Throughout most of my travel journey, I have opted for a large backpack instead of a rolling suitcase, hostels instead of hotels, and public transportation instead of rental cars in my great stamp chase around the world. While at home my race is identified before I am, judgment imposed and transcribed on my persona – when I get my gear and get going, it is traveling as a backpacker that has helped me to see the beauty of the world.
What is “backpacking?” As We Travel, says “backpacking is an independent, often international, low- budget way of traveling.” To backpack stretches us well beyond the confines of this eight-word definition though. It is technically all of these things. Yes, I always have a budget in mind, and no, you will not likely get any souvenirs from me. But you can see my photos!
People often ask why I backpack. For me, it is altogether a different experience: an octagonal prism reflecting, educating, inspiring, testing, speaking, dancing, reverberating, and rejuvenating. Through backpacking I learn about the things that make us human, those things that connect us, and I discover the fibers of passion that string us all together in our love for the beauty that exists within this beautiful world. It is a fusion of tourist, adventurer, researcher, historian, and seeker of unchartered paths. I’ve hunted for as many passport stamps as possible in 12 days but what feels like a New York minute on paper. I’ve traveled from Vietnam to Cambodia with a loan from my German friend and went back to Vietnam by bus. I have reconnected with classmates. I still have the card of the Venezuelan man who drove me to my hostel in Mexico City after conversations in customs and advice on bizarre foods to try. I’ve had worm tacos, tongue tacos and street meat. I have experienced a world that few ever get to experience.
I backpack because I never know where my adventure may lead me. One moment I’m reading Lies My Teacher Told Me and engaging in enlightening political discussion with the Germans on my tour who invite me to dinner, the next I’m being taught about Morocco’s blue city from the Spanish backpackers leaving the hostel early the next morning. I’ve found myself spending $5 per night for a private room with a queen size bed, bathroom, television and air-conditioner in Siem Reap. In fact, I’ve never paid more than $15 per night for any place I’ve stayed in my travels (except Europe, always the inescapable/pricier exception). I love finding the always impeccable, free WiFi, the more-often than not inclusive breakfasts, the always informative tour desk, money exchange, maps, guides, central locations. I live for the invaluable communal areas, backyards, hammocks, couches, televisions, meeting spaces to bridge countries, time, advice, music, opinion, drinks, smokes. I value the time I made friends with Argentines who were at sea in a tiny boat all night (channeling the The Life of Pi in real life), soaked in the rain traveling from Panama and who taught me about the revolution to bring back the middle class in their country.
Some call me Carmen but unlike Ms. Sandiego, my backpack is my trench coat. I backpack and I have swept through airports, chicken buses, trams, trains, and tuk-tuks around the world. She’s been with me from the beginning of my induction into the backpacker elite. She’s Australian – a Caribee backpack to be specific, and her first two trips were to South Africa & Hong Kong. Weathered internally, yet unassuming, you wouldn’t know everywhere she’s been by looking at her – or me for that matter. For backpackers the backpack is not just an accessory, it’s a lifestyle. The backpack itself is synonymous with the many adventures told and untold of where it hs been and what it has been through.
We often pass each other, us backpackers, in our many steps and strides through airports, but no matter how things evolve for us – the backpack, the lifestyle, and the journeys unite us all. I’m black and I backpack is not a common rally, but it has become a crucial fiber of my being. Seeing as much of the world as I can, losing myself in a region with the abandon of a child and running free in a field is where I am most at home. No matter what destination I cross paths with, the backpacker will always be engrained in me for the lessons, resourcefulness, experiences, adventures, and stories that have have been imprinted on the map of my mind.
I’m Black and I Backpack…and I wouldn’t have it any other way.