What happens when you tire of the discomfort and uncertainty of backpacking but still crave the freedom of independent travel? Perhaps in your carefree past, time was your friend, when you had the luxury of hitting the road indefinitely: a year or two guided by wanderlust and serendipity.
With a fistful of travellers cheques, in the days before ubiquitous ATMs, and a well-thumbed guide book that doubled as a pillow, your backpack was your constant companion, accompanied by a vague plan to 'see the world'.
Today, you still want to explore, dream and discover those off the beaten places, immersing yourself in a culture or wild landscape, but, hitting your 30s and 40s, find that those cheap and cheerful carefree backpacking days are a rapidly fading memory.
Cashed up and time poor, rather than the backpacker you once were, you may well have become today's flashpacker. An independent traveller still intent on avoiding mass tourism, you're looking for a unique experience combined with creature comforts. As a flashpacker, you're also likely to be more self indulgent than you were in those heady alcohol-fuelled couch-surfing days.
Are you a flashpacker?
Poles apart when it comes to travel spend, the one thing backpackers and flashpackers have in common is a desire to experience the 'real' destination. If you can't travel without a constant connection on your laptop, iPad or smartphone to check work emails, or worry about what to wear to dinner after hiking into that remote, all-inclusive wilderness lodge, there's a good chance you've already made the transition to flashpacker status.
Generally environmentally and culturally aware of the impact of travel, flashpackers are more likely to take shortcuts to get the most out of their travel experience. Where once they may have travelled overland just for the hell of it, now they're more likely to travel by air, dropping smack bang into the middle of their adventure for instant immersion.
Flashpackers are likely found taking hiking or cycling trips (sometimes called glamping), on remote wildlife viewing safaris or kayaking and sailing traditional vessels through far-flung island archipelagos. Often, their travels have an environmental, conservation or cultural focus, with plenty of outdoorsy activities to maintain gym-toned bodies.
Easily identifiable by sturdy outdoor shoes showing little wear and waterproof jackets of a named brand, they don't mind spending up when it comes to enhancing the experience. The ubiquitous backpack has most certainly been replaced by a waterproof duffle bag with retractable wheels.
Oh, there's also a certain street cred inherent when they return to the office, casually drop into water cooler conversations tales of their latest wilderness adventure.
Flashpacker destination spotlight: New Zealand
New Zealand, long the destination for Aussie hikers and campers, offers plenty of flashpacking opportunities. Hiking, or "tramping" as the Kiwis call it, the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds is a typical example.
Seventy-one kilometres of stunning scenery starting at Ship Cove in the north, much of the track runs along the ridge line, offering dreamy views across bottle-green bays, coves and inlets edged by dense forest. With access to the vast sounds predominantly by foot or water taxi, and little populated beyond sporadic bachs (holiday homes), lodges are dotted along the trail.
Weary feet will find relief at five-star lodge Bay of Many Coves, the inhouse spa being the perfect reward after 15 or 20kms on the trail. Overlooking a quiet cove inhabited by bottlenose dolphins, a fine dining restaurant, gorgeous apartments with plush king beds and a relaxed ambience should rejuvenate most hikers midway through a four-day trek.
Furneaux Lodge, No Road Inn, and Te Mahia Bay Resort are others along the track worthy of a night's rejuvenation.
Another flashpacker destination: South Africa
If getting up close and personal with wildlife is more your thing, South Africa offers luxury game viewing camping, glamping-style, enticing flashpackers onto game reserves. Tanda Tula Safari Camp in Timbavati Reserve, part of the Greater Kruger National Park is home to Save the Elephants South Africa conservation program.
Permanently pitched tents beside the riverbed come with claw foot baths, king beds and a breakfast in bed delivery service. Safari Camp is the first to offer overnight walking safaris, where guests tread the same ground shared by the Big Five, spending nights in a hide beside a water hole.
Outdoor showers, crisp linen concealed beneath wispy mosquito nets combine with gourmet meals cooked over open flames. Armed sentries keep the wildlife from getting too close while guests sleep accompanied by screeching baboons, roaring lions or laughing hyenas.
Two more for the road
Canada too is finding itself a popular destination for cashed-up flashpackers. With enough wilderness area to satisfy the most jaded outdoorsy person, the remote northern provinces of Nunavut and Manitoba are worth checking out.
With a favourable exchange rate against Aussie dollars, floatplanes are the transport mode of choice to drop into lodges such as Seal River Lodge on the shore of Hudson Bay. Tracking polar bears by foot, spotting beluga whales by air or waiting patiently for inquisitive caribou to trot towards your picnic spot on the tundra make up the day's activities. Pre-dinner drinks are taken curled up on comfy leather sofas before an open fire with plenty of red wine to warm core body temperatures.
An emerging market for flashpackers, Papua New Guinea has a couple of offerings sure to pique travellers' adventurous spirits. Islanders have long moved between islands using traditional sailing canoes known as silau: fully guided silau journeys through the Louisiades are flagged for 2012. In the meantime, extended sea kayak voyages via waterfront villages of New Ireland's protected lagoons with No Roads Expeditions combine all day paddling with cultural immersion.
While many flashpackers find themselves short on time, exploring by kayak, foot, indeed even sea plane, allows one to become instantly, fully immersed in the experience. No longer is there the need to suffer the tedium of long bus rides or infrequent train or ferry schedules. Sure, you'll dig a little deeper into your pockets than you did as a twenty-something. But really, what's the point of holding down that responsible job if there isn't a little room for a self indulgent getaway every now and then?