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Backpacker Generation: Why “Leaving it all Behind” doesn’t Work.

travel backpack woman

What we carry in our backpacks is the weight of our fears.

Some backpacks are made on a swift decision. Others are planned months in advance and ticked off with a checklist. Certain backpacks are made out of choice, and sometimes others are made because we had no choice. Be it to go far or to go hide next door. When we are making a backpack, there is more to it than just physical weight.

As I laid out the remainder of my clothes on an empty table and zipped up my backpack, I knew I was trying to pack a mess. I made a decision almost a year ago that I didn’t want to be committed to an apartment, a contract, rent or a job that didn’t move me. That it had all seemed pointless after so many years to work so many hours, not only to support myself since I was 18, but also to work for things I didn’t always believe in. The home I was in, the job I had and some of the people I knew just didn’t feel like “home” anymore.

What I wanted was the freedom to go whenever I wanted to.

Go incognito and re-invent myself in every new place I was in. Dare to do those things I never felt comfortable doing before. My plan had been to volunteer from hostel to hostel paying no rent in exchange for free labour. The months that followed I walked around a city with the feeling that a weight had been taken off of me. I was alone but I had chosen to be alone. If anything I was a solitaire. And it was liberating for once to look at myself that way.

But like any backpacker, I had given up the vertical ease of a closet where all my clothes had been aligned for years for a horizontal goulash of textile wrapped one under the other. I had come with a full backpack and that was all I allowed myself to carry.

When we see things in such a constrained space or possibility, it somehow gives us perspective on the fact that one needs to be sure of their choices.

Suddenly, we cannot spend two hours trying on different clothes as we struggle with our own image—because there is just no space nor mirrors for us to do. Perfectly ironed t-shirts are a thing of the past too when you travel. And adding things to a backpack becomes a burden as it weighs heavier and heavier. And every time we pick out a t-shirt it is like rambling our hands through a lottery machine—one never knows what they’ll pick out.

The idea of leaving it all behind to live life like a vagabond has been very appealing for years in my generation. But we seldom realise that this kind of life without commitments sometimes comes at the cost of a life without the conveniences we once knew: a home to call our own, a toothbrush in a fixed place, old friends to go to when we’re having a bad day or even a home cooked meal from our mother.

See, backpacks are emblems to travellers. They symbolize the travellers’ mobile nature and our need for freedom to go whenever we want to. They are built to accommodate easy access and storage. And a backpacker needs that like he needs air: the possibility and reminder that he can move and is constrained by nothing.

But when we spend enough time on the road, whether we want to or not, our backpacks mutate. And so do we.

As I moved to this kind of lifestyle in Madrid, I realised that what was once an emblem of mobility, now became a painstaking weight to carry around. I had gone from one store to the other buying new clothes just to fit with the local’s style. I bought one colourful dress after the other and thought it was a victory for the past tomboy that I was. I hated dresses really, but here abroad I thought I could push myself to like them and no one would notice. And the summer was the worst, as this frail white skinned Belgian girl who had never experienced a real summer suddenly had to walk legs and arms uncovered.

When travelling and wanting to change ourselves, we sometimes become schizophrenic chameleons in places whose language we are still learning and borrowing. And as thrilling as it is to go incognito anywhere and re-invent one’s self—some days, we just aren’t lively chameleons. Some days, we are just lost cats that hide under cars waiting for the traffic to pass.

Little do we know that sometimes the backpacks we are carrying are in fact heavy with burdensome personal baggage already. Somehow, all the while that we pack our underwear and t-shirts, our bags are already bursting with the layers of our constant self-questioning, our fears, our inner critic, and sometimes lack of self-love.

When we travel we get rid of our old comforts and routines. And so we grow more aware of who we are and who we aren’t, and of the difference between who we want to be and who we are right now. The kind of contrast we only ever really see when we get confronted with the blank canvas of ourselves echoed by the amount of free time and liberty we have when travelling or being in a new chapter of our lives.

In the end, it isn’t just about wanting to escape what we had before, it is mostly about escaping who we were before.

And travellers are adventurers.

We are mostly introverts that are seeking a way to grow out of it. We rarely think that growth isn’t just about pushing ourselves to become who we want to be. Sometimes, we just become who we want to become eventually, by making the choices that we’re asked not by our mind or our heart, but by our gut. Sometimes, it’s when looking back, rather than forward, that we see better today the person we are becoming.

So that day as I made my backpack again in these last seven months. I was offered a lesson on acceptance. I laid all my clothes and beauty products on a bed, and decided I’d make two bags this time.

One with all the things that I had always felt resembled me and that I needed. And another with all the things I bought that I thought I might need. And left behind only the last one.

In life or in travel, if we want to set out on an adventure with ourselves, the best backpacks we’ll ever make are those that will leave extra room for our own personal baggage.

And acknowledging this is what will allow us to carry it in the first place.

 

 

Author: Lauren Klarfeld

Image: Steven Lewis / Unsplash

Editor: Sara Kärpänen

 

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Leila Wright Jun 29, 2017 8:21am

I loved reading this, thanks Lauren. As a traveller myself, I can resonate with this so much in parts. Some people may not agree, but I think it all depends on the type of traveller you are. We are not all the same :) Beautiful writing!

Isabella Koepf Nov 30, 2016 4:50pm

Wow. So beautifully written and articulate. I could not agree more. Traveling is more than just seeing the sights, its an inner journey as well as an outer journey. Those who don't know that haven't reached that level of depth yet or are just too busy looking at the monuments outside rather than those that are inside. Travel is all about personal growth. There comes a point when that person you want to be actually becomes you, and at that point you are truly free. You no longer need to search for freedom in the world because you have found that freedom inside.

Manuele Carlini Nov 30, 2016 12:56pm

Nolan Kappelman I red it again and I understand your reply to my comment. maybe I missed the message on the conclusion, in fact I am not really sure how to interpretate "the best backpacks we’ll ever make are those that will leave extra room for our own personal baggage." But I stick to my position because even if the author wants to show an happy ending, this doesn't justify universal statement like: "In the end, it isn’t just about wanting to escape what we had before, it is mostly about escaping who we were before." That can be a personal opinion.

Nolan Kappelman Nov 30, 2016 11:58am

I feel like you didn't read the whole article or understand it. The main point isn't really clear until the end when she talks about how backpacking teaches us more about ourselves than we learn about others and how that causes us to realize what is actually valuable or necessary for us to be happy.

Manuele Carlini Nov 30, 2016 11:43am

Personally I think this kind of travel style teach people that what we leave behind, cosmetic product, perfect dresses, mirrors, netflix etc. are things we actually don't need, we can live happly even without. In fact I don't agree people became what they meant to be no matter what, the growt is orgainc and depends by our surrounding, the influence we receive. Those lessons are really important for our lives. Maybe for the author the backpack experience was not so positive, it can happen, but it definitely changed and inspire her. Than, if to embrace or not that change is a personal choice, but when somebody take the backpack and start traveling is not just escaping from who he is, he is seeking for a change for him/her self. What that change will be? nobody knows, that's why they call it adventure. Thank you Lauren for this article, good luck!

Karlos Rincón Nov 29, 2016 11:10pm

Beautiful adventure!!

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Lauren Klarfeld

Lauren Klarfeld is a freelance writer studying to be a life coach and currently writing a book, not on travel but on travellers. As a traveller herself, she roams country to country and hostel to hostel looking for interesting stories and people—but most of all quotes—to construct a portrait of the modern day traveller and the future traveller within us all. Her work in progress is visible on Facebook and Instagram and is in the process of becoming a book.

Connect with Lauren on her website.