This time of year is consistently filled with excitement (and for some, dread.) Softening twilights signal the end of summer, when we put down our popsicles (or mugs of hot tea, if you’re a San Franciscan) and pick up our books, strap on our backpacks. It’s back to school time.
The little girl who loved school, who couldn’t wait for classes to begin…could hardly have predicted the evolution of the phrase “back to school” as a thirty-year-old. She likely could not imagine that one simple object and its meaning, its weight, would evolve alongside her.
I head to Iceland with my backpack in just a few short days, for my annual independent backpacking trip. Once a year, I take at least one trip that is not related to work at all, one that gets me back to my backpacking roots. This is my attempt to keep the spirit of travel that I first fell in love with alive, especially as travel increasingly becomes my job and not just my passion. But more than that, it’s maintaining the connection to the person I become when I’m on free on the road. And to be honest, sometimes it’s hard to remember that person when I’m not traveling.
As such, the backpack itself has become a symbol of the changing seasons of life for me. Several times my heart has healed with a backpack on my shoulders. On the contrary, my heart has also been deeply broken while backpacking.
Whether it was there with me in a cramped European hostel, while zooming dustily off-road in a tuk-tuk, or walking in the mountains behind my parents’ home…my backpack has seen it all. It has helped me accept all the sides of myself and all the shades of my journey.
Wearing a new backpack in my beloved home of San Francisco prompted me to reflect on some of the meanings this simple object has taken on for me.
A backpack is…
I once placed so much emphasis on what I owned, what I acquired, what I accomplished. Living with so little — actually, only what could fit on my back — proved to be one of the greatest lessons and biggest changes for me.
You don’t have to put everything you own or fit everything you value into a backpack. You just have to know the feeling of being able to do so. No matter how heavy your pack, the ability to get up and go — and know that you’ll be okay if you do — ironically makes you feel weightless. It’s addicting.
Because with my backpack I’m no longer just the girl who always wore pink, the girl who never got less than straight As, or the girl who always said the right thing.
I’m the girl who backpacked across India and Nepal by herself, who survived betrayal, who fell down (hard) and got back up, who started over, who refuses to settle.
I’m the girl who summits mountains and jumps off of them, bungees off of a New Zealand bridge, runs from rhinos, drives a hard bargain at a Cairo market, and joins a stranger for tea…the girl who tells someone when she loves them, who departs without plans, who has learned (and re-learned) how to trust. I’m even the girl who has had her backpack ripped from her arms with a gun to her head, and who strongly rebuilt who she is — one content of that backpack at a time.
I’m the girl who speaks up, raises her hand (well, some of the time,) and knows that fearless is nothing compared to feeling the fear and doing it anyways.
I’m the girl who lives with no regrets, no matter the tatters, the scars, and the doubts it takes to live a life that is true to yourself.
This year’s backpacking trip is especially significant to me. Last year’s to Colombia was cut short, and many of you know why that is. (It’s no coincidence Iceland is one of the world’s safest destinations, I’ll tell you that much.) P.S. I’m presently dredging through the painful process of writing about that incident, and hope to share the full story with you all soon.
I’m also returning to the road for the first time with my dear friend and best travel companion, a friend who now also lives in San Francisco with me, with whom I share some of my most transformative and memorable travel experiences to date. I’m looking forward to the new memories, photos, and laughs that are sure to ensue.
So with my backpack in tow, I go back to school this week. The contents may look a little different, and the meaning may evolve with time and life, but we must go on. The school of life, and if we’re lucky — travel, awaits us all.
I’m sharing more of my personal story over on backpacks.com which fortunately for us, has a range of backpacks for all seasons.
Thank you to backpacks.com for sponsoring this post, and thanks to you for supporting the brands that make Part-Time Traveler possible!