Anthony Bourdain, on backpacks


I’m not really a foodie. Like, not in any sense of the word.

But of course I know about Anthony Bourdain and his shows. I’ve watched a few eps, and I definitely enjoy his sense of wit and self. An expert in his field just taking it all in as he wanders the planet. He’s got some great advice about traveling the world, of course. One of his thoughts is about the backpack, as your chosen piece of luggage:

I travel with a wheelie.

Unfortunately, a backpack sends a bad message in a lot of the world.
Others who’ve come before you have sent a bad message.

If you’re reading this blog, it may seem like I know a lot about backpacking culture…   but that’s not true. Not even close. It’s okay, but an incorrect conclusion or three are jumped to.

I do carry my stuff in backpack, and I occasionally stay in hostels. Yes, true.

But that’s really the start and finish of my contact with backpacker culture. I’m a little too old, a little too well off, and a little too used to nice things, maybe  (^_^   That sounds snarky, but there are definitely a few things that put me squarely outside the culture, and Bourdain’s thought brings that stuff into relief.

First, there’s the idea that backpackers carry a -ton- of stuff. Anything they might need, for any situation. In fucking enormous backpacks, and that the world must make room for both traveler and pack, accept both human and this steamer truck lashed to their body.

This sets the stage for an us-not-you kind of perception among Locals Everywhere that’s reinforced with a ( much ) more casual manner of dress, and general acceptance of what’s acceptable from a hygiene point of view. As far as manners, language, respectfulness of place…  I haven’t seen a lot of evidence one way or the other, but it’s easy based on how I know some people can think about “different” that backpackers get lumped into a sort of “mobile homeless” category.



Which brings me back to Bourdain’s quote.

While I will not ( ever ) use a wheelie, I think I’ve figured out another way to make a favorable impression when I travel, or at least to put some distance between me and the negative ripples of the backpacker image.

I wear khakis, as well as jeans. I don’t look like I’ve walked the entire distance I’ve traveled. Most days.  (^_^   When I have my bag at all, it definitely does not peg me as a backpacker. My bag looks like something your kid would use to bring books to school.

If I’m crafting any image at all, I guess it’s of an American vagabond, a sort of thoughtful wanderer at ease with minimal stuff and minimal impact on my immediate environment. Not a stumbling partier. Nothing against stumbling partiers, but that’s not who I am. There’s a part of me that wants the world to take us all for who we are, not assign us to groups based on momentary evaluation of appearances.

But there’s another part of me that knows that it almost never happens that way. When you travel, how do you think people see you? I’m not trying to blend in so much, but Bourdain’s quote made me realize I’m also trying unconsciously to also not be lumped in with a very specific group of travelers.

How do you dress? How do you spend your money? How are you different than the people who live in the places you are?

And how do you think this affects how you see things?