In 1996 two friends and I undertook our first backpacking experience. We traveled from Costa Rica to Guatemala in six months. We originally 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 traveled from South to North Central America and were very different from the travelers you would meet now on the same route.
Most people were, like us, looking for a real escape. It would have been rare to find anyone traveling for less then three months. As a matter of fact, most people had started in the northern region of the continent, or often in Mexico and were planning to travel as far south as Peru or Patagonia. They would give themselves eight 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. They had already found the lifestyle they were looking for and had been successful in becoming accomplished adventurers.
These adventurers had more time than money and were consciously escaping the first world. The idea was to make a statement against modern life. Traveling to third world countries was their way of expressing disagreement with the hectic first world.
Nowadays, if you travel through Central America, you will find a different kind of backpacker. This adventure seeker needs to work harder now to find his escape. He will need to travel to even less accessible locations to avoid the vacation atmosphere found in popular destinations throughout Central American countries. Backpacking and adventure tourism has grown more fashionable over the last ten years. It is now most common to take a two or three-week holiday to an exotic place like Guatemala.
This new adventure tourist is much less adventurous as our explorers ten years ago. He is not interested in departing from daily first-world life. He is simply looking for a short break from it all. This adventurer does not have the time to really adjust to another lifestyle; he just wants a taste of it, a tiny bite. Not genuinely interested in getting 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 loosing 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.