Updated: Jan 3
The glorious backpack; your customized version of the Swiss Army Knife. You decided what is important. Two pairs of underwear or three? Bring your razor or maybe it is time for your wild ape-man to emerge? Deodorant or natural odour? Every section has been stuffed, every pocket is packed, every crevice is crammed. Don’t worry, the only way this knife will stab you in the back is if you purchase a low-quality one and then proceed to pack it wrong. (How to pack right)
You start off as so many before you have- saying goodbye at the airport to your loved ones/ the ones that bothered to show up/ no one. You pass through security, dignity still intact (questionable). It’s official. You’re at an airport about to go on an adventure! Perhaps a few high fives to those strangers who happen to walk in your path of awesomeness. Perhaps a personal fist pump in secret, accompanied by a goofy grin. Perhaps an emotional breakdown in the restroom. Regardless, you are clean shaved, you have flowing locks of recently washed hair, you smell of rich pine and the fate of Middle Earth doesn’t rest in your hands!
8 hours on a plane. There is something about planes that I can’t quite put my finger on. You board looking reasonable and leave looking terrible. It is as if you watch one of those makeover shows backward. I digress.
Your backpack and you
The Elements: Remember when you “tested” your filled backpack by swiftly jogging back and forth down your hallway in your Costco socks? Your ripped, muscular bod can definitely handle the 23 kilos. “Fool of a Took!” Gandalf’s words, not mine. Let me introduce you to Mother Nature.
HEAT: Your straps are carving the word pain into your tender shoulders deeper and deeper with every movement. Your face is as shiny as a buttered seal. Your skin cries out in the form of salty beads dripping down the creases of your arm. You may not have the ring to destroy but at this point, the four steps to your hostel are more like the trek to Mount Doom. The overwhelming humidity has turned your clothes into a second layer of skin. How is that 23 kilos feeling now?
You thought camping in 40-degree weather was a good idea because cheap is always a good idea. YOU ARE RIGHT. Mother Nature, that crafty fox, tries to trick you in thinking otherwise.
RAIN: Some backpacks are equipped with that tea -cozy esque plastic rain jacket. Use it. Love it. You look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle. Now, you don’t need any more convincing.
EVERYTHING ELSE: I can’t speak for the rest of your body but no matter what Mother Nature throws at you- sleet, snow, wind- always know that the small area between your shoulders and your lower back will be well protected.
The Look: If you don’t look like shit while you’re backpacking then you’re doing it wrong. You may as well bring a suitcase.
MUSK: That unpleasant aroma? It’s you. Pretty sure those are the same flies that have been following you since you left Sydney…
HAIR: Probably greasy at best. Most notably long, unclean and scraggly. Perhaps you thought dreads were a wonderful idea. Perhaps you got tired of hair and decided to shave it off. Regardless, I am sure your new hair looks okay.
ATTIRE: Out of the 526 photos of you, I am guessing in about 95% of them you are wearing the EXACT same outfit. The remainder 5% are some sort of variation of that outfit. Towards the end of your travels, you may be tempted to throw out your entire wardrobe. I urge you not to. Walking around naked is usually frowned upon in most countries. Keep in mind, if you are washing all of your clothes at once, make sure that you have clothing to wear in reserve or you may be spending the day/evening in a bedsheet. Yes, I am speaking from experience.
ARMBANDS: The smelly braids of string and beads that adorn your wrist is how you pay homage to your adventures. They are a non-committal tattoo. The skin underneath is most notably white, whereas the rest of the body may appear beige.
The “I Can’t Really Explain”: For some unknown reason you may find yourself doing things or acting a certain way which is very out of character, it is called growth. It could also be completely in character but at least now you have an excuse.
BAGS: You may have this sudden urge to start collecting plastic bags of all shapes and sizes from every market and shop you enter. Your beady eyes constantly scan the checkout stand for stragglers. You swiftly snatch one up from an alleyway then retreat into the darkness. WOAH! Let’s calm down Gollum. Week two out of a backpack and you realise you need a plastic bag for EVERYTHING. How can you separate your wet towel from your dry clothing? A bag. Where can you place your liquid soap so it won’t explode? A bag. If only your dirty shoes could be put somewhere! A bag. Just saying.
RESOURCEFULNESS: Again, you won’t be able to fully comprehend why you are beginning to act in such a manner but embrace it. For dinner, you require some pepper but don’t see the point in buying an entire shaker. Good thing fast food joints usually have such items in small packets in that condiment/ utensils thing they have set up. Your clothing is unwearable due to the stench of good times from the night prior? No problem. That is what dryer sheets are for. Just rub like a cloth over the affected area(s). Sitting in a park with the massive brick of cheese you just bought but have no fridge? Place it in the shade of a vehicle or a tree to keep cool and hope for the best. Looking rough since your last chance to shower? Make a trip to the beach- sand is a great exfoliator and the water is (hopefully) cleaner than you. (My post on Frugal Fixes may also be of some value).
The Attitude: “Ain’t nobody gonna break my stride, nobody gonna slow me down OHHH NOOO”
Finding yourself, getting lost, checking off some items on a list, creating memories, forgetting memories; whatever your reasoning, it is a good one, so enjoy every minute of it. Even the crap days. Soak it in. No matter how organized, mature and easy going you are, you will have days where you will want to curl up in a ball and weep, hugging your backpack for support, blaming the universe for all your misfortunes. IT IS NORMAL. You can’t spell dysfunctional without a little fun!
The common backpacker often struggles when trying to integrate back into society. Often, it could take weeks to get accustomed to civilization again. Numerous cases show that It greatly depends on the severity of your “growth”. Knowing what day/ month it is, regular showers, and mundane routines are all things your body needs to re-learn. I think it is safe to say that the strapping youngster you were at the departure lounge is no longer evident.