I’ve been blogging for the best part of 4 years now – under a number of different sites – and last Friday I had a first.

I received my first negative blog comment.

Now over the last year I’ve noticed a lot more interaction on the site – heaps of new fans, some great feedback on articles and I receive a good dozen or so emails a day from people asking advice and what not.

This gets me pretty stoked to continue doing what I do and I’m more than happy to email people back and pass on things I’ve learnt along the way.

Now I’m all for receiving constructive criticism – but this is what was posted on my article “10 Myths About Backpacker Travel”

big john chil-axn hostel cambodia

Oh How Nice Of You To Stop By And Take The Time To Comment…!

Now this is neither constructive nor criticism really – it’s an outright, blunt slander which seems pretty aimed at both myself and my readers.

My first instinct was to simple whack it in the spam comments folder and not let it see the light of day. But then I noticed something odd – the link that was provided with the comment was a link to a Facebook page.

But not a personal page, no a hostel page.

So called “John (Big John)” as he rather amusingly labelled himself either runs a hostel, manages a hostel or god forbid is the social media guy for a hostel (in which case he should be fired immediately!).

It turns out after some internet digging, that he is in fact the owner.

Now I’ve not included any links to either his hostel site (which works very poorly) nor his Facebook page as the majority of spam comments I receive are simply to gain back links to sites – something I won’t give him the pleasure of receiving.

But lets deconstruct his comment.


Define Backpacking

First off lets look at the English Dictionary definition of backpack and backpacking



[no object] (usually as noun backpacking)

  • travel or hike carrying one’s belongings in a rucksack:a week’s backpacking in the Pyrenees


reasons not to go backpacking

Me, Being a Substance Abusing Loner…Obviously.

Now that basically means anyone traveling a backpack is a backpacker – which is pretty common sense really.

So yes his ‘original’ definition of backpacker does seem ‘lost’.

However like everything in life, history and evolution things change. They evolve and they grow.

They also develop sub genres caption under a single umbrella term.

Take surfing for instance. This once meant ancient Hawaiians who surfed large wooden boards to decide who would rule the islands.

Now I’m a mid twenties, white, Englishman who rides an epoxy foam board. Yet I’m still a surfer.

I’m just as much a surfer as the old dude who rides a longboard, or the young grom who busts airs on his 3 fin shortboard.

We’re all surfers but very different sub genres.


Backpacking travel is no different. It’s not an exclusive club and anyone can get involved.

…and why judge people on how they wish to spend their holidays and travel time? Some people like to sunbathe, some like to chill in the pool, some people like to dabble in some not so legal stuff.

End of the day it’s their lives, their time and their money. If that’s what they want to do then so be it.

He could’ve easily said it was a few people that have spoiled the image of the backpacker for others – but no, he prefers to clearly tarnish everyone with the same brush.


A Changing Industry And Market

Travel as an industry has boomed in the last 10-20 years, budget travel has opened up the world to the masses even more recently and the term “gap year” and “backpacking” has spawned a multi billion dollar industry across the world – from the rainforest of the Amazon to the thriving cityscapes of Sydney.

Yes some people spend a lot of their travel time getting messed up and making bad decisions, but a lot of people like to explore the world – myself included – and balance nights of partying with days exploring some of the amazing places I’ve been to.

“Big John” is simply spitting out his dummy because “backpackers” don’t all fit nicely into his prehistoric perceived stereotype of the word.

But unfortunately life isn’t that simple.

Things move on. Things change. Cultures and ideas are complex. Deal with it. 


Bob Dylan once wrote “times they are a changing” – travel is no exception to this.


Maybe Big John has simply not come across the term “gap yah” which is surely a more fitting sub genre to his point?

But lets also not overlook the point that “Big John” has become part of the corporate travel machine – whether he likes it or not.

He does run a hostel afterall.


Slight Hypocrite?! 

He makes a very specific mention to taxis, wifi and substance abuse as part of his pet hates in the new definition of backpacker. So lets take a look at one of his ads on Facebook shall we…

chil-axn hostel cambodia big john

Yup – Totally Geared Up For Intrepid Backpackers Seeking Out Adventure And The Unknown…

Hmmm….it seems “Big John” is happy to use free wifi, private rooms, cable TV and even en suites as selling points to his property.

Seems like he’s catering to the very “backpacker” types he so despises hey?

Forgive me if I’m wrong but I’m pretty sure the original backpackers he so cherishes wouldn’t have cared for such things and would be busy setting up their tents and hammocks elsewhere – let alone in Sihnoukville which Backpacker Becki summed up pretty well as “one of the most un-Cambodian parts of Cambodia”.

He’s happy to take your money but I doubt you could expect a warm welcome rocking up to his establishment in a taxi (directions for which he happily supplies) with your Chang tshirt, fake Oakleys and anklets on.

You’ll also notice that his ad promotes his bar and cheap drinks specials. Even going as far as saying if you spend more than $7 he’ll put you up for free.

I’m sure the original backpackers would be more likely to explore the town, eat some street food and spend their time on the beach or trekking through the jungle than spending their time by the pool of some Aussie owned hostel?

There’s a well used phrase that springs to mind here;


“Don’t bite the hand that feeds you”


It’s interesting to see that Big John also lists his political views as “very liberal” (yes this whole comment was so hypocritical and random it annoyed me to the point of trying to find out more about him before going ahead with this post!) yet his tone and actions seem completely the opposite.

…but it digress.


Pick A More Appropriate Outlet…

What really bugged me about this whole thing was the fact although he thought it (which he’s very entitled to do so despite being a massive hypocrite) is he decided to voice that opinion.

chil-axn hostel sihanoukville cambodia

An Odd Way To Describe Your Customers…

Again he’s very entitled to do so – but why voice the same comment on not only my blog, but his hostels facebook page (although I now notice that it has since been removed after a few of my blogger buddies questioned his comments) and his own facebook page?!

Not only that but on each occasion linking back to MY article?!

Did he even read the article?!

By his response I doubt it.

Did he do any extra reading about me or my adventures?

I doubt that either.

Because if he had he would’ve realised the article was in fact encouraging people to go see the world and not be content with life in an office, and he would’ve also discovered that I don’t think the world owes me a living – nope I work hard at what I do and I’m stoked to say I’ve achieved it all off my own back – all clearly and openly explained in my post “how the hell do I afford all this travel?!”.

Even still he decided to take the time out of his obviously very slow day to have a go at not just myself – but everyone who takes the time to read through my site.


Sometimes if you don’t have anything nice or constructive to say then it’s best not to say anything at all.


I’m actually heading to Sihanoukville in the next few weeks, but you can rest assured I won’t be parting with my hard earned dollar at Big Johns establishment – nope I’ll even go as far as suggesting 2 other places you should stay instead of his place;


  • The Led Zephyr Backstage Bungalows
  • Koh Rong Backpackers


I’ve not personally stayed at either yet (I’ll hit up both on my upcoming trip) but both have higher ratings than Big Johns place on a number of review websites.


And Breathe…

Travel is meant to open your mind and broaden your horizons, teaching you to accept and interact with people from a variety of backgrounds, lifestyle choices and nationalities.

Clearly – despite his obvious expertise on what backpacking really is – Big John has completely overlooked that fact.


Maybe he should just travel more.

Failing that – he should just keep quiet.

Or just find another website to read through.


**DISCLAIMER – I’m not a very angry, ranting person by nature but this guy caught me totally at the wrong time!**

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36 Responses

  1. Bekki

    And that’s why you’re an awesome blogger and he’s not, personally loving the blogs and continue to be jealous of your lifestyle and your ambition and the hard work you put in to maintaining it! Screw you ‘Big John’!! x

  2. Si @ Man vs World

    Good call – this guy was being really obnoxious. The definition of a backpacker is just someone travelling with a backpack; I’m tired of the cliches and stereotypes – it doesn’t have to mean “hardy” or necessarily “adventurous”. I think it’s more about doing it on a budget, and in Asia you can get a lot for not much money.
    Si @ Man vs World recently posted..The 30 best places to visit in Europe (30-21)My Profile

    • Chris

      Indeed – it was the blanket tarnishing and hypocrisy of the whole thing that really bugged me, not to mention the fact he dragged my blog into it!

  3. Michelle R

    Hi Chris. Love reading your posts. We are so lucky to have had the pleasure of meeting you personally, so know what a great guy you are. Good on you for your response to this “Big John”. “Small” of course would be more accurate. As you say, everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but the smart and “big” people should be clever about the way that they share. Traveling is a passion that many of us share. Some of us did it, some of us are doing it, some of us are remembering it, some of us are waiting to do it again soon! Whatever. However. Some people are not lucky enough to be able to do it. And people do it in different styles – your surfing analogy is spot on. Anyone involved in providing good or services to those travelers should remember to be a bit grateful – and professional. We all (in any industry) deal with annoying/rude/whatever/whatever customers. Yet John’s response to your article – which is positive/informative/encouraging/etc/etc – is completely rude. So, keep up with everything you are doing Chris. We know you well enough to know that you will. The world needs a few more guys like you. Hopefully you might impact a little on John. He needs to take a long hard look at himself. You can feel free to forward this comment to him if you like. If he’s a “Big” man, he might take a bit of his precious spare time and respond! I’d love to see it. I’m sure that he knows that the measure of a good business (or head person of a business) is not the way they handle the compliments – it’s the way they handle the complaints. Hm, let’s see! As always, best wishes from Martin and I. – Michelle R (the Zermatters). :-)

    • Chris

      cheers for the amazing words Michelle – glad to know someone in the tourism and travel business themselves agrees with me too and that it wasn’t just a backpacker perspective.
      I’m intrigued to see if he responds to this post too – guess that will be a true measure of what he’s like!

  4. Ross

    Really great post man, i laughed the whole way through. I get so tired of the people out there who claim “You’re only a REAL backpacker if….” It’s all B.S….Everyone has a different reason for travelling and that reason shouldn’t be judged because it doesn’t line up with what some knob job hostel owner thinks. Perhaps it is time he found himself a new industry because of obviously he’s too jaded to still be in this one.
    Ross recently posted..The Worst of Humanity – The Killing Fields of CambodiaMy Profile

    • Chris

      Glad it made you chuckle Ross – I just couldn’t believe he’d make a comment like that so publicly AND link back to his hostel!
      I agree with you he’d obviously jaded.

    • Chris

      cheers for sharing Becki – glad not everyone in the travel industry is like this!

  5. Emily

    Excuse my french but what a t**t! Now let’s just have a look at what he’s said and prove how he is oh so wrong!

    Lonely- i think it’s safe to say that backpackers are probably the least lonely people out there. They leave home, a lot of the time alone ( may i clarify for him that being alone and being lonely are two separate things) with the expectation of meeting like minded people along the way to travel with, to become friends with. They also meet many locals who they become friendly with. In fact because they go alone it forces them to put themselves out there and meet new people. More so than somebody who has gone with a friend who doesn’t need to make such an effort. So the alone backpacker is actually the one with a big group of friends wherever he/she goes.

    Desperate- Now this cold be both a positive and negative statement depending on the context it is being used and the subject of which you are desperate for. With relation to backpacking i can only assume he means desperate to explore the world, meet new people, immerse yourself in other cultures and experience how everyone else in the world lives. Therefore i would not be insulted to be called desperate. It’s a compliment to be desperate to travel. But of course he is probably one of those people who speaks before he thinks and is therefore unaware of the compliment.

    WIFI- i would love to know how he thinks you would stay in contact with friends and family without it. Surely he wouldn’t expect you to use your phone and pay ridiculous roaming charges. In fact without that wifi to stay in contact…wouldn’t that make you ‘lonely’?

    Transport- all i can say is that he obviously ran out of insults. Let’s be serious, unless he expects you to walk and swim, 24,901.55 miles around the earth then transport is an unavoidable means of getting around.

    Substance abuse- this is just a stereotypical generalisation the term backpacker. In actual fact those ‘substance abusers’ are generally in the minority, and more often than not they are not backpackers but holiday makers who have escaped their everyday lives for a few weeks to visit places like Thailand for example to let their hair down. And how exactly would someone with ‘substance abuse’ issues be able to afford to travel?

    Moron? – the only moron is him. An uneducated bully who has nothing better to do than sit in his hostel using that dreaded ‘wifi’, reading about how everyone else is having an amazing life and picking on them because of how they use the word ‘backpacker. The whole rant to you was over a WORD.

    Keep doing what your doing Chris, he’s just a ‘lonely’ idiot!

    • Holly

      hahaha I love both of these responses! you tell him guys!! what a sad, self-entitled man!

  6. Kristie

    What a dick! He makes me think straight away of those expats who see themselves as more local than the locals. You know the ones – turn up their noses at anyone visiting their adopted home.

    Should a backpacker’s hostel be calling backpackers morons who think the world owes them? Yeeeeeeah probably not.

    • Chris

      those people always make for amusing conversations hey Kristie?! I’ve met a few of them in my time on the road!

  7. Jessie

    I have to agree with you on this. First of all, he totally caught you at a bad moment. I understand, it happens to the best of us. Second of all, I totally get and agree with his comment. I’ve been traveling my entire life and have been living, working, and traveling in Southeast Asia since 2008. Since then, I’ve seen massive, massive changes. Changes to the kind of people traveling, how people travel, and businesses. Sadly, backpacking has lost its true meaning and now most businesses cater to a specific demographic of backpackers. I live in Kuala Lumpur now, and I see this everywhere. Even in some of the ‘off the beaten path’ spots. ”Backpacking’ travel is a trend and business now, and sometimes, you need to make ends meat. Even if you’re running a hostel gears toward backpackers. Maybe Big John isn’t completely happy, but wants to save up some cash to be an intrepid. No reason to hate on the poor guy and write this post.
    Jessie recently posted..Rules for being married to a travelerMy Profile

    • Chris

      I don’t hold back on the fact that there have been massive changes – it’s a huge industry now. Fair enough he might be saving and he might be trying to make ends meet – my major issue with the whole thing is why he had to voice that so openly on my site and use my site as the pin point for his rant when he shared it.
      …and at the end of the day he’s running a business for backpackers – if that’s how he feels it might be better for him to keep it quiet!

  8. Becki | Backpacker Becki

    Kristie – totally agree. I live in Cambodia on and off and experience this expat attitude frequently. I’ve even been called out for not being ‘good enough’ for my Khmer boyfriend because ‘I don’t love the country enough’. And that’s from an Australian guy who think’s he knows more because he is married to a local. It’s ridiculous to think you know better just because you have moved to a different country and call out new people visiting there.
    Becki | Backpacker Becki recently posted..What is Tokyo Like? 16 Things I Love About Japan’s Capital CityMy Profile

  9. Mary Beth

    what an obnoxious IDIOT!! i guess we can call him a human – “dumbass who talks without thinking”. since that clearly represents all humans.

    Mary Beth recently posted..CourseraMy Profile

    • Chris

      totally entitled to his opinion – there’s just better and more productive places to voice it!

  10. Lisette

    What a prejudgemental comment.. Just because some travelers prefer the comfort of a room to a tent does not mean they’re not adventurous!
    After all it sucks to receive negative comments (been there), but it’s a part of blogging. Just keep living your amazing life, your blog is great!

    • Chris

      each to their own hey Lisette – I’ve been on the road solidly for 2 years now and every so often I simply fancy a bit of luxury and some comfort!

  11. Christine | GRRRRLTRAVELER

    Great post and what a moron. But I’ll also bet there are more out there. With some hostels and guesthouses places, I can understand the resentment and frustration a bit. Especially if you have unruly travelers that you have to clean up after day after day. But what an idiot to leave your name linking to a business that connects to a hospitality-tourist related service. ha ha… Guess he didn’t think that one through.
    Christine | GRRRRLTRAVELER recently posted..Getting to the Floating Market of Damnoen SaduakMy Profile

    • Chris

      I can imagine dealing with that everyday does get tiresome – but it’s also part of the job, you can’t have it all roses and clover all the time. The fact he included that link still puzzles me…

  12. Jessica Wray

    I was annoyed when I saw this on twitter but hearing that this sad man also named his hostel “Chil-AXN” makes me laugh. What a god awful name!

    Bad name for a bad hostel owner. So glad I never stayed there! If you get to Otres Beach while in Sihanoukville…the hostel Mushroom Point is great….and the sandwiches on their menu are amazing!
    Jessica Wray recently posted..Aloo Go…What? : Learning the Language of Indian FoodMy Profile

    • Chris

      Cheers for the suggestion Jessica – much appreciated.

      The hostel name is ok, but personally I feel the actions of the owner aren’t.

  13. Carl

    Wow… So, hostel owner comes on to backpacking website – read by lots of potential clientele – and decides to tar every single customer he’s ever had or will have with the same negative brush. Publically.

    Marketing genius right there!

    Still I guess if he’s that jaded with it all a few more public masterstrokes like this one will see him out of the hostel/guesthouse industry in the very near future. I’ll guess he may feel slightly different about “backpac”-sorry, dirty word to John – “travellers” then…

    I’m not sure where the name “Big” John has come from, but it’s definitely not referring to the size of his brain.
    Carl recently posted..That Time I Quickly Recapped My Amsterdam WeekendMy Profile

  14. John (Big John)

    Hey guys, I’m sorry if I’m showing my age , now 52, and awareness of what backpacking has come to mean to many. I’m clearly not saying everyone and look forward to meeting those who break the newer mould. I first put on a backpack when I was 16 and hitch-hiked halfway across Australia. It’s well over 20 years ago I first visited Southeast Asia and getting close to 20 years that I’ve been living here, I first opened a guesthouse in Bangkok in 2001. I now run a hostel/guesthouse for budget travellers which is group and family orientated. We have a restaurant and sell alcohol, but don’t keep it open 24 hours, nor do we encourage people to over consume or seek to take advantage of those who do. We are not located in the tourist trap/party zone of Sihanoukville, but a middle/working class part of Sihanoukville, 600m from Victory Beach, on Victory Hill, with possibly the best ocean and Island view, of the Bay of Kampong Som and Koh Rong and other islands, in Sihanoukville. As you may imagine I’ve seen a lot of things change over the years. I speak my mind, even if it’s not what other people would like to hear. To those I haven’t offended I look forward to seeing you when you are in Sihanoukville. Have a chil-axn day. Big John


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