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Increasingly, young people are choosing to take a ``gap year'' or time off work to go traveling. This article seeks to examine the ways in which ``traveling the world'' has now become a recognizable facet of Western youth culture. The research proceeds from the notion that the stories, narratives, and myths that surround backpacking culture can tell us much about how young (particularly Western backpacking) consumers are currently engaging with ``global'' and ``Other'' cultures, and may offer more general insights into how narratives of globality are being constructed and modified in Western societies. Drawing upon semistructured interviews with Western backpackers, the article tentatively addresses how far and in what ways young travelers actually engage and ``construct'' the cultures of the places they are visiting and how far they integrate themselves with other cultures. This will provide some insight into the nature and quality of traveler–host experiences. Secondly, the research investigates the travelers' encounters with local cultures to help determine the ways in which these experiences might mesh with the broader development of a global backpacking culture. Preliminary findings seem to confirm the difficulties of the so-called host–guest relationship, which was balanced by the sense of accomplishment young travelers felt. The main difficulty arising was the persistent nature of ``authenticity,'' which many academics see as an intellectual cul-de-sac, yet was raised by the respondents repeatedly as a powerful motivating force.
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Keywords: Authenticity; Backpackers; Culture; Interaction; ``Gap year''

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Manchester Metropolitan University

Publication date: 2004-01-01

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  • Tourism, Culture & Communication is international in its scope and will place no restrictions upon the range of cultural identities covered, other than the need to relate to tourism and hospitality. The Journal seeks to provide interdisciplinary perspectives in areas of interest that may branch away from traditionally recognized national and indigenous cultures, for example, cultural attitudes toward the management of tourists with disabilities, gender aspects of tourism, sport tourism, or age-specific tourism.
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