Today's backpacker might be heading for clean climates in the southern hemisphere, but this sensible advice makes me ill

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The Independent Travel
Here's a depressing thought: backpackers don't like hot, crowded, dirty countries any more. These days they prefer cool, empty and clean ones.

I'm talking about the results of a reader survey published last week in the magazine Wanderlust, revealing the current tastes of independent travellers, who have, it appears, turned their backs on traditional backpacker hunting grounds like India, Nepal and Thailand. Instead, they have all transferred to New Zealand and Chile, because these are the places where you can find space and fresh air.

What a fickle thing is travel. After all, it was only a couple of months ago that we were hearing about the dissolute young backpackers who never bothered to explore the places they were travelling to, but instead spent all of their holiday time having group sex and smoking dodgy weeds in palm-frond huts on tropical beaches.

At least the huts sounded fun, though, which is more than can be said for these bleak, lonely places at the bottom of the world, menaced by glaciers and hurricane-force winds and populated by sheep rather than people.

One thing is certain: people are not going to places like New Zealand or Chile in order to live in palm-frond huts and play didgeridoos on bacchic moonlit nights by the beach. Well, not if they have got any sense, they aren't.

New Zealand's South Island, for starters, has one of the rainiest coastal fringes on earth. Nor do tropical fruits grow on the trees there (but glacial landslips are possible). As for Chile, well, I am not convinced that spliffs on the beach at any time of night or day are a good idea in a country where Augusto Pinochet still has immunity from the law.

But to today's independent travellers, it seems, these are irrelevancies anyway. This is because they are far too busy planning those healthy, happy, outdoor pursuits like sailing and horse riding and cycling and walking over vast, pristine, mountainous landscapes in the rain (and generally breasting the fresh, non-nuclear breezes of the southern hemisphere).

I can hear the bangles jangle now as dead old hippies turn restlessly in their smoke-filled dormitories in the sky. India? Nepal? Thailand? Spiritual nirvana? Cultural otherness? Roasting potentially toxic tropical fish over campfires while telling each other not to forget your chill pills? Sorry. Not if it means exposing yourself to unnecessary risk.

Inhaling incense fumes and drinking untreated water and sweating buckets and listening to beautiful Asiatic languages and tasting stenchy rotten bananas and sleeping with snakes and falling off the roofs of buses just aren't sensible things to do in this day and age.

Instead, get yourself off to the southern hemisphere as fast as possible. It's clean down there. There might not be a surfeit of cultural excitement or oriental wisdom, but the locals do at least speak familiar languages and the chances of Delhi belly, not to mention nuclear incineration, are significantly less.

No? Except that all this sensible advice is making me feel ill.

And the funny thing is that I suspect it will take a long and enlightening journey through the mystic east to enable me to recover.