Can backpacking really can improve your life?

Can backpacking really can improve your life?

While stereotypes bring to mind aimless slackers hanging out in foreign cities, an international survey of backpackers suggests it builds confidence and improves money management, problem-solving and communication.

The research by Edith Cowan University (ECU), Sun Yat-sen University (Guangzhou) and Shaanxi Normal University (Xi’an) surveyed 500 Australian, international and Chinese backpackers to assess how backpacking changed their self-esteem and self-efficacy (belief in their abilities).

The findings show improvements across a range of areas. Of Westerners in the study:

  • 91 per cent believed their capacity to identify and resolve problems had been improved
  • 89 per cent believed their communication capability had been improved
  • 88 per cent believed they were able to successfully overcome many challenges
  • 80 per cent felt that even when things were tough, they could perform quite well
  • 80 per cent indicated that backpacking had raised their confidence

Most also reported that their time management skills (61 per cent) and money management skills (62 per cent) had improved.

Professor Sam Huang of ECU’s School of Business and Law said, “This research shows the benefits of getting away, gaining perspective and dealing independently with the challenges of travel.

“We see a lot of evidence of young people being under stress, worrying about their future careers, house prices and finding their place in society, and, while it seems counter-intuitive, buying them a backpack and sending them into the world may be a way of supporting them.

“It increases their sense of capability, which is essential psychologically, creating confidence in themselves, relationships and future careers.”

Backpacking also develops cultural understanding, which offers benefits in a globalised world.

Chinese backpackers similar, yet show key difference

The research included a cohort of 250 Chinese backpackers, which revealed one striking difference from their Western brethren.

Whereas Westerners felt changes to how they viewed the world had impacted them positively, Chinese backpackers reported increased feelings of negativity.

“Chinese people are instilled with the idealism of their purported socialist system, so changing such a view may pose a level of threat to their identity and worsen already existing social anxiety,” Professor Huang said.

“If a new updated view of the world is not firmly established, the change itself may prove disruptive and distressful.

“Backpacking can be a transformative experience, and to transform, you have to face a crisis and reassemble your identity, ideas and values.

“What we’re seeing in the data is likely the early part of the process, when self-evaluation is occurring but a new sense of self has not yet been created.”

‘Backpacker Personal Development, Generalised Self-Efficacy, and Self-Esteem: Testing a Structural Model’ by Ganghua Chen, Sam Huang and Xianyang Hu is published in the Journal of Travel Research.

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