Books Reviews

The Backpack Years

The Backpack Years by Stefanie Wilson & James Wilson


Part travel, part romance, part failing at life, The Backpack Years intertwines two memoirs, charting Stef and James’s six-year journey from happily wandering to miserably settled and back again.

Straight-laced Stef left America to study abroad in Spain, letting loose and falling head over heels for two things: a handsome local and travel. Travel won out. James had a future in England he felt he’d already destroyed. Fueled by debt and a deteriorating relationship with his father, James fled to Australia and found something better.

After language mishaps in France and a topless night in Tenerife, an awful offal job in Warrnambool and a kidnapped manicure in Bali, Stef and James meet at an Irish pub in Sydney. Though their adventures are pulling them in different directions, they ditch the single life to forge a path together.

Can the two navigate their way through red-tape, relocation, miscommunication, and a last ditch, make-or-break trip to try to save their relationship, or will this be their last adventure as a couple?

Spanning thirteen countries and four continents, The Backpack Years is a story about how far we’re willing to go to be with the one we love.


Exactly as the blurb says, the book contains the memoirs of Stef and James—their separate perspectives on travel, romance, and life—that blend into one story.

It starts in 2000, spanning their travel through thirteen countries and four continents. Initially, they travel solo but meet a third of the way through the book. They change their plans so that they can travel and stay together.

This leads to a whirlwind marriage and many obstacles that prevent them from traveling for some time. When their relationship is threatened, they seek to remedy it with another trip.

Although the book has been co-written by two people with different viewpoints, it is easy to read because the change of narrator is clear. The writing is vivid, engaging, and immersive.

The authors have written quite candidly about their lives. They are honest about the great and not-so-great parts of their relationship and lifestyle. World travel, especially as backpackers, can involve budgetary restraints, illnesses, and dangers related to regional issues.

When I started reading it, the descriptions of their conditions—lack of money; sparse hygiene; abundance of sex, alcohol, and drugs; troubles with work/visa/permits; and adjusting to cultural differences—appalled me.

However, Stef and James managed to handle all that because they were resilient and had ample support from the great friends they made along the way. The Backpack Years shows how far Stef and James were willing to go to save their relationship and follow their dreams.

It is a balanced account of how challenging and rewarding travel and making a relationship work can be. Despite my initial misgivings, I found it enjoyable.

Note: I received an advance review copy from BookSirens in exchange for an honest review.

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