In 1996 me and 2 friends undertook our first backpacking experience. We traveled from Costa Rica to Guatemala in 6 months. Originally we had planned to travel for a year, but half way decided to do something more useful with our presence in Central America and applied for volunteer jobs in Honduras and Guatemala.
The travelers we met during our adventure travel from South to North Central America were very different from the travelers you would meet now on the same route. Most people were, just like we were, looking for a real escape. It would have been rare to find anyone traveling for less then 3 months. As a matter of fact, most people had started in the North of the continent, or often in Mexico and were planning to travel as far south as Peru or Patagonia. They would have 8 months or more to do so. The main reason for their trip was not so much traveling in itself; most backpackers were looking for a different lifestyle. Either that or they had already found the lifestyle they were looking for and had successfully made being an adventurer their way of living.
These adventurers had more time then money and were consciously escaping the first world. The idea was to make a statement against modern life and travel to third world countries was a way of expressing disagreement with the hectic first world.
Nowadays if you travel through Central America, you will find another type of backpacker. The adventurer needs to work harder now to find his escape. He will need to travel to even less accessible locations just to avoid the vacation atmosphere found in popular destinations throughout Central American countries nowadays. Backpacking and adventure tourism has grown more fashionable over the last 10 years. It is now most common to take a 3 or even 2 week holiday to an exotic place like Guatemala.
This new adventure tourist is a lot less adventurous as our explorers 10 years ago. He is not interested to leave regular day to day first world life. He is simply looking for a short break from it all. This adventurer has not got the time to really adjust to another lifestyle; he just wants a taste of it, a tiny bite.
The new adventure traveler is not genuinely interested to get to know a third world lifestyle, he is not willing to live like the locals surrounding him on his travels. As if the world was one big museum, he wants to be there and watch from a short distance. The consequence is that local hotels and restaurants need to adjust their services to this new demand, even if this means losing their own culture. Although the current traveler claims to be interested in other cultures, he is really demanding it to change to his needs. A shift in backpacking culture is sadly leading to a shift in local third world culture.