What was in your 80s backpack? An old fart remembers

Skinny hitch-hiker

The only photo with my pack (yes I know I look like a skeleton)

Nowadays I am obsessed with travelling light, and feel like a complete failure if the scales at the check-in desk exceed the 10kg mark (we managed 19.8kg between two of us for our month in Asia, which I thought was just about passable). But it wasn’t always so, and when I first started travelling in earnest the weight of my pack was the last thing on my mind.

I started to think back as to the contents of that first backpack, and thought back to what I decided to carry around Europe for 8 weeks back in 1987. In the days before Ryanair I was no more likely to take a flight than walk to the moon, so I never had the chance of an airport weigh-in. But thinking about it now it must have been a very heavy bag, given the clunky stuff I decided I had to carry.

Heaviest of all, my camera. A Zenit EM Russian SLR, aka ‘The Tank’. This Soviet masterpiece must have come in at over 2kg, and the case alone would have added another kilo or so. It was designed to withstand nuclear armageddon, and had I dropped it from the Eiffel Tower I have no doubt it would have worked fine afterwards, although there would have been more than one strange look at the crater it would have left behind. Accompanying this of course were many rolls of film in the bottom of the pack.

Next was my music equipment, and while it didn’t weigh as much as the camera it certainly took up more space. One Sony Walkman (or cheap imitation), a bulky set of headphones, ten cassettes in their cases and around 20 Duracell batteries. It’s hard to equate all this with an iPod!

My street art at its inglorious best

Copenhagen: My street art at its inglorious best

Next in size would have been my journal, my pens and pencils and a set of coloured crayons. These would prove precious as I pedalled my very limited street art skills on the streets of northern Europe.

My clothes were squeezed in wherever they would fit, and I typically lasted a week between washes, although that became two once I realised that clothes are nearly always reversible. And of course the bottom of the rucksack was taken up with my sleeping bag (so much bulkier than it would be now) and a ground sheet that became tattier and tattier as the trip wore on.

The final touch to the packing? My father kindly made me no less than 20 cheese rolls on the day I left home. Far too many I protested, but they proved to be so valuable as I worked my way through them in the next few days. In fact I don’t believe I had to buy any other food until I reached Oslo!

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About Andy Jarosz

Owner, 501 Places. Freelance writer.
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4 Responses to What was in your 80s backpack? An old fart remembers

  1. Your travel stories always are fun, is interesting to compare how easy, cheap, and confortable is to travel now, In fact, it’s so easy that it’s almost incredible that some people don’t like to be travelling in the long term.

  2. You know what? This is reminiscent of a post I wrote recently about Travel 2010 vs Travel in 1990. So much has changed in only 20 years!



  3. Andy Jarosz says:

    yes, it does seem so easy these days. Although maybe issues such as the hassle of air travel have made it less of a pleasure.

    Thanks for sharing the link Anthony. Like you describe, travel involves the same challenges and the same requirements as 20 years ago; we just have technology to make things easier -although I hope you still carry your Swiss Army knife :-)

  4. Twenty cheese rolls, brilliant, well at least you weren’t wanting for calcium.

    Swiss army knife… try that at Heathrow security… they’d have a field day, I saw an over-reaction to someone trying to take shampoo on board that was bordering on psychopathic.

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