This is part of a series of short interviews with individual members of the Forum.
Forum name: Janine
Location: Lexington, Kentucky
Forum member since: December, 2010
Favorite TOM BIHN bag: This is a hard question! It's a choice between my Synapse 25, Side Effect, and Daylight (Backpack and Briefcase). If I had to pick just one, it would be my Navy/Ultraviolet Synapse 25 and here's why: I wouldn't change a single thing about it. My Side Effect and Daylight are fantastic but there are little things I would change about each of them. The Synapse 25 was love at first carry and the blush has never faded from our romance. ... This was meant to be a one-word answer, wasn't it? Oh my google, I haven't even gotten past the introduction and I've failed already!
Q: You've been part of the forum for a while. What did you think the forum would be like (or that you'd use the forum for) when you joined? How does that initial perception or purpose compare to the reality of your participation on the forum?
A: When I found the forum, I was so giddy with delight that I didn't form an opinion about it for quite some time. It was THE FORUM to me. I've never been on another forum like it. I read a lot, and posted some, and was amazed that there were other people in the world who invested the same amount of time as I do planning their trips and the things they take along. It was intoxicating. It was empowering. I was in sponge mode for months and just absorbed.
After a while I stopped being overwhelmed by the quantity and quality of the content and I started to become aware of individual voices. That's when I realized that I could make friends here, and had my first meetup with a TOM BIHN forum member. After that, the forum became a place where personality and history mattered to me just as much as excellent conversation. I started to feel like I was part of the community.
And now I feel so at ease here that I can make jokes without having to identify them with a smiley face. The posts I make are about as true-to-life as they could be; they are exactly what I'd say if we were chatting over coffee. I could never provide the same high level of travel advice that others can, but I do carry my TOM BIHN bags every day for work and family needs. You want to know about packing cloth diapering needs for two, or schlepping lunches and backpacks for three on your bike, or how to carry that wretched heavy laptop back and forth from home to work? Then I say, do you like cream and sugar? Pull up a chair and let's talk. I can suggest some bags that might be helpful.
That's where I came from and where I am right now. I'm looking forward to whatever the next phase of my forum participation happens to be; I'm invested in this community and I hope to be here for a very long time.
Q: You're known for the delightfully funny photo shoots and packing lists for the new bags you buy (for example: watermelons, rolls of toilet paper, and watermelons and rolls of toilet paper). Even though these posts are meant to be entertaining, do they end up being useful in any way?
Every picture I post on the forum is meaningful to me. It's silly to stuff rolls of toilet paper in a backpack—that's nobody's EDC [everyday carry]—but what I was trying to do is understand the true shape of the bag and how much it could hold. Toilet paper just so happened to be handy, so that's what I used. Next time it might be boxes of Suddenly Salad or stuffed animals or paperback books. Hopefully since most of the items I use are widely available, other people can also get a general idea of how big the bags are from my non-traditional photos.
Q: What, in your opinion, makes for a good forum atmosphere? What should veterans do to help new people, and how should new people interact with the veterans?
A: I love the atmosphere we have right now. It's positive, helpful, creative, humorous, and informative. We have the perfect level of interaction from the TOM BIHN staff. They swoop in every once in a while to drop a hint or answer a question, and everyone freaks out for a little while. It's wonderful to have little distractions like that! We also have a great moderation staff who step in seamlessly with insight and guidance. On top of all that, we have generous forum members who post the most amazing pictures.
I hope the new forum members jump right in as soon they feel comfortable. The excitement new people bring to the conversation is energizing. It's so much fun to relive those first “brown box” moments through the eyes of someone who is just discovering the product line, one-bag travel, light packing techniques, and EDC theories, so don't hold back. But newbies please understand that the old-timers don't hold back, either. What seems like a simple question might get you an avalanche of advice!
It takes a little while for a new forum member to learn where to find answers to their questions. We were all new at one point and relied on the experience and patience of the established users to help us find our way. I hope that the forum veterans take the time to reply positively to new forum members' early posts. A few kind words can have a huge impact on the new folks and set a friendly tone for future conversations.
Q: Name some of the life lessons you've taken away from the forum.
A: Ordinary people can do extraordinary things.
Travel stories are the most inspirational part of the forum. While I love the discussion about bag selection and packing lists, the trips that inspire this planning and prep are what that captivate my attention. Jungles and deserts and huge urban centers, every climate, every season—our forum members are exploring the world. They share a part of their journeys with me and I'm so grateful for that.
It's easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of our everyday lives and never break free. There are a hundred excuses not to take an adventure, even just a day trip. And then I read about someone just like me, someone with a full-time job and a family, who just got back from two weeks across the ocean and I think, "If she can do that, why can't I spend three days in Chicago?" All the excuses start to fall away and suddenly something that seemed impossibly hard turns into something that just requires a little preparation.
Q: Pretend you have no responsibilities and that money is no object. Where would you go and what would you do?
A: First thing, I'd fly to Seattle and visit the factory. It just feels right to begin at the beginning.
Then I'd take the Empire Builder train to Chicago. From Chicago, I'd fly to Great Britain and take an extended walking holiday. I found out about walking holidays after my first and only trip to England, and I've meant to go back and to it right ever since.
After a few weeks of exploring by foot, I'd take a train through the Chunnel to France. I'd go from country to country in Europe by train, renting bicycles to explore each city by pedal power. I'd like to make a game of riding a bike in every major European city—or at least all the ones with good beer and/or chocolate.
Eventually I'd weave my way toward the Scandinavian countries and spend some time there doing much the same as I did in Europe: riding bikes and sampling the local cuisine.
Then I'd hop a plane to Japan. I'd spend a few weeks in Japan and then take a cruise back to Seattle. I'd check in at the factory, post a picture on the forum, and then fly home. When I got home I'd count up the number of miles I put on my Aeronaut and give away a prize to the first forum member to guess correctly.
Given the two assumptions of this fantasy trip—no responsibilities and unlimited funds—I would be free to do the kind of travel I always dreamed about: arriving with no particular plans and letting the destination suggest my next steps. I'd really like to see each stopping point in my journey the way the locals see it, and go where the locals go when they want a change of scenery. I've grown past the seeing-for-seeing's-sake perspective on travel and now I'm genuinely interested in how other people live.
Bonus question: How would you describe your forum persona? How close is it to your actual self?
A: I think my forum personality is me on a very good day, when I have no worries and I'm with all my buddies. And I've eaten a whooooole lotta candy. :-)