“Orang Backpack” are easy to spot, whether in Manado, Makassar or anywhere else. They wear a big rucksack on their backs, a little one on their chests. Underneath, a tatty sweat-soaked T-shirt. With swimming trunks or scruffy shorts. For footwear, flip-flops or heavy trekking shoes. In their left hand, a water bottle; in their right, Lonely Planet. Lonely Planet – if possible, they never let it out of their hands – tells Orang Backpacks everything they want to know: where to eat, sleep, meet like-minded travellers, where and when to catch the bus or train, how much the fares are, a smattering of history and plenty more useful information. Orang Backpack does not seem to perceive anything that isn’t covered in Lonely Planet.
Most Orang Backpacks travel in twos to double the feeling of well-being and to ward off the natives. So they seldom have any contact with the outside world, except for kitchen staff, chambermaids, hotel managers and tourist guides who know their way around. But that doesn’t matter, foreign backpackers prefer to converse with people like themselves anyway. They talk about prices, how cheap it was at this place and that, and how cheap the next ones will be. For hours, days, nights on end, probably the whole trip long. In addition to the travel guide, which I assume is already outdated by the time it gets printed, they pull extra information off of Facebook, and they prefer to get together where all the other Orang Backpacks have already got together and will continue to get together in future.
Group trips are another story, these travellers are cast in a whole different mould. They seem to be content and having a good time as they are steered through their vacation from start to finish. And whether something is cheap or dear makes no difference to them since they paid for the whole thing in advance anyway.
A hotel manager who speaks good English gives me the following advice: If you want to dodge Orang Backpack, buy yourself a copy of Lonely Planet and don’t go anywhere that’s mentioned in the book!