the general increase in mobility that has accompanied
globalization. The growth of youth travel has been particularly evident in recent decades, as advances
in technology have facilitated physical mobility and more recently the growth of information and
communication technology has created more widespread social relations, which has strengthened the
tendency towards mobility still further.
Forty years ago, youth mobility began to take off as a result of rising living standards, the loosening of
social structures such as the family and the rise of air travel. From the late 1960s through the 1970s
there was an ‘explosion’ in youth travel and hostelling (HiHostels, 2014). Young people began to
‘look for themselves’ and seek meaning in the cultures of others through extensive travelling and
backpacking (Cohen, 1979). The image of the drifter as a lone individual at the fringes of sedentary
society was one of the early representations of modern nomadism. The nomad was invoked by
writers such as Bruce Chatwin, who saw them as leading an ideal existence, arguing that they are
‘closer to being good than settled peoples.’ (quoted in Chatwin, 2008:12) Chatwin’s work posed the
question, ‘why do men wander rather than sit still?’ (Edwards, 2013), seeing nomadism as a kind of
primal state to which people want to return. The romanticism espoused by Chatwin reflected earlier
nomad anthropologies such as Wilfred Thesiger’s (1964) study of the Marsh Arabs of Iraq.
More recently ‘nomadic thinking’ has been espoused by a growing number of postmodern thinkers,
such as Grisoni (1976), Deleuze and Guattari (1980), Baudrillard (1988) and Braidotti (1994). For
them, the nomad became a symbol of flux, hybridity and mobility in a globalising world. Kaplan’s
(1996) analysis of postmodern nomadic philosophy argues that the nomadic deterritorialisation is
used by academics to challenge disciplinary limits and academic hegemony:
Deterritorialization and nomadic subjects appeared to open up the discourse of textual
production and reception in ways that signalled postmodern critical practices, meeting the
emergent multicultural and feminist interest in hybrid identities and cosmopolitan, diasporic
communities. (ibid, p. 93)
In Kaplan’s view the nomad is resistant to the strictures of the nation-state and bourgeois society. It is
not surprising, therefore, that nomad philosophy and literature, and particularly the early nomadic
travel writers, such as Bruce Chatwin and Jack Kerouac, provided the model for many later youth
travellers, projecting an image of freedom that became an aspiration for many (Richards and Wilson,
2004b). For example, Tony Wheeler based his Lonely Planet guidebooks on his own nomadic
wanderings in Asia, and these later became the ‘bible’ for backpackers across the globe (Welk, 2004).
The irony of course was that Lonely Planet and similar guides were designed to take backpackers ‘off
the beaten track’, but in fact they ended up creating new beaten tracks for the travellers and tourists
who followed in the wake of the backpackers. The enclaves created by backpackers evolved into
major tourist centres, where other tourists and also locals came to gaze upon the backpackers as a
leisure attraction (Richards and Wilson, 2004a). Backpackers arguably acted as pioneers of tourism,
bringing development and mass tourism in their wake. This process spread around the globe as the
backpackers attempted to escape from the very developments that they themselves had a role in
The rise in youth travel helped backpacking itself to also become part of mainstream tourism. As
travel became more accessible through the 1980s and 1990s, growing numbers of young travellers
began to support a ‘backpacker industry’ of hostels, guest houses, transport companies, Internet
cafes, bars and restaurants. Nomadism was now an industry, no longer an alternative to the tourism
industry. Like many academic concepts, however, the backpacking phenomenon began to disappear
almost at the same moment it was identified. As soon as the backpacking industry was big enough to
be visible and backpacker research became an academic industry itself, it was clear that the ‘real
backpackers’ of old were fast disappearing from the scene. Instead there was the rise of the
‘Flashpacker’ (Jarvis and Peel, 2010), budget hotels moving into the hostel market (STAY WYSE,
2012) and travel companies packaging adventure holidays and volunteer experiences for young
people (Tourism Research and Marketing, 2008).
The metaphorical nomad
In a similar way to the backpacker’s conscription into first mass tourism and then general mobility, the
nomad has also been hauled from the margins of sedentary society to become a metaphorical marker
of fluidity and mobility.
The original idea of nomads as a spatially peripheral and threatened group began to be changed by
the attachment of the ‘nomad’ label to emerging lifestyles from the late 1960s onwards. In particular
there was a spatial inversion of nomadism, with new groups of nomads being studied in the centres of
modern cities. For example, Gropper (1967) analysed the ‘gypsies of New York City’, who she
referred to as ‘urban nomads’. Spradley (1970) used the same term to refer to groups of itinerant
drunks in North American cities. These studies of urban nomadism reflect the consolidation of urban
anthropology as a field of study during the 1960s and 1970s.
The nomad metaphor was further updated by Makimoto and Manners in their study Digital Nomad
(1997), which predicted that the rise of digital technology would herald a new ‘nomadic age’ in which
people would be free to roam the globe virtually. Meyrowitz (2003: 91) also argued that society was
witnessing a return to early nomadism:
as we are moving swiftly into a new era of globalization and wireless communication, we are
also spiralling backward, in some key ways, to the earliest form of human association:
nomadic hunting and gathering. We are, in short becoming, ‘global nomads’.
Since then, the rise of urban nomadism has been supplemented by new forms of nomadism,
particularly those related to tourism. D’Andrea (2007) brought the new age and tourism streams of
nomadism together in his analysis of ‘global nomads’ in Ibiza and Goa. He identified the features of
the nomads in these new-age enclaves as including:
1) Rejection of original homelands and evasion of state-market-morality regimes.
2) Partaking in a cosmopolitan culture of expressive individualism linked to new age culture and
3) Integrating leisure, labour and spirituality into a holistic lifestyle that romanticises non-western
4) Overlapping with a cultural-artistic elite that relates to tourism, entertainment, wellness and
5) Engagement with practices of mobility that are pivotal in reproducing the other features (those
For D'Andrea (2007:14) the global nomad represents a ‘negative diaspora’ – a ‘trans-ethnic dispersion
of people who despise home-centred identities.’ This group seems to link closely to the ‘existential
tourist’ type identified by Cohen (1979), who also exhibit alienation from their own culture and seek
immersion in other cultures. However, the existential tourist of Cohen is mixed here with the ‘neo-
tribe’ ideal of Maffesoli (1996), as these groups share a fellowship of lifestyle that goes far beyond
carrying a backpack. This type of ‘Global Nomad’ represents a reconfiguring of identities under the
deterritorialisation of globalisation, reflected in the rise of many ‘nomadic’ groups, such as the ‘grey
nomads’ (Onyx and Leonard, 2005), RV tribes (Simpson, 2008) and the urban nomad (Hannam,
The term ‘Global nomads’ was also applied more specifically to youth tourists in the development of
the Backpacker Research Group of the Association for Tourism and Leisure Education and Research
(ATLAS) in 2000. This group was established in order to analyse the growing popularity of youth
travel, particularly the phenomenon of backpackers and other long-term travellers. In early work by
the group, Richards and Wilson (2003) referred to contemporary youth travellers as ‘tomorrow’s
global nomads’, suggesting a trajectory towards increased youth mobility, and the diversification of
youth travel into more long-term forms of dwelling in different countries (educational travel, long term
backpacking, etc.). Richards and Wilson (2004a) later applied the same term more specifically to the
emerging backpacker research field, again reflecting an emerging diversity of youth mobility around
the globe. The name of the ATLAS research group was later changed to the ‘Independent Travel
Research Group’, to match the increasing diversity of travel styles among young people, and the
broadening academic concern with the study of mobility in general (Hannam and Diekman, 2010).
A more specific use of the term ‘global nomad’ emerged recently in the work of Kannisto and Kannisto
(2012) and Kannisto (2014). In these studies, global nomads are individuals who engage in long-term
mobility, travelling for three years or more between different countries. Kannisto sees the ideology of
these contemporary nomads as diametrically opposed to that of sedentary society, which tries to
impose limitations on the movement of these long term travellers, for example through visa
regulations. This echoes Creswell’s (1997) dichotomy between nomads and settlers, a division also
later applied to backpackers in Maoz’s (2004) analysis of Israeli ‘settlers’ and ‘conquerors’.
Recent work on the ‘digital nomad’, however, outlines a group that is neither driven by opposition to
settled communities or by the need form tribes. The increased blurring of the boundaries of work and
leisure allied to the growth of digital technology has given this group the freedom to work anywhere
they can connect to the Internet. These individualistic nomads take their work with them, often
settling temporarily in places with attractive leisure lifestyles. As Sørensen (2002) notes:
The issue of a mobile society, mobile computing, or other aspects prefixed with the terms
mobile, ubiquitous or pervasive, is not only linked to human movement, it is intrinsically
associated with the recent years' explosive mobilisation and fluidisation of interaction. (p. 1)
He goes on to add that “The years to come will undoubtedly reveal interesting patterns of digital
nomads employing a range of mobile information services supporting them in order to maintain fluid
mobile work practices.” (p. 5). In travel terms, one interesting effect of this phenomenon is that the
hierarchy of place attractiveness has shifted:
‘One of the most important factors for any digital nomad in choosing destinations is access to
the internet. I know some digital nomads who lived in Bangalore for a few months. Why
Bangalore, I asked? Because it has the fastest internet in India, they replied.’ (Nomadic
These ‘location independent travellers’ as they often call themselves, find inventive ways to support
themselves, including selling the secrets of maintaining their lifestyles to other aspiring digital
nomads. For example, Slade and Dix (2013) have produced a guide called Be a Digital Nomad and
the Digital Nomad Academy offers courses and support for digital nomads wanting to start up their
own business (http://digitalnomadacademy.com/).
At first glance it may seem that these new applications of the ‘nomad’ label simply relate to different
aspects of mobility. But a closer look reveals that it is not just the mobility itself, but the reflexive
response to mobility and the development of mobile practices that are important. The original nomad
was nomadic in response to the external environment (often a harsh one, as in the case of the
Bedouin or the Marsh Arabs) – an adaptation to cyclical scarcity and abundance. Meyrowitz (2003)
argued that in the contemporary ‘digital veldt’ (or flat virtual landscape of digital communications)
people tend to gather information and then leave it where they found it (by bookmarking, for example),
and that this mirrors somehow the hunter gather practice of leaving herds of game and clusters of
berry bushes in their natural habitat to be harvested when needed. Reflections of such practices can
also be seen in the way that new nomadic travel styles produce resource clusters of their own - the
backpacker enclave, the New Age settlement, the Full Moon Party (Cohen, 2004) or people travelling
for long periods in mobile homes in forms of ‘RV urbanism’ (Simpson, 2008). What is important is the
lifestyle and the practices that underpin it, as the website ‘Become Nomad’ (2014) outlines:
The nomadic lifestyle is more important than anything else, including career, relationship, or
assets. Once this is not the case, it is not a sustainable lifestyle since it is quite hard to
This review suggests that the nomad label therefore seems to have been attached to many different
forms of youth mobility, among the most prevalent of which are:
Backpackers can be seen as ‘Tribal nomads’, congregating in specific enclaves to share the
stories that form the shared culture of the tribe (Noy, 2004).
Flashpackers, with their love of communication devices (Jarvis and Peel, 2010) can be related to
the Digital nomads described by Sørensen (2002).
The ‘global nomads’ described by Kannisto (2014) are location independent travellers who stay
away from ‘home’ for long periods of time, and who generally reject the ideology of settled
These different nomadic types emerge from the academic and literary discourse on nomadism in
recent decades. The following section presents an empirical analysis to examine the extent to which
these nomadic forms of mobility can be recognised among contemporary youth.
In search of the contemporary nomad
The New Horizons Research Programme was initially developed by the ATLAS Backpacker Research
Group (ATLAS BRG 2014) and the World Youth Student Educational Travel Confederation (WYSE -
http://wysetc.org), following the establishment of the BRG in 2000. The first wave of survey research
for the New Horizons Research Programme was undertaken in 2002 and repeated in 2007 and 2012
(Richards and Wilson 2003, 2004a; WYSE Travel Confederation 2013). These surveys followed a
consistent methodology, so that comparisons of youth travel behaviour can also be made over time.
The survey questions were developed initially through expert consultations with academics and
practitioners within the ATLAS BRG, and subsequently refined through different editions of the survey
(Richards and Wilson, 2003). The survey instrument covers a number of key areas of youth travel
behaviour, including previous travel experience, travel style, details of the last main trip undertaken in
the previous 12 months (destinations, travel modes, accommodation, information gathering), travel
purpose and motivations, attitudinal data and perceived benefits of travel. Surveys were distributed to
young travellers via email with a link to a websurvey programme (in the most recent edition
Surveymonkey). The email addresses were collected from major youth travel companies in different
countries. In the 2012 survey around 34,000 responses were collected, a significant increase on
previous surveys. These responses covered all major world regions, and included young people from
140 countries. One of the major limitations of this strategy of data collection is that it tends to target
young people who have travelled and who have purchased travel products via commercial travel
Figure 1: Respondents to the 2012 New Horizons survey by world region
More information on the survey programme and methodology is available from the different reports
produced by the programme (Richards and Wilson, 2003; WYSE Travel Confederation, 2013). For the
purposes of the current review, a few key aspects relating to identity and travel style, travel
motivations and travel activities have been extracted from the data in order to illustrate different
aspects of ‘nomadic’ behaviour, particularly related to the three styles of nomadism outlined above.
The travel style of young people was elicited via a self-classification question, which was designed to
reveal how young people characterise themselves. This in turn can be related to their actual travel
behaviour, such as the countries and places visited, length of travel and type of accommodation used,
in order to examine how far their travel patterns exhibit ‘nomadic’ characteristics. Their activities in the
destination are also analysed to explore the gap between nomadic ideology and practice. The New
Horizons research provides a picture of what the contemporary young ‘nomads’ are doing: where they
are travelling, where they are staying and why they chose particularly places to dwell.
This quantitative approach of course has a number of limitations. Firstly, unlike qualitative research, it
cannot examine the motivations and behaviour of young travellers in as much depth. The data have
also been purposively collected in order to maximise the number of young travellers surveyed, but this
does not necessarily give a representative picture of all young travellers worldwide. The survey was
also not specifically designed to analyse ‘nomadic’ behaviour, and the data presented here must
therefore been seen as indicative of travel behaviours and mobilities that might be generally related to
contemporary youth nomadism.
Destinations and travel intensity
The New Horizons research has consistently shown an expansion of the number, variety and
geographical extent of the destinations visited by young people over time. The number of international
trips taken by young travellers shows a steady increase over the three survey waves, indicating a
growing frequency of travel. In 2002 the average number of lifetime international trips was 6, rising to
8 in 2007 and 10 in 2012. Not only are young people travelling more, but they are also venturing
further afield as they grow older.
For example, the 2012 data show a considerable expansion in long haul travel compared with
previous years. The proportion of young travellers to North America (15%) more than doubled
compared with 2007, and backpackers in particular seemed to be striking out more for relatively
exotic destinations, such as Brazil, Japan, Chile and South Korea. These data also seem to support
the general idea that young people will travel to more long haul destinations as they grow older and
as they gain more travel experience (see also Akatay, Çakici and Harman, 2013).
Arguably the travel style adopted by young people reflects their lifestyle and identity (Wearing et al.,
2010). In recent years the identification with the ‘backpacker’ travel style seems to have declined
worldwide. In 2002 just under a third of New Horizons respondents self-identified themselves as
backpackers, but this proportion had halved by 2012. Although this fall is undoubtedly related to the
expansion of youth travel in areas such as Asia (where familiarity with the backpacking culture is
lower because backpacking is a relatively new travel style there), this fall is also evident within long-
established backpacker source markets as well.
In the 2007 survey there was a noticeable growth in the number of people selecting the ‘other’
category in the travel style question. The subsequent open question on travel style revealed a wide
variety of travel styles, including many volunteers and hybrid forms of travel style, such as
traveller/tourist, or tourist/backpacker. Additional response categories were therefore added to the
main question in 2012, including the categories ‘flashpacker’ and ‘global nomad’, which were used by
some respondents in the 2007 survey. The 2012 survey indicated that 3% of respondents saw
themselves as flashpackers and 2% preferred to characterise themselves as ‘global nomads’.
Although these nascent categories of youth traveller are not as important in numerical terms, one
might argue (as does Kannisto, 2014) that these groups often function as aspirational role models and
opinion leaders for other travellers, who seek to emulate their travel style or behaviour (Wolfram and
Clear differences are observable between those who characterise themselves as ‘backpackers’,
‘flashpackers’ and ‘global nomads’ in terms of their profile and travel behaviour (Table 1). Backpacker
respondents were aged 25 on average, flashpackers 26 and global nomads were notably older at an
average of 28 years. Flashpackers had the highest incomes on average, and were least likely to be
unemployed. In contrast global nomads had the highest level of unemployment (15%).
Table 1: Profile of young travellers by travel style
% over 25
% full time
** significant at 0.05 level
Source: WYSE Travel Confederation Survey, 2012
Backpackers tended to be travelling longer, with their last main trip covering an average of 77 days,
while global nomads spent 70 days travelling and flashpackers 62 days. All groups had a relatively
high travel intensity, with global nomads having taken an average of 7 long (more than 7 days)
international trips in the past 5 years, compared with 5 for backpackers and 4 for those who saw
themselves as flashpackers. Global nomads were also more likely to use peer to peer hospitality
websites like Couchsurfing (www.couchsurfing.com) than other travellers and less likely to use hotels
than either backpackers or flashpackers.
In terms of travel motivation, global nomads were most likely to be travelling to experience other
cultures, to increase their knowledge, interact with local people and experience everyday life. In
general, they seem to be far more interested in ‘relational’ forms of tourism (such as hospitality
exchange or staying in locally-owned apartments – see Richards 2014) than other young travellers,
but also more concerned to develop themselves through travel, for example by learning a new
language or acquiring new skills. In contrast flashpackers were much less concerned with engaging
with local culture or people, and more orientated towards relaxation (figure 2).
Figure 2: Travel motivations by travel style (% strongly agree)
Source: WYSE Travel Confederation Survey, 2012
There was also a marked increase in the proportion of people taking longer trips of 60 days or more in
2012. This may be related to rising youth unemployment in the global economic crisis, which often
stimulates young people to delay entering the job market and seeking to increase their skills through
travel. This may therefore not be so much a case of ‘leisure nomadism’ (Simpson, 2008), but rather of
work-related nomadism. The unemployed young travellers perhaps not surprisingly spent longer on
the road during their last main trip (99 days on average, compared with 67 days for other travellers).
The growing tendency to stay in touch with those back home as well as fellow travellers is observable
across the three survey waves. In the 2012 survey, a third of flashpackers indicated that they
accessed social media websites every day while travelling, compared with 26% of global nomads and
21% of backpackers. This seems to confirm the link between flashpackers and the ‘digital nomad’
concept. However, global nomads spent more of their travel budget on communication. This was
020 40 60 80 100
Enjoy time with friends from home
Visit friends & relatives abroad
Be in a calm atmosphere
Avoid hustle and bustle
Develop my creativity
Meet other travellers
Meet people from other countries
Help people in the destination
Test and develop physical abilities
Learn more about myself
Experience everyday life abroad
Increase my knowledge
Interact with local people
Explore other cultures
% strongly agree
related to a higher incidence of email communication, more mobile phone use and more texts. This
may be because global nomads are more integrated into destination communities, and therefore are
more likely to be using local mobile services. This seems to be confirmed by the fact that 35% of
global nomads were living abroad at the time of the survey, compared with 21% of backpackers and
only 18% of flashpackers.
Global nomads were much more likely to be travelling off the beaten track (58%) than backpackers
(40%) or flashpackers (30%). However, they were even more likely to visit major cities and gateways
(33%) as backpackers or flashpackers (both 30%). This underlines the point made by Kannisto (2014)
that even global nomads, who seek to avoid the constraints on movement imposed by nation states
and the structures of the travel industry often fail in these ‘escape attempts’. As one of her global
nomad respondents remarks:
Hey, look at the Atlas, figure out what makes the most sense in terms of travelling. I decided
to go to Morocco but I couldn’t find a reasonable flight so I flew to Spain thinking that I was
going to take the boat back to Morocco but once I got to Spain, I was contacted by some
friends in India who were all living in Pisa and so we were all living in a squat in Pisa. I just
follow my gut.
Nomads are often seen as being diametrically opposed to settled society and antithetic to the norms
of traditional life. When asked about how they saw their ideal future life, most of the modern nomads
also rejected the idea of following a ‘logical’ career path from study to work, family and retirement.
This was an idea much more attractive to those who saw themselves as ‘tourists’. The nomads were
more likely to want a life of travel, and in particular flashpackers and global nomads were attracted by
the idea of changing continuously between study, work and travel during the course of their lives
Figure 3: How do you see your ideal future life?
Source: WYSE Travel Confederation Survey, 2012
The New Horizons survey has consistently shown over the past decade that the major benefit that
young travellers see from their trips is acquiring a thirst for more travel. Although all three ‘nomad’
groups agree with this idea, backpackers and flashpackers are more likely to acquire a thirst for travel
(70% strongly agree) than global nomads (61%). Arguably, this may reflect the desire of global
nomads to settle, even temporarily, and make contact with local communities. Because they tend to
travel alone, they also tend to seek companionship while travelling, even though this may complicate
their nomadic lifestyle (Kannisto, 2014).
Large scale surveys such as the New Horizons research are crude tools for approaching questions
such as the rise of nomadic travel behaviour. But the analysis provided here does at least provide
some interesting indications about the emergence of different types of nomadic mobility that could be
followed up in future studies.
The three self-identified groups of travellers examined, the backpackers, the flashpackers and the
global nomads, seem to bare some resemblance to the categories extracted from the literature,
namely the tribal nomads, the digital nomad and the global nomad. As tribal nomads who congregate
in enclaves, for example, Backpackers are most likely to be meeting friends from home when they
travel, probably encountering them in the very type of backpacker enclave that their nomadic
wanderings have helped to create. These enclaves create opportunities to swap stories and travel tips
that help to mark out the position of the individual within the backpacker community (Welk, 2004, Noy,
2004). The digital nomad or flashpacker is the most connected traveller, using social media frequently
First studying, having a
steady job then retiring
Changing continuously my
study, work and travel
and also being more likely to mix and blur work and leisure. The flashpacker also has far less contact
with the ‘local’, and is less likely to try and distinguish themselves through the pursuit of ‘non-tourist’
activities. The global nomad, on the other hand, is the most active in seeking contact with local people
and everyday life in the destination. Their stay also seems to be more a form of dwelling, staying in
local people’s homes and connecting to local communication networks as well as the Internet.
All of these ‘nomadic’ groups are venturing more frequently and further afield than they did a decade
ago. Originally, nomads were people tracing a path through ‘a seemingly illogical space’ (Kaplan,
1996). But the paths trodden by the contemporary nomads are only illogical in terms of their own
travel aspirations, in so far as the search for freedom and adventure constantly brings them back to
the path already beaten by other young travellers. Over time, these paths emerge as the structures
for the worldwide expansion of the mass tourist industry, which many contemporary nomads actively
seek to avoid (Welk, 2004).
As Kannisto (2014) suggests, contemporary nomadic wanderings are framed by the dialectic of
freedom and constraint. The constraints include lack of money, which limits the time they can spend
on the road and also makes it more difficult to enter countries that require travellers to show evidence
of their ability to support themselves. The global economic crisis has increased the availability of time
to travel for some (the unemployed respondents in the sample travelled longest), but also reduces
their ability to pass frontiers or to dwell in foreign countries. Young travellers also constantly seek to
overcome their constraints, as backpackers have always done by seeking out the cheapest
accommodation to stretch out their travel budgets. But the Internet is also allowing them to self-
organise their travel through peer to peer systems, such as Couchsurfing and Airbnb
(www.airbnb.com). The backpacker had previously taken the lead in going off the beaten track, but
now the contemporary youth traveller is now helping to construct the post-tourist-industry landscape
of travel. Social media has replaced the authority of the guidebook, hostelling has produced new
spaces of relationality and Couchsurfing has (at least temporarily) circumvented the regulation of
Another change relative to previous backpacker discourse is the positioning of travel as a rite of
passage (Turner, 1974; Cohen, 2004). Backpacking has been posited as a reversal of the everyday, a
liminal state that marks the passage of young travellers into adulthood. On their return, they are
expected to grow up, settle down and become respectable members of society. However, a growing
number of people are postponing this return to ‘normality’, travelling into later life as ‘permanent
backpackers’ or global nomads. Young people are increasingly less likely to settle down to a ‘normal
life’ on their return, preferring to keep travelling, studying and working on the road (WYSE Travel
Confederation, 2013). This is now particularly evident in the emergence of the digital nomad, who can
create their own employment in another country thanks to the global connectedness of the Internet. In
some ways, therefore, the nomad is no longer the opposite of the settler, but may become a periodic
settler in different places, depending on the quality of the Internet connection, the weather and the
people met along the way.
Are the traditional structures of youth travel being eroded by the emergence of the digital veldt, as
Meyrowitz (2003) suggested? The blurring of work, leisure and travel and different social spheres is
certainly evident in the merging of different forms of youth travel, the rise of the working backpacker
and the location-independent ‘digital nomad’. The rise of youth travel hubs in many cities also mirrors
in some ways the idea of a hunter-gatherer pattern of creating clusters of resources in the places they
visit. In contrast to the original nomads, however, the contemporary mobile populations deriving from
the developed world are also actively sought after by those places, engaged as they are in a
competitive struggle for talent, resources and distinction. Modern nomads are attracted by the ‘plug
and play places’ that now abound, particularly in major cities (Richards, 2010). These places also
strive to make themselves more ‘eventful’ (Richards and Palmer, 2010) in order to link global and
local networks and to create a reason for young people to dwell, however briefly, in a particular place
at a particular time. These places, such as the Khao San Road in Bangkok (Richards and Wilson,
2004a), the Gràcia neighbourhood in Barcelona (Russo and Arias Sans, 2013) or Kings Cross in
Sydney (Wilson et al., 2008), are the watering holes where the contemporary nomad gathers their
clusters of essential resources (e.g. work, Internet connection, couchsurfing, backpacker cafes, etc.).
The new nomadism also involves a new relationship with the ‘local’. The local, the mundane, the
everyday have in many cases become the prize to be sought in travelling, very different from the
cultural hierarchy established in the Grand Tour and reflected in the growth of mass cultural tourism
(Richards, 2001). Whereas the ‘authentic’ used to be legitimated by traditional knowledge and power
systems, it is now established by direct experience of the local (Richards and Russo, 2014). The
interesting effect of this may be that while on a macro level all places seem to be becoming more
alike through ‘serial reproduction’ of culture (Richards and Wilson, 2006), on a micro level more
difference is actually being created by the countless permutations of mobile populations visiting and
dwelling in them for different lengths of time. This produces not just differences in terms of origin but
also increasingly in terms of the length, depth and type of dwelling. As Franquesa (2011) points out,
the immobility of the ‘local’ is recursively produced by the mobility of the tourist. But in fact, different
types of tourists, or nomads, also produce differing degrees of localness through the different types of
mobility they engage in.
The contemporary nomadic landscape of youth travel is criss-crossed by a variety of paths that are no
longer quite so ‘illogical’ (Kaplan, 1996), thanks to the research conducted in recent years. We may
be seeing the emergence of different groups of nomads, each driven by their own relationship to
mobility and dwelling, but each also with their own internal dynamics.
For example, one could surmise, as Cohen (1974) did in his original conception of the drifter, that the
degree of alienation from contemporary society produces important effects on the travel behaviour of
young people. The backpacker neo-tribes, for example, are the most self-sufficient and coherent
nomadic group, because their travel practices are supported by the regular exchange of information
and face-to-face contact with other travellers in backpacker enclaves. In contrast, the contemporary
flashpacker is much less in search of contact either with other travellers or with local people. Their
connectedness is much more digital, and also therefore more constrained by the quality of Internet
connections, which link these ‘digital nomads’ to their work environment and the disembedded social
world. They are busy using the available infrastructure and travel systems to their own advantage,
setting up new ‘location independent’ businesses in order to support their leisured lifestyle.
The global nomad, in turn, tries to avoid contact with ‘the system’, even if their mobile lifestyle forces
them to engage with the apparatus of the state and the market economy. Although their freedom of
mobility entails constraints, at least they can choose where to engage with the system. The irony is
that although the global nomad aspires to engage in travel as a goal in itself, in fact their practices of
travel often involve long periods of dwelling. These are also more necessary for the global nomad in
order to make contact with local communities, to alleviate the loneliness of existence on the road
Given the complexity of these different forms of nomadism, what is needed is, as Franquesa (2011:
page) suggests, ‘a relational approach that understands things as nexuses of multiple
determinations’. On this basis, the different types of nomads might be viewed as groups who have
adopted different mobility strategies. For the backpacker, often concerned with status positions in the
group or tribe, huddling together in the enclave represents a social moment in their travels where the
exchange of stories at once confirms status and at the same time the norms of the group. The
flashpacker, or digital nomad, on the other hand, is less concerned with the tribe or with the peoples
among whom they travel. Their lifestyle is sustained by the Internet, and their sociality is therefore
more digital, and more dispersed. But in order to sustain their ‘self-contained’ existence, they actually
become acutely dependent on the local context, which provides a comfortable resting place, and
crucially an Internet connection. The global nomad in turn rejects the trappings of the system, such
as paying for accommodation or working in a full-time job. They are in some ways most like the
traditional nomad in being peripheral to society, and yet at the same time they desperately seek to be
integrated into the ‘local’.
The findings of this research indicate some potential future research directions relating to nomadic
youth travel. As this study has been based largely on qualitative data, it is limited in terms of the depth
of meaning it can uncover in relation to the travel styles discussed. It would be interesting to develop
structured qualitative research examining the motivations, experiences and behaviour of these
different types of young nomads. In particular, the role of economic factors and the blurring of leisure
travel and work-related travel (whether to gain qualifications, work experience or to earn money)
would reveal the impact of the economic crisis on youth travel. More research is also needed to
determine the extent to which new styles of travel, in particular the ‘global nomad’ and the ‘digital
nomad’ are developing and influencing other young travellers. Similarly, it would be interesting to
assess the extent to which the decline noted in traditional backpacking is related to the growing
importance of new source markets from Asia or if it also reflects a declining popularity of the
backpacker travel style in the existing core markets, such as Europe, North America and Australasia.
AKATAY, A., ÇAKICI, A.C. and HARMAN, S. (2013). Involvement with Backpacking: A research on
backpackers visiting Istanbul. Tourism, 61(4): 361 – 377.
ALLON, F., ANDERSON, K. and BUSHELL, R. (2008). Mutant Mobilities: Backpacker tourism in
‘Global’ Sydney. Mobilities, 3(1): 73-94.
ATLAS BRG (2014). http://www.atlas-euro.org/sig_backpackers.aspx
BAUDRILLARD, J. (1988) America. London: Verso.
BECOME NOMAD (2014). Living a nomadic lifestyle. http://becomenomad.com/tips-on-how-not-to-
BRIADOTTI, R. (1994) Nomadic Subjects: Embodiment and Sexual Difference in Contemporary
Feminist Theory. New York: Colombia University Press.
BROWN, L. and HOLLOWAY, I. (2008). The Initial Stage of the International Sojourn: Excitement or
Culture Shock? British Journal of Guidance & Counselling, 36(1): 33-49.
CHATWIN, J. M. (2008). ‘Anywhere Out of the World’: Restlessness in the work of Bruce Chatwin.
PhD Thesis, University of Exeter.
COHEN, E. (1974). Who is a Tourist?: A conceptual clarification. The Sociological Review, 22(4):
COHEN, E. (1979). A Phenomenology of Tourist Experiences. Sociology, 13(2): 179-201.
COHEN, E. (2004). Backpacking: Diversity and Change. In G. Richards & J. Wilson (eds) The Global
Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice, Clevedon: Channel View Publications, pp. 43-59.
CRESSWELL, T (1997). Imagining the nomad: mobility and the postmodern primitive. In
Strohmayer, U. and Benko, G. (eds) Space and Social Theory: Geographical Interpretations of Post-
Modernity, Oxford: Blackwell, pp 360-382.
D’ANDREA, A. (2007) Global Nomads: Techno and New Age as Transnational Countercultures in
Ibiza and Goa. London: Routledge.
DELEUZE, G. and GUATTARI. F. (1980) A Thousand Plateaus. London and New York: Continuum,
EDWARDS, J.M. (2013) The return of the late Bruce Chatwin. Arts and Opinion, Vol. 12, No. 4, 2013.
FRÄNDBERG, L, (2009). How normal is travelling abroad? Differences in transnational mobility
between groups of young Swedes. Environment and Planning A, 41(3): 649 – 667.
FRANQUESA, J. (2011). “We’ve Lost Our Bearings”: Place, Tourism, and the Limits of the “Mobility
Turn”. Antipode, 43(4): 1012–1033.
GRISONI, D. (ed.) (1976) Politiques de la philosophie. Paris: Grasset.
GROPPER, R. C. (1967). Urban Nomads-The Gypsies Of New York City. Transactions of the New
York Academy of Sciences, 29(8) Series II: 1050–1056.
HANNAM, K. (2009). The end of tourism? Nomadology and the mobilities paradigm. In Tribe, J. (ed.)
Philosophical issues in tourism. Clevedon: Channel View, pp. 101-112.
HANNAM, K. and ATELJEVIC, I. (2008). Backpacker Tourism: Concepts and Profiles. Clevedon:
HANNAM, K. and DIEKMANN, A. (2010). Beyond Backpacker Tourism: Mobilities and Experiences.
Clevedon: Channel View.
HIHOSTELS (2014) History of Hostelling. http://www.hiusa.org/about_us/history#tab4 (accessed 18th
JARVIS, J. and PEEL, V. (2010). Flashpackers in Fiji: Reframing the ‘global nomad’ in a developing
destination. In Hannam, K. and Diekmann, A (eds) Beyond Backpacker Tourism: Mobilities and
Experiences, Clevedon: Channel View Publications, pp. 21-39.
KANNISTO, P. and KANNISTO, S. (2012). Free as a Global Nomad: An Old Tradition with a Modern
Twist. Phoenix, AZ: Drifting Sands Press.
KANNISTO, P. (2014) Global Nomads: Challenges of mobility in the sedentary world. PhD
Dissertation, Tilburg University.
KAPLAN, C. (1996) Questions of Travel. Postmodern Discourses of Displacement. Durham and
London: Duke University Press.
KNOX, D. (2009). Mobile practice and youth tourism. In Obrador Pons, P., Crang, M. and Travlou, P.
(eds) Cultures of Mass Tourism: Doing the Mediterranean in the Age of Banal Mobilities, Farnham:
Ashgate. pp. 143-155.
LABORDA, J.G. (2007) Language travel or language tourism: have educational trips changed so
much? Tourism Today, Fall 2007, 29-42.
MAFFESOLI, M. (1996). The Time of the Tribes: The Decline of Individualism in Mass Society.
MAKIMOTO, T. and MANNERS, D. (1997). Digital Nomad. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.
Maoz, D. (2004) The conquerors and the settlers: Two groups of young Israeli backpackers in India.
In Richards, G. and Wilson, J. (eds) The Global Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice.
Clevedon: Channel View Publications, pp. 109-122.
MEYROWITZ, J. (2003). Global Nomads in the Digital Veldt. In Nyíri, K. (ed.) Mobile Democracy:
Essays on Society, Self and Politics. Vienna: Passagen, pp. 91—102.
MORGAN, M. and XUA, F. (2009). Student Travel Experiences: Memories and Dreams. Journal of
Hospitality Marketing & Management, 18(2-3): 216-236.
NOMADIC SAMUEL (2014). Living the dream of a location independent lifestyle.
NOY, C. (2004). THIS TRIP REALLY CHANGED ME: Backpackers’ Narratives of Self-Change.
Annals of Tourism Research, 31(1): 78–102.
ONYX, J. and LEONARD, R. (2005). Australian Grey Nomads and American Snowbirds: Similarities
and differences. The Journal of Tourism Studies, 16(1): 61-68.
PARIS, C. (2010). The virtualization of backpacker culture: virtual moorings, sustained interactions
and enhanced mobilities. In Hannam, K. and Diekmann, A (eds) Beyond Backpacker Tourism:
Mobilities and Experiences, Cleverdon: Channel View Publications, pp. 40-63.
RICHARDS, G. (2001, ed.) Cultural Attractions and European Tourism. Wallingford: CAB
Richards, G. (2010) Leisure in the Network Society: From pseudo-events to hyperfestivity?
RICHARDS, G. (2014) Creating relational tourism through exchange: The Maltese experience.
Journal of Hospitality and Tourism, 12 (1), 87-94.
RICHARDS, G. and PALMER, R. (2010) Eventful Cities: Cultural Management and Urban
Revitalisation. Routledge: London
RICHARDS, G. and RUSSO, P. (2014). Alternative and creative tourism. Arnhem: ATLAS.
RICHARDS, G. and WILSON, J. (2003). Today's Youth Travellers: Tomorrow's Global Nomads. New
Horizons in Independent Youth and Student Travel. Amsterdam: ISTC.
RICHARDS, G. and WILSON, J. (2004a, eds). The Global Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and
Practice. Clevedon: Channel View Publications.
RICHARDS, G. and WILSON, J. (2004b) Travel writers and writers who travel: Nomadic icons for the
backpacker subculture? Journal of Tourism and Cultural Change 2(1), 46-68.
RICHARDS, G. and WILSON, J. (2006) Developing creativity in tourist experiences: A solution to the
serial reproduction of culture? Tourism Management 27, 1209–1223.
RUSSO, A.P. and ARIAS SANS, A. (2009). Student Communities and Landscapes of Creativity: How
Venice — `The World's Most Touristed City' — is Changing. European Urban and Regional Studies
SIMPSON, D. (2008). RV Urbanism: Nomadic Network Settlements of the Senior Recreational
Vehicle Community in the US. In Eckardt, F. (ed.) Media and Urban Space: Understanding,
Investigating and Approaching Mediacity. Berlin: Frank & Timme GmbH, pp. 233-258.
SLADE, M. and DIX, R. (2013). Be a Digital Nomad. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
SØRENSEN, C. (2002). Digital nomads and mobile services. Receiver No. 6.
SPRADLEY, J. P. (1970). You owe yourself a drunk: An ethnography of urban nomads. Boston:Little,
STAY WYSE (2012). 6th Annual Youth Travel Accommodation Industry Survey. Amsterdam: STAY
THESIGER, W. (1964). The Marsh Arabs. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Tourism Research and Marketing (2008) Volunteer Tourism: A global analysis. Arnhem: ATLAS.
TURNER, V. W. (1974). Dramas, Fields, and Metaphors: Symbolic Action in Human Society. Ithaca:
URRY, J. (2000). Sociology Beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twenty-first Century, London:
VAN ‘T KLOOSTER, E., VAN WIJK, J., GO, F. and VAN REKOM, J. (2008). Educational travel: The
Overseas Internship. Annals of Tourism Research 35(3): 690–711.
WEARING, S. (2001). Volunteer Tourism: Experiences that make a Difference. Wallingford: CABI.
WEARING, S., STEVENSON, D. and YOUNG, T. (2010). Tourist Cultures: Identity, Place and the
Traveller. London: SAGE.
WELK, P. (2004). The Beaten Track: Anti-Tourism as an element of Backpacker Identity Construction,
in Richards, G. and Wilson, J. (eds.) The Global Nomad: Backpacker Travel in Theory and Practice,
Clevedon: Channel View Publications, pp. 77-92.
WILSON, J., RICHARDS, G. and MCDONNELL, I. (2008) Intracommunity tensions in backpacker
enclaves: Sydney's Bondi Beach. In Hannam, K. and Ateljevic, I. (eds) Backpacker tourism: Concepts
and profiles, Bristol: Channel View Publications, pp. 199-214
WOLFRAM, G. and BURNILL-MAIER, C. (2012). The tactical tourist: Growing self-awareness and
challenging the strategiest – visitor groups in Berlin. In Smith, M. and Richards, G. (eds) The
Routledge Handbook of Cultural Tourism, London: Routledge, pp. 361-368.
WYSE TRAVEL CONFEDERATION (2013) New Horizons III. Amsterdam: WYSE Travel