11 Feb

Exploding Backpacks

The Exploding Backpacks I don’t know how it happens. I don’t know how it all gets all over everywhere so darn quickly and I have no idea how we ever get it all back in.

I’m talking about our backpacks. Inevitably we arrive at some cute (or not-so-cute) guesthouse, put  down our packs, open up the zipper and…BAM…seemingly immediately there is stuff scattered absolutely everywhere. Even when we’re only staying one night, and so are being careful not to disturb it all too much, stuff seems to creep it’s way out across the floor.

Some of it makes sense. There is bathroom stuff that should be in the bathroom, shoes should be near the door, stuff for sleeping should be near the bed etc, but it’s the ‘other’ stuff that makes the room messy. Papers and pamphlets that we have collected, empty water bottles, receipts for stuff and activities, coins, watches, books, and notebooks all spread themselves carelessly all over.

And the laundry…what to do about the laundry?!? If we are staying somewhere for a few days our room starts to resemble the bedroom of my youth…clothes everywhere, some piled on the floor, some draped over furniture, some neatly folded in various stacks. We have a mesh bag that we use for those items that are deemed dirty enough to wash…yes, deemed dirty enough…it did not take long for our general level of cleanliness to deteriorate, although not to any disgusting level…but  what to do with those items that still have a wearing or two left in them? We pile them, drape them and stack them according to an elaborate system so that we know what state every item is in. Well, we try to use a system but, typically, we apply the ‘sniff test’ to determine if something is wearable or not. I’m not kidding.

There are, however, some upsides to living out of a backpack.

  • We always know where everything is. We employ a system of ‘everything in it’s place and a place for everything’…you have to really, it would be chaos otherwise…so we always know where those nail clippers are, or a plastic bag for putting that do-hickey in, or the bottle opener.


  • We are used to wearing the same clothes day in and day out. It is actually freeing to have only 2 or 3 outfits to wear…I don’t fret over ‘what I’m going to wear’, if it’s clean and is appropriate for the activity then I can wear it. At first I treated my wardrobe as if I were at home, wearing something different everyday, but I soon gave that up and now wear an outfit for days at a time until it is dirty. No-one knows me or what I wore yesterday so who cares? And besides, it makes laundry management easier (see above).


  • We carefully choose what we will carry and what we won’t. We certainly thought that we had honed our packing list perfectly, but it turns out that there are always little lies we tell ourselves. ‘Of course I’ll wear the cute shoes’, or ‘We’ll run at least once or twice a week’, or ‘This shirt will go with everything’. Those items showed their true colors fairly soon and we either left them behind somewhere or sent them home. New items are added only after vigorous screening…’Do you really need to have it?’, ‘Are you sure you’re going to wear it all the time?’. Lugging every little thing around day after day after day ensures that everything is carefully chosen.


  • Neat and Tidy We can pack it all up in 15 minutes flat. We used to spend time the night before leaving a place packing up and getting ready for the morning. Now we carefully calculate what time we need to get out of bed to pack it all in a flurry of activity before leaving. We can seriously pack up both exploded backpacks in 15 minutes flat…and not break a sweat. And that is the value of everything in it’s place, wearing the same clothes day in and day out, and choosing what we will carry.

16 thoughts on “Exploding Backpacks

  1. We have yet to get it down to 15 minutes, we seem to stcik around 25. But that is most likely due to me getting distracted with something while packing. The computer and iPhone are likely culprits. Great post and hope all is going well for you.

  2. That sounds like a valuable experience for anyone. I moved everything I owned into the first place I lived after my parents in one car trip, now look at all the stuff! Everyone has some version of that story. Paring it down to true necessities must be freeing, and I suspect will influence your feelings about “stuff” long after you get back from your travels.

  3. Hi Guys,

    Although our belongings had to fit in a few suitcases that were of course much larger than yours, (we had 2 per adult and one per kid) we also got to the same point. We were amazed at how little we actually need to be happy. Simple clothes, shoes and multipurpose items were all we really needed. It was freeing!

    This notion has carried us through the past year of being home. But I must say that was one of the things I looked so forward to doing – shopping! It had been so long, that I couldn’t wait to go buy ourselves some new things!!! A new pair of pretty shoes, hair clips, underwear! Oh the joys of the simple things we used to take for granted before the mini retirement. We are still VERY thrifty and conscious – but it’s nice to be able to buy things again!

    I sure love following you guys – happy travels…

  4. “run at least once or twice a week” hahahaha – how true, what a fantastic post. This is all so true I could have written it myself

  5. Thanks for this very timely post, considering that I am currently struggling to decide what to take (and what to leave behind) for our 5-week trip to New Zealand— the flight is tomorrow! Tonight, as I feverishly finish trying to cram everything into my backpack, I will keep these questions in mind: Do I really need to have it?, and, Am I sure I’m going to wear it all the time? I want that freeing feeling that comes from packing everything up in 15 minutes! Wish me luck. –Karen

  6. Ha! This makes me laugh because we literally were having this conversation this morning. Our room looked like a total nightmare — there was stuff everwhere — because it literally explores out of our bags as soon as we set them down. Yet, this morning, we packed everything up in 10 minutes and were ready to go.

    Hope you guys are having fun in the northern part of Thailand! We are absolutely loving Ko Tao. If not for our stupid visas, I don’t think I would leave.

  7. Great post. I never really care if I wear the same thing either, it makes it easier to get dressed when traveling.

    As I get ready for my RTW packing has certainly been an issue as people keep telling me I need more. But I read once that you should pack for no longer than a week so that’s what I’m doing.

  8. This post me laugh out loud, and as you know we are traveling with our 20 and 16 yr old kids you can just imagine what state their packs are in! Luc’s explodes across a 6 ft radius!
    The strange thing is that my pack never really ‘explodes’ yet I take the longest to pack it up, while Luc’s mushroom cloud of destruction can be packed up in 2 minutes. True, I fold and roll, and he jams and shoves, but still….

  9. I remember telling a group of travellers that I believed “the reason some days everything fits in your backpack, whereas other days it’s impossible to fit it all — and you end up tying your towel round the outside — is because of moisture”. There was a quiet pause. Then the laughter started. I never laughed. I stand by it. Clothes absorb moisture, and expand, right?!

    • @Ant: That is too funny!! Although it definitely does explain the odd phenomenon of everything not fitting in when it just all came out! I like it!

  10. So true. My wife has a chronic case of exploding backpack-itis. I generally tend to keep everything in there except what I’m using at that moment. The need to take everything out and make the room homey is a nesting tendency.

  11. ah, ant, that might explain why some days my bag feels like it’s really heavy and then the next day it feels really light making me paranoid i’ve lost stuff!

  12. Very true post. Our bags are currently in their “exploded” state and each day when we come back to the room we wonder how all the stuff fell out. Funny you mention the “cute shoes” too. I glanced at your packing list and saw them on there and kind of wondered how that was working out for you…

  13. This brought back some memories for me. On our RTW trip we used to laugh at our ‘exploding backpacks’ too and can totally identify with your thoughts!

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