A Tramp is a Tramp?

Do urban backpackers--travelers who fill the streets of New Zealand and beyond--qualify as legit backpackers?

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(Ed Note: BACKPACKER web producer Katie Herrell just returned from a two-week surfing, hiking, and mountain biking jaunt through Middle Ear–, er, New Zealand. This is her second dispatch from that other, cooler land down under. Her first, Your Tent is a Biohazard, chronicled the trouble your tent can get into at airport security. )

In New Zealand the reminder of backpacking, of BACKPACKER’s ethos, is everywhere.

There are the trees that look like inside out pines; bizarre bird calls reminiscent of R2-D2; and plenty of mountain vistas, one steep expanse displaying a waterfall so wide it could be seen 20 miles away through a car window.

Then there’s the funny word New Zealanders use for hiking: “tramping.” And the Backpacker brand (no relation to the magazine) of RV-rentals–a ubiquitous presence in this country filled with visitors.

But nothing is as representative of the backpacking culture as the hundreds of “travelers” that load up their name-brand packs–serious packs–with all the clothes, camping gear, and accessories they’ll need for months of traveling and cover the streets of Auckland and elsewhere.

One traveling Swede we met, upon hearing where I worked, assumed it was a magazine devoted to people like her. People whose countries encourage their recent high school grads or mid-level employees to take six months to a year to see the world.

Plenty of that traveling is spent within city limits (in Auckland it was common practice to wear a huge pack on the back and a smaller day pack strapped facing forward on the chest) or on a bus tour, but camping, hoofing it, and bathing in a lake is all part of the fun.

Many of these travelers are looking for fresh air, cheap accommodations, beautiful scenery, physical exertion, and adventure. It could be argued they are looking for, and experiencing, the very same thing the BACKPACKER-version of backpackers look for in the wilderness.

Or is that taking it too far?

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