If it's a regular tattoo, don't even bother. They might have been symbols of feisty rebellion in the 1980s, but now they're the province of wannabe models and investment bankers who dream of living dangerously. Flowers, yin-yang symbols, Chinese letters — all dead giveaways. You might as well travel with your iPad, suit and white picket fence. If you're flaunting a tattoo it must be suitably incomprehensible and deliberately ambiguous. Make sure you get it done by a wild-child in a grungy hut on a secluded beach in Laos. A chic tattoo is all about the story.
“For mine is a generation that circles the globe and searches for something we haven't tried before… Just keep your mind open and suck in the experience. And if it hurts, you know what? It's probably worth it.” Unfamiliar? Uh oh. You just failed Backpacker Chic 101. It's a classic backpacker anthem: Angelo Badalamenti & Orbital's track from Danny Boyle's classic backpacker movie “The Beach”. Make sure your iPod is filled with similarly alternative music. One Britney Spears track, and you're out of the charmed circle.
As the track suggests, it's all about finding paradise — regardless of the emotional and physical cost. (The economic cost, on the other hand, is always a factor. You have to travel cheap. So don't even think of hailing a cab, ever.) No iPhones. No travel apps. No guide books. A frayed copy of the ‘Hitchhikers' guide to the galaxy' is acceptable. Word-of-mouth and hand-me-down maps should be your main source of information. After all, for true backpacker chic, you need to follow a trail of whispers to find the secret beach at the end of the rainbow.
Flip flops, not stilettos. Preferably flip flops bought cheap along with Grateful Dead CDs on Khao San Road in Bangkok, or some similarly suitably hippy-chic destination. Multiple silver bracelets to reflect your ‘free spirit' are acceptable. Especially if you layer them with beads picked up from somewhere exotic — such as the Camargue Gypsy Festival in Provence. Throw in a bright sarong, which doubles up as a towel, skirt and shawl. The final touch: dreadlocks. If they take too long to grow, cheat with sea salt spray for that elegantly messy look.
No Facebook. No photographs. No Blackberry. Think that's hard? We're not done. No itinerary. No booking ahead. No credit cards. It's all about being spontaneous. Going where your spirit guides you. (And when it guides you to the Hilton, firmly say no.) Backpacking is about discovering yourself, and getting helplessly immersed in a new culture. Not finding a set of new awe-inspiring profile pictures for your Facebook homepage.
In this competitive world of jaded travellers, it helps to have a theme. ‘Party chaser', for instance. Hit the full moon parties all over South East Asia for starters. Haad Rin Beach on Koh Pha Ngan draws 50,000 people each year. Getting excited? You've failed again. It's all about discovery, right? So get your ear to the ground and find parties no one knows about. Think Sihanoukville in Cambodia or the That Luang festival in Vientiane, Laos, which coincides with the River Bank Rave on the Mekong. Then, 10 years from now, you can say, ‘I was there when it all began'. Now that's true backpacker chic.