Essay by changqingwUniversity, Master's October 2008

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Article summaryO’Reilly’s article ‘From drifter to gap year tourist: Mainstreaming backpacker travel’ was published in 2006 in Annals of tourism research, vol. 33, no. 4, pp. 998-1017. It discusses the phenomenon of backpacking and proposes that this kind of travel has now become part of the mainstream of tourism without losing its potential to improve the status of travellers who engage in it.

O’Reilly describes her research method as ‘ethnographic field research’ using participant observation (p. 998). Her subjects were backpackers, mainly white and middle class from northern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Israel. Both male and female backpackers provided her with data for her research. They ranged in age from 18 to 53. All were educated, many to University level with some to postgraduate level. In North America, Canada, rather than the United States, produces the greater number of backpackers’ ‘relative to population’ (p. 100).

O’Reilly’s fieldwork was conducted for eleven months among backpackers in eastern and southern Africa, India, Southeast Asia, Central America, Australia and New Zealand (p. 1001). She also studied what backpackers had written on Internet sites (p. 1001). Over a number of years, she followed backpackers’ Internet discussions and read travellers’ stories (p. 1002). Sometimes she initiated the Internet discussions and attempted to encourage discussion of topics she believed were relevant to her research. She notes, however, that she was more successful when she asked ‘indirect questions about current topics’ (p. 1002). In addition to using participant observation, she conducted ‘informal and semiformal discussions with individuals and groups of backpackers’ (pp. 1001-1002). She also conducted ‘semistructured formal interviews’ (p. 1002). Interviews conducted during the backpackers’ travels were audio-recorded. Among those O’Reilly interviewed, either in person or on the telephone, were backpackers whose travels had ended more than a year ago. These...