Why I Don’t Wear A Backpack

October 16, 2016

I’m sitting in the airport of Siem Reap, Cambodia. Although airports internationally have a wide variety of travelers, this one seems to be overwhelmingly comprised of a certain demographic: people in their 20s and 30s (some with kids), sporting flip flops and world map tattoos, all carrying backpacks.

I, on the other hand, have gone in the other direction. I can’t change the fact I prefer my Timbuk2 day pack for every day use, but sandals on an airplane? I think not. Even though I checked my bag, it wasn’t a 40- or 50-L backpack purchased from REI, but rather a medium-sized duffel I picked up a few years back. I may be dressed as one of the elite who push Samsonite roller bags through the gates as they board – sometimes incapable of picking luggage up themselves because they prefer taxis over motorbikes and tuk tuks, hotels over hostels, organized tours over independent travel – but I’m definitely not one of them.


I have to say I’m in favor of backpackers for the most part. 20-somethings making their first trips abroad, eager to learn about other countries… perhaps naively believing they alone will be the ones to achieve a unique insight into a foreign culture. I don’t mind that they always look for the cheap deal, always stay in hostels or camp, and always seem to prefer drinking heavily despite the fact they may need a day or night to recover from previous travels.

All well and good. They have their place in the world of travel, and – let’s face it – they are the ones who have lasted the longest. However, by strapping all your worldly belongings to your back, you set yourself up for certain stereotypes and stigmas, on the road and sometimes even at home. Let me break it down for you.

Those with roller bags have their lives together; backpackers are just passing the time. Not necessarily true at all, but if you see someone in an airport with a light duffel or roller bag – regardless of the way he is dressed – you’re probably assuming he’s not about to spend a month in Southeast Asia.

Backpackers are easier targets. Anyone can get scammed, and wearing professional clothes may make you a bigger target for thieves abroad, but backpackers tend to attract more attention than those who do look like they’re traveling for work or perhaps a luxury vacation. In Asia, Africa, and South America, it’s pretty easy for locals to tell who are the tourists; lugging a big backpack just makes you light up like a Christmas tree. This doesn’t even necessarily mean scammers and thieves, but simply vendors who see an easy mark.

Backpacks have to be worn on the back. Duh, but think about this for a moment. There are very few backpack designs that allow travelers to carry them by straps, or handles; nearly all of them, as the name implies, are intended to be strapped to your back. This one is mainly an issue of comfort. I like the sun and air to have access to my back from time to time, but if I’m walking with a backpack, that’s not going to happen. It’s better for me to use a day pack and duffel.

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