Bag-stirring [verb]: the method of finding objects in a backpack or suitcase in a small hostel room where the quantity of people exceeds the available space

The age-old debate amongst the backpacking community: suitcase or backpack.  I realise that essentially, I am talking about a method of transporting personal items from one location to another. However, backpacker life is defined by moving around, not staying in one place for a long time and living out of bags.  Therefore, choosing the right transportation method is essential and could save you a lot of time, effort and frustration.

The way I see it, there’s clear pros and cons with both methods:


Pros – they come on wheels so no need to carry them. You can look cool at airports as you aren’t risking hurting yourself or anyone else by swinging your heavy bag on your back (sunglasses will also help with this look.  For inspiration see any picture of famous people walking through airports). If you have mistakenly packed something important right at the bottom of the case; in the event that you find a small area of space you can open your suitcase and observe all your possessions and find that important item without having to unpack and repack a bag at the front of a very long check-in queue (sorry to all passengers behind me when I packed my passport at the bottom of my backpack for, ahem, safekeeping.  Didn’t wanna lose that!)

Cons – they can be heavy so cut into your baggage allowance (a 4kg suitcase for a 15kg weight-limit trip is always annoying). They cannot be easily carried up stairs unless you have excellent strength/helpful strong people around you. They do not have as many pockets/pouches/extra potential straps to tie things to (such as shoes which just will not fit into an existing bag)


Pros – easier to carry up stairs (just massively painful in some cases). They have multiple pockets and pouches to try and restore some order to the chaos that is your life.

Cons – they weigh you down so a small walk becomes a mammoth task (30° heat plus a walk through a city with your whole life on your back = a ridiculous thing to do to avoid the taxi fare). When you’re as feeble as me, picking up the bag in the first place becomes a difficulty, hence I have found myself (not even just once but twice) lying on my back like some kind of tortoise after picking the bag up, buckling under its weight and falling straight over. But the biggest con of all is the issue of never being able to see the contents of the bag without emptying it considerably. Hence, bag-stirring became a part of my life.

As a backpack user myself, I have wistfully looked at suitcases with a longing that I normally reserve for cold beer on a hot day or dark chocolate at any time of any day. I’d see people strolling round the airport, wheeling their suitcase behind them and wondered what was going through my mind when I chose my large backpack. At around 15kg it was almost too heavy for me to lift (did I mention I have absolutely no physical strength and/or fitness?) which made it a sweat-inducing, back-breaking, would-never-quite-fit-everything-in bane of my life. It hid random clothes from me, lied to me about the contents but occasionally allowed items to rise to the surface for a last chance at freedom.

Hostel rooms are typically far too small to hold even unpacked bags so the concept of taking clothes out of the bag is not a feasible one. Hence, bag-stirring™ became my morning and evening ritual. It became a source of hilarity amongst myself and friends as we did our daily bag-stir only to find a single sock, woolly hat and bikini top.

It is important to note at this point that bag-stirring can only be used when you are aware of what kind of clothes you are looking for (i.e. shorts & t-shirt/ swimming stuff/ something to sleep in, etc). If you are looking to re-organise your possessions you simply have no alternative but to empty the bag and start again.

The method of bag-stirring is as follows:

  1. Prop up the bag. Any bunk bed will serve as an excellent stand for your bag to lean against; just make sure there is no-one asleep in the bed at the time
  2. Put your hand in the bag and, without looking, stir the contents with one hand
  3. You will know what kind of texture you are looking for, depending on what kind of garment you need. Use this information to try and find the right feel of item before pulling it out.  However, be aware that together, your brain and sense of touch will trick you and items that absolutely don’t have the same texture will become one of the same in The Bag.
  4. Pull out your chosen item and either a) bask in your glee as you successfully chose a suitable item; b) moan in frustration as an incorrect item has been sourced from the bag or; c) feel totally confused as you do not recognise the item that has come out of the bag as the item is not yours/was lost three months ago/is suspiciously clean.


Here she is. Her name is Wildcat. She taught me everything I know about bag-stirring

Bag-stirring is not for the tired/emotional/nervous backpacker and definitely shouldn’t be attempted whilst under the influence of alcohol, in a darkened hostel room or in a rush. To go the extra mile, try wearing only the first three items that have risen to the surface that day. Whether or not you feel ready to admit it, I can almost guarantee that anyone with a backpack as a main item-holder has engaged in this activity at some point – those pesky things just insist on hiding just about everything. I implore you to embrace it as an art form and enjoy the daily surprise of the surface-risers. You’ll be doing it anyway, might as well enjoy it!