The Backpack Years by Stefanie and James Wilson

I am always drawn to travel memoirs, being well-travelled myself and I have to say that I do like a seamy tale of backpackers, surviving on little money, little hygiene, bad diet, great amounts of alcohol, the bonhomie of their companions and their wits.

You get all of that here but also a lot more. You get the first hand experiences of people who are widely travelled and who have met a lot of people on their journeys, some good, some not so good. But in addition, you get a romance as Stefanie and James, in memoirs that run tandem, describe the circumstances that drew them together and the subsequent travels that they shared after their commitment to each other.

What struck me most about the book is how candid it is. Stefanie and James have literally laid bare their experiences but also their emotions in navigating (pun intended) not only their travels in strange, remote and sometimes unwelcoming places but also their relationship as young people who meet each other whilst travelling, who are from very different backgrounds and have differing perspectives.

As readers, we learn about their families and the traditions and cultural quirks of their home countries that separate them on occasion. We learn about the vast amount of places that they have visited, both separately and together and the difficulties associated with travelling to these places on a shoestring budget or earning-as-you-go. To the onlooker, it seems an idyllic lifestyle, liberating and carefree but Stefanie and James are keen to point out the drawbacks too and I like them for this: theirs is a balanced perspective in that they show the fun, the friendliness and the fabulous but also the threat and the strain that can come from a life without ties and familiarity.

However, whilst there are tales of a cautionary nature, they are also keen to promote the idea of how important it is to them to travel and how it builds resilience and shapes perspective; and that once it is in your blood, it is very difficult not to succumb to the urge to move again.

The narrative is easy to read and the change of narrator clearly indicated, and I found myself easily drawn into the stories of their travels, much as I would a novel, rooting for them as people as well as enjoying the view of the world they shared.

This review was first published on Reedsy Discovery where I was privileged to read it as an ARC.

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