Book Review: The Backpack Years
Reviewed by Jadidsa Perez
A one-way ticket to love, adventure, and excitement
Stefanie, a middle school teacher from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and James, a graphic designer from Warrington, England, first met in Sydney, Australia and connected instantly. With their shared love of travel and a newfound motivation in it, they find ways to make a marriage work. And now, a book.
Co-authored by Stef and James, The Backpack Years tells the chronological story of travel and relationship events, where readers learn more about each person’s background, their reason for traveling/escaping, and how they handled obstacles along the way.
The book portrays each country they visit—Spain, Australia, Thailand—and how the experiences shaped their relationship to become one of trust and devotion. Much of the book centers around travel in a time where language barriers, maps, and emails were much more common—giving both a nostalgic and fascinating feel.
I absolutely loved the authors’ voices in this story—both of them honest, raw, and engrossing. Stef, in her chapters, is funny, retrospective, intelligent, and a pleasure to travel with. One particular highlight is her humming story when she’s getting her ears checked. I laughed out loud during that one, and I don’t think I’d be alone in that.
As the couple traveled more, I felt even more drawn to Stef’s resilience despite James’s illnesses and their brewing marriage troubles. As a polyglot, she was able to navigate a plethora of situations in a galvanizing manner. It’s not every day we get to think of our middle school teachers as skilled world travelers.
James, on the other hand, juxtaposes Stef’s personality in the best way. His voice is dryer with a more cynical tone that is as humorous as it is appropriate. His story feels more accessible and understandable for me, and I can’t help but sympathize with him. His difficulty assimilating to not just American culture but to Stef’s family is excellently described. His dedication to making things work, however, remains admirable. While Stef views many things in beautiful scenery, James offers a divergent perspective. These two narratives complete each other.
There are definitely a few things I would have loved expanded though. Stef’s dietary restrictions are brought up in passing, and her self-awareness as an inner-city teacher and traveler in Cambodia could have hit harder if we dove a bit deeper into it. I just wonder if we could have connected the two and discussed the privilege of travel as a whole.
I would gladly recommend this memoir to readers of true stories and travel. It’s delightful and definitely going down as one of my favorite memoirs of the year.
Genre: Nonfiction / Memoir / Travel
Print Length: 280 pages
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