A Solo Female Traveler's Experiences On And Off The Beaten Path

The Moment You Hate Everything In Your Travel Backpack



It has been nearly three months that I have been on the road and I officially hate everything in my travel backpack. It is not because of the weight; my backpack has actually gotten lighter. This may be because I have a dwindling supply of fruit strips, and I am no longer carrying three bars of soap. Or it could be because of the missing, red long-sleeve shirt that I believe was “left” in Tonsupa, Ecuador. Regardless, I know for certain that it is not weight causing the hatred of my travel backpack contents. I believe it is purely because my backpack contains all of my possessions. It is what saddles me; what holds everything I need to survive—or so I think. I am committed to my backpack, the one thing that life on the road is supposed to clear one of completely: commitments.

If I lose something in my backpack: my ear phones, a shirt, my ten-key, or (heaven forbid) my computer, I am left without. Some things can be replaced easily; for example, a shirt or toiletry item. Others not so much, like my computer or Kindle (the horror!!!). The stress I used to have in life over work, relationships, paying the electricity bill on time, and other “normal” things has been replaced by fear of losing things in my backpack. I have a lock for my computer, my backpack, and a small travel safe for my valuables. It does not matter. I still feel the stress of knowing that all I have fits on my back, and I do not want to lose even the smallest item. I obsessed over the missing red shirt for two days. They do sell red shirts on the road, in nearly every town and city. It is not a big deal, but it was one of the few things I could call my own amidst a lifestyle of things borrowed—a pillow, a blanket, kitchen utensils, a chair to relax on. I have nothing but what is in my backpack to call my own.

My Maxpedition Fliegerduffel Travel Backpack

My Maxpedition Fliegerduffel Travel Backpack

My fear is only propagated during bus travel. I have my day pack, that carries my computer, safe, Kindle, and other items I must have strapped to my person at all times. But my main backpack has to go in the bus carriage. For hours on end I sit on the bus, trying to relax while at every stop the carriage is opened for other passengers to place their bags inside. I try to think the best of people. To imagine that no one would steal my backpack. They must know it is my entire life, right? The reality is that people do steal things; and not only in South America, but around in the world (The States, included). So far my bag has arrived safely at each destination. This does not qualm my fears that one day it may not. This irrational fear can only be described as similar to not remembering if you locked the door or turned off the stove before a long vacation. I used to have neighbors that could check on that for me, and my anxiety would alleviate. Then there were the times where I wished my apartment would get broken into because the insurance money would have been great to receive—an entirely different conversation, I know. I do not have a neighbor who will sit in the carriage and watch my backpack. I am at the mercy of humankind. I do tend to peak out the window often at stops, though, to make sure no one is heaving a large Maxpedition Fliegerduffel backpack onto their back and making haste. I would like to see someone try and be quick about it—it is not light, by any means.

Hating the contents of my travel backpack can also be attributed to having to wear the same clothes day in and day out. I wake up and look at the weather and have minimal choices. One pair of jeans, one sweater, a couple tank tops, a few sundresses. Two of my sundresses I have been ready to toss in the trash multiple times because they have proven to not be suitable for the conditions I have been living in. That may sound strange given the warm climate in South America but it is true. I really wish I had packed two others I own, safely tucked away in a closet at my parent’s house, because they have straps and are longer. Live and learn. Wearing the same clothes has also made an impact on picture taking. Just today I was hiking and realized that two months ago on a similar hike in another city, in another country, I was wearing the exact same outfit. I could have taken a picture of myself today, placed it next to another one, and no one would ever know they were from two different days, months even, in the same given year. I am forever grateful that my Xperia phone GPS locates where I take a picture, and includes the date. Otherwise I could look back in five years and never know they were different times in my life.

I have taken to buying new clothes as I find something I like on the road. The rule to this though is that I must dispose of something else in order to acquire something new. When I added leggings and a dress to my backpack, without disposing of others items to compensate, my bag did not want to close and I had to practically sit on it in order for it to cooperate. I tried to blame the massive amounts of sunscreen; that only got me so far. The missing red shirt freed up some space, so I was able to use that to warrant the inclusion of a skirt I purchased in Canoa, Ecuador. I purchased the skirt for three reasons: 1. It fit me thanks to adjustable buttons 2. It could be worn over leggings in the evening to help protect from mosquitos 3. It matched two other shirts I already had in my backpack. You cannot go buying a skirt that will not match anything else because then you’ll feel obligated to buy more. That is a big no-no. The dress I purchased in Bucaramanga was merely because it was awesome; and it fit (yes, this is a recurring theme as I find it difficult to locate my size at home and abroad). The leggings…that topic has already been discussed over vampire mosquitos.

I am still tempted all the time to dispose of the two sun dresses I despise but I stop myself each and every time. Why, especially since I may never wear them? Laundry day. There are times when laundry service is not an option. The sink works only so well without stoppers and so you end up wearing clothes that would normally be considered dirty; or you have your back-up clothes for when laundry day comes. These sundresses have come in handy on laundry day. If I were to dispose of them I would lose two items of clothing that I could wear; be it laundry day or not. I do not have the luxury of throwing clothes away for no good reason. When everything you own will fit in one load of wash you suck it up and accept that you may not like that dress, it may be impracticable, you may only wear it once a month, or never at all, but it is sticking around out of fear that it may be the only thing you have left one day. Do I sound a bit overdramatic? Maybe. But you try living with only what a travel backpack will carry for months, years, and then tell me if you understand. I stained a white tank top weeks ago but I kept it anyways. Same goes for another cream top I accidentally got pink on around the bottom during an ill-fated laundry washing experience in the shower. Why I packed anything white/light-colored perplexes me. Live and learn.

That brings me to an item of clothing that I would love to chuck out the window of a bus…my fancy bras and underwear. Every girl likes pretty underthings; I am no exception. But try and find a washing machine with a gentle cycle. Better yet, try and explain to the laundry service that they need to wash them in a gentle bag and not dry them. Ha! I have managed to explain, and they do understand, but it is a headache. I really wish I was a cotton kind of gal and could travel with plain Jane lingerie. I know that day will never come, and because of it my pretty underthings are taking a beating in the washing machine. I try and tell myself it will be okay because it means I can buy new ones for next year’s adventure since these are doomed to fall apart. The irrationality of packing them does not escape me. Nor does knowing that I will once again hate carrying them in backpack. We all need some semblance of normality on the road; to hold onto something that makes us feel like ourselves, even when we are completely out of our element. That something just may be pretty underthings. Then again, if anyone reports sightings of lace and silk underwear and bras littering a South American highway you now know to whom they belong and that I finally had enough.

The fear of losing other items in my backpack is much worse than clothing as I know clothing is easily replaceable. Take into account toiletries. I have specific travel essentials that I like; certain brands that you can only get in The States (for the most part). If my Replenix face lotion goes missing it may lead to an epic breakdown. The same can be said for my contact lenses, on a much grander scale. I do not want to consider how I would react if my assortment of hats disappeared. The important items are a given; the computer, Kindle, etc. It is the other items, the ones that somehow have replaced the bigger commodities of life that I used to have when I had a home, that begin to mean more to me than they ever did before. I’ve never been so attached to a USB stick in my life.

Life on the road is an amazing experience. Living out of a backpack creates an appreciation for all things. The fears I have over losing items in my backpack are unfounded to an extent, this I know. But the fear is real. Just like those who have a normal existence, and are afraid of losing it all, I have transferred that type of fear to my backpack. I hate it for becoming what I possess, and for me caring so much about it. I despise the commitment I have with it and that without it I will feel hopeless, afraid, and completely without. I also hate that it is the one thing that does keep me connected to my old self. Many of the items I carry remind me in some way or another of my old life. However much I may want to leave it behind there will always be something lurking in my backpack that can bring back a memory.

I’ll stick with my backpack, even if I hate everything inside of it right now. I may not tomorrow, or I may still. Only time will tell. I do know I would like it a lot more if it was carrying gummy bears and tortilla chips. I’d even settle for Lay’s Sour Cream ’N Onion chips right now. Yes, that is the amazing thing about the items in my backpack. No matter how much I hate them, I do not miss all of the things I used to own. When I think about what I miss back home—not including my family, of course—I think of food. When I consider that I realize I was meant to live with only the contents of a backpack. This is one commitment I am wiling to make.

**Keep in mind, though, that when I return home to visit I am considering having a massive bonfire wherein I will burn every item currently in my backpack. Then I’ll pack for the next trip.

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