Sam Soles

The Travelling Body: An Analysis of the Embodied Experience of Backpacking

Sam Soles
MA Sociology
Concordia University

This research examines the body’s role during backpacking travel and, in doing so, develops the concept of ‘the travelling body’. While it is typically supposed that the backpacker’s body possesses fewer physical limitations and greater freedom due to its rejection of and detachment from typical social duties and responsibilities, this body must also be considered as significantly challenged through the daily experience of long-term travel. Due to their constant mobility, backpackers must negotiate physical restrictions and constraints that are associated with everyday travel activities. The travelling body needs to be considered broadly in terms of the diversity of negotiations, capabilities and restrictions, both positive and negative, which make up its overall experience and bring it into being.

The concept of the travelling body will be developed as follows:

a) An examination and critique of the emphasis placed by the academic community on the backpacker as a free, impulsive and hyper-sensory being. This interpretation leads to the problematic assumption that the travelling body is unsocialized and ‘consumed by the senses’;

b) The application of the concept of the ‘body image’ to the travelling body and the distinct combination of freedoms and limitations which it faces during backpacking. It is argued that the travelling body offers a new opportunity to study and develop the body image which has otherwise been limited to examples of sensory disorders, such as the phantom limb syndrome; and

c) A reflection on what the travelling body’s relationship to its backpack says in terms of how backpackers negotiate distinct physical challenges in the everyday embodiment of their practice and how these are integral to the formation of the travelling body. Drawing on the sense-oriented work of contemporary French psychoanalyst Didier Anzieu, it is suggested that the travelling body is created through the development of a ‘second skin’ in which the backpacker accepts the backpack as an integral part of their body to the point that it functions as a kind of skin.

The travelling body is intended as a concept which will contribute to research within body and sensory studies since focusing on the body’s connection to backpacking creates a new opportunity to support certain theoretical models of the body, particularly that of the body image. The changes which occur to the body during backpacking offer an important perspective on how the body can be transformed through travel. Furthermore, because the travelling body demonstrates what bodies are able to achieve and accomplish when placed under unusual circumstances, it is also possible that this concept allows for a more complete understanding of bodies in general by making tangible the embodied processes that are sometimes invisible or taken for granted. Establishing body studies as an area which is relevant to travel research is a timely undertaking which will allow for more innovative research on the backpacking phenomenon and solidify its relevance as a growing academic pursuit.