Award Date

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Robert Futrell

Second Committee Member

Barbara G. Brents

Third Committee Member

Simon Gottschalk

Fourth Committee Member

David R. Dickens

Fifth Committee Member

Andy Kirk

Number of Pages



In this dissertation, I discuss the growing development of international backpacking in Central America. I focus on backpackers because they are a significant, yet understudied and undertheorized, part of the newly mobile world. Drawing from more than 12 months of ethnographic data collected in Central America, I explore backpacking as a youth subculture. I used a subcultural framework to explain backpacking ideology, practices, and contradictions. Understanding backpacking as a youth subculture tells us a lot about the myths and realities of 21st century adventure in the context of global mobility, globalization, and economic changes in international tourism that shape what backpackers experience and how they experience it. I find that backpackers’ ideology emphasizes a 1) desire to escape, 2) find a level of independence or freedom, which defines their 3) sense of adventure, and enables them to 4) self-reflect on their life and identity. Broadly, backpackers’ key travel practices emphasize the use of 1) the solitary backpack, 2) transportation modes, and 3) information sources. While backpackers have their own unique travel experiences in Central America, they also share and maintain these ideological beliefs and travel practices in common. I also find the backpacker hostel as the socio-cultural space to understand backpackers’ travel ideology in relation to their practices. As a home base, backpackers use the hostel to connect with one another and express their ideas about backpacking. They reflect their backpacking ideology through their real world traveling practices, as they venture outside of the hostel to explore new lands. Yet, backpackers also spend a significant amount of time using the inside of the hostel, which reflects many of the social and cultural vestiges that they hoped to leave behind. Backpackers share travel stories to critique, negotiate, and reconcile tensions in their 21st century backpacking experience.


backpacker; culture; globalization; hostel; mobilities; tourism



File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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