Living out of a backpack for almost a year has its downsides. Firstly, you get sick of wearing the same old clothes. How many times will you have to wear those jeans with the rip in the crotch? Or that t-shirt with the stain from those noodles you ate in China seven months ago? What about the white socks that are so dirty they could almost walk on their own because you have only been washing colours and not whites?
Secondly, the backpack attracts a wealth of strange objects. Like, for instance, the evil eye you bought in Istanbul that has been rattling around the bottom of your pack since the start of the trip. Or, the “cleansed” crystal a man with a pirate vest gave you in Glastonbury that you have attached feelings of luck to. If you are a hoarder – like some of us are – you will end up with a range of objects you don’t really want to keep but feel you have to. For instance, travel adapters that broke days ago, make-up that is virtually moulding, and lollies that no longer taste like sugar but more like mildew.
Thirdly, the pack is just plain heavy. It hurts your back when you sprint across the station to catch the train that is leaving in a matter of seconds. Or when you have to carry it for hours across the city of Chengdu in China because you have under-estimated the distance of the hostel from the bus station.
As you slip into the world of travel your backpack suddenly becomes your baby. You watch it like a hawk, striving to protect it from the hands of foreign snatchers. In dodgy situations you become paranoid about it. You death-stare anyone who even glances at it. In moments of pure hysteria you assume everyone is a bag thief until proven otherwise. You watch as bus drivers load it into storage with the kind of attention that is usually reserved for exams. On over-night bus trips you sleep with one eye open, ensuring the lovely person behind you doesn’t transform into a bag-stealer when you let your guard down. You hug your pack to you.
Without it, however, travelling would not be the same.
Your backpack gives you status. It is your key into the travelers club. As people see you walking down the street with your overgrown hair, stained shirt and pack, you are no longer just a tourist- you are a backpacker. With this backpack, you are welcomed into hostels with open arms. You will easily be trusted by others in the club who you meet at the airports, stations and various other locations you end up during your travels. The backpack is a symbol of all backpacks. That is your club motto.
In some countries, your pack earns you respect. People look at you in awe and ponder aloud how such a little girl can carry a pack that is almost the size of her. Suddenly, you are strong beyond your means. You are powerful. You smugly pick up your pack with your amazing strength and carry it down the road for the world to see. What they don’t see is that moment after you turn the corner where you beg your boyfriend to carry it for you.
But most importantly your pack is your temporary home. It even smells like you. While you are away it carries all your worldly possessions. It has your camera with months’ worth of valuable, once-in-a-lifetime photos. It has the trinkets and knick-knacks you have thoughtfully collected from a range of different countries. It has your traveler’s wardrobe that instantly makes you look like an adventurer and your bag of medication that will put a stop to traveler’s diarrhea and cure you of those pesky, persistent intestinal worms.
And, when the trip is over, your backpack serves as a constant happy reminder. It sat on the tarmac with you at Heathrow Airport for five hours while they sorted out the technical problem that was only meant to take fifteen minutes to fix. It rode on the back of a pack-horse while you hiked through the Sacred Valley toward the majestic Machu Picchu. It slept beside you in the countless hostels you visited all over the world. It spent several cosy nights in the comfort of your great-aunt’s house in Belfast, Ireland. That pack took a romantic stroll through the quiet streets of fairytale-like Innsbruck, staring at the snow-capped mountains.
You enjoyed your time with the backpack. It’s been there with you every step of the way. Despite some of the physical pain it caused you, you would take it away again sometime.