Canadian Flag: Should I Wear A Flag On My Backpack Traveling?

It´s often never too terribly difficult to spot a Canuck while backpacking [ “Canuck” is a slang term for Canadian people. ] The Canadian flag is – for better or worse – often plastered all over the backpacks, daypacks, and various other attire of a large percentage of Canadian backpackers/travellers. In fact, I´ve met a few individuals who have so many Maple Leafs on their personal effects that it might inspire one to conclude they´re a Canadian ambassador impostor gone haywire. It´s quite a bewildering phenomenon in the sense that no other nation is so well represented visually in such a distinct manner. Are Canadians a nation full of overzealous nationalistic maniacs hyper-actively flaunting their ´symbolic pride´ overseas or is there another underlying reason behind this trend?

On my first trip overseas to Asia – way back in 2004 – I was told by many fine folks back home to make sure I had the Canadian flag on my suitcase and day-pack at all times. The advice of these individuals, in a collective nutshell, was very succinct and blunt: “If you don´t wear it people will think you are American.” One person even candidly suggested other American travellers do the same thing: “I met a guy from New York who was wearing a Canadian flag the last time I went to Thailand.”

The apparent discernment was quite clear, in the sense, that a large percentage of Canadians believe they enjoy a far better reputation abroad than our neighbours down south; however, I´m particularly not in favour of this ´vogue´ and will suggest a number of reasons why I think it is  in certain cases vexatious.

Should I Wear A Flag On My Backpack?

Should I Wear The Canadian Flag On My Backpack Or Luggage? Is it controversial to have country flag on travel items?

Canadian Identity

As a Canadian who has spent more years as a mature adult abroad, I feel I have a bit more of an objective stance when it comes to Canadian-American relations from a somewhat removed and detached point of view. Firstly, what I find particularly disturbing is that such a large part of the Canadian identity is based upon the notion of NOT wanting to be American. It´s the kind of inferiority complex that is not ´uncommon´ for a peripheral nation sharing a border with a much larger and significant power. Instead of having uniquely Canadian values that are clearly identifiable at home and abroad, a large part of ´being´ Canadian is simply ´not´ being American. We´re not ´like´ this or we´re not ´like´ that.

Elitist Snobs

Personally, I´ve found that travelers/backpackers (in general) share characteristics that transcend nationality, political affiliation and geographical location. Most adventurers and backpackers are outgoing, curious, open minded, and generally are ´in awe´ of the unique experiences they are having abroad in a foreign country. It takes a certain personality to be able to successfully travel abroad on an extended journey. If one does not have many of the select traits I´ve listed above, it becomes a rather daunting scenario to imagine how one would ´get by´ on a day to day extended basis with all of the significant cultural differences, diversity and completely different way of life from back home.

Most of the American friends I have made while overseas have been some of the most open-minded types of travellers I have ever encountered. Thus, it really comes across as being ´elitist´ when Canadian travellers openly admit they are adorning the Maple Leaf for no other reason than to show/prove they are not American. This is uniquely Canadian. Korean trailblazers are not wearing the Korean flag to distinguish themselves as ´not being from Japan´ and Austrian vagabonds are not proudly displaying their national crest to boldly demonstrate they are not from Germany. When I´ve explained my stance to other backpacking acquaintances they´ve often told me in confidence they found it ´odd´ to see so many Canadian flags all the time as well.

source: Wolters World on YouTube

Local Significance

In order to understand fully the complete folly of the Canadian flag being a significant ´positive symbol´ in some far off corner of the world it becomes necessary to imagine an inverse scenario back home. At a local Tim Horton´s (an inordinately popular Canadian doughnut chain) imagine a Khmer individual (Cambodian) walking into the store and placing an order for a medium sized coffee and a maple dip donut. The local Canadian teenage employee, who has never been abroad, notices the Temple of Angkor flag proudly displayed on the Khmer´s backpack and gleefully demonstrates exuberance over the fact this person is in fact ´Cambodian´ and NOT ´Thai. If the scenario seems a little bit far fetched what on earth is one thinking the exact same scenario abroad – in a far off corner of the world – `plays itself out any differently?

The fact remains that most individuals in local cultures simply do not care where you are from or are able to distinguish the cultural differences between a Canadian or American any differently than a typical Canadian is able to tell the same differences between two neighbouring countries in South East Asia. In my humble opinion, it´s absolutely an absurd notion to think any differently if looked upon both critically and objectively.

Although I´m certainly not ashamed to be Canadian – and I´m in fact proud to be where I come from – I will not be amongst those who wear the Canadian flag on their backpack. In my opinion, it´s simply a ´false´ attempt and a gross miscalculation to believe that it is going to allow myself to experience better service and a more friendly welcome from locals because I have it on my backpack.

“However, when in doubt, I will ´wear a smile´ and try to fumble a few sentences in the native language of my host country as a way of making a ´real´ ´positive´ first impression.”

source: KnowledgeHusk on YouTube

Brief History Of The Canadian Flag

Oh, the history of the Canadian flag is just thrilling. I mean, who doesn’t love a good flag story?

So, back in the day, Canada used the Red Ensign flag that featured the Union Jack, because we all know how much Canada loves being associated with the United Kingdom. But alas, some Canadians started feeling a bit self-conscious about not having their own distinct national symbol, and thus began the debate over a new flag.

Fast forward a few decades to the 1960s, and finally the Prime Minister, Lester B. Pearson, decided it was time to take action. He formed a committee to choose a new design for the national flag, and let me tell you, the process was riveting. The committee received over 5,900 design submissions. I mean, can you even imagine the excitement of going through all those designs? So. Much. Fun.

After a long process of elimination, the final design was chosen. Drumroll please…and ta-da! The flag features a red field with a white square in the centre, which contains a stylized, 11-pointed red maple leaf. Riveting stuff, right?

But wait, there’s more! The new flag was not without controversy. Some Canadians, particularly those with ties to the British Empire, were opposed to the new design, arguing that it lacked tradition and historical significance. Because nothing says “tradition” like being associated with another country’s flag, right?

Despite the controversy, the Maple Leaf flag was officially adopted on February 15, 1965. And now, it is one of the most recognizable flags in the world, and is a symbol of Canadian identity and pride. Exciting stuff, eh?

source: Gentleman’s Gazette on YouTube

How To Dress Neutral While Backpacking

Dressing neutrally while backpacking is a wise decision that can enhance your traveling experience in more ways than one. Not only does it help you blend in with the natural environment, but it also minimizes the risk of attracting unwanted attention to yourself. Whether you’re exploring a mountain trail or wandering through a bustling city street, dressing in neutral tones is an effective strategy that can bring multiple benefits.

To start, consider selecting clothes in earthy tones like beige, khaki, olive green, and brown. These colors are synonymous with the natural world and can seamlessly blend in with your surroundings, allowing you to immerse yourself in the landscape without being noticed. Additionally, these colors are subtle and versatile, making them ideal for any type of adventure.

Avoid wearing bright colors or patterns, as these can easily draw attention to you and make you stand out. By contrast, dressing in neutral tones allows you to remain low-key and unobtrusive, enabling you to blend in with the background and keep a low profile.

When choosing your attire, it’s important to opt for lightweight, breathable clothes that can provide comfort and mobility. Look for materials like cotton or synthetic fabrics that are breathable and easy to wear, and avoid heavy or bulky clothes that can be cumbersome to carry around.

Layering your clothing is also an excellent way to adjust your outfit to the weather conditions. Packing a lightweight jacket or fleece can be a lifesaver in cooler temperatures, while a hat and sunglasses can protect you from the sun and offer a stylish touch to your attire.

When it comes to footwear, prioritize comfort and stability. Hiking boots or trail running shoes are ideal for backpacking and can handle different types of terrain with ease. These shoes not only provide ample support and cushioning for your feet but also keep you grounded and stable while trekking across challenging terrain.

Hence, keep your accessories minimal and simple. Avoid wearing flashy jewelry or accessories that can easily attract attention, and opt for a watch, hat, and small backpack instead. This will help you stay organized and focused, while minimizing your risk of attracting unwanted attention.

Dressing neutrally while backpacking can provide numerous benefits that can make your traveling experience more enjoyable, comfortable, and safe. By choosing the right clothes, footwear, and accessories, you can blend in with your surroundings, avoid drawing unwanted attention, and focus on the beauty and wonder of the world around you.

Canadian Flag on Backpack

The Downsides of Wearing the Canadian Flag

Misrepresentation and Authenticity

The Importance of Authentic Travel: Traveling offers an unparalleled opportunity to immerse oneself in diverse cultures, exchange ideas, and form lasting bonds. Central to these experiences is the concept of authentic travel, which encourages travelers to remain genuine and seek deeper connections with the places they visit and the people they meet.

Hiding Behind a Nationality: Adorning oneself with a Canadian flag, especially when one isn’t Canadian, can be seen as hiding behind a nationality. It presents a façade which might not be representative of the traveler’s true identity. In many ways, this can lead to superficial interactions, as the local populace may change their behavior based on perceived notions about Canadians.

Diminishing Genuine Interactions: The spirit of travel lies in forging genuine connections. By masquerading under a different nationality, travelers potentially rob themselves of unique experiences that could arise from honest interactions. Locals are often keen on understanding the unique stories and backgrounds of their visitors. However, when confronted with a misleading representation, the essence of such interactions could be lost.

Safety Concerns

The Allure of Prominent Symbols: Prominent symbols, such as a brightly colored Canadian flag, can easily draw attention. While many might argue that it attracts positive reactions due to Canada’s favorable global image, it’s also true that it can make one stand out in a crowd, sometimes in undesirable ways.

False Assumptions and Real Dangers: Wearing a Canadian flag might lead some travelers to assume they are immune to potential dangers, given Canada’s generally positive reputation. This false sense of security can lead to riskier behaviors or decisions, like wandering into unsafe areas or trusting strangers too quickly.

Stereotyping and Generalizations

The Double-Edged Sword of Stereotypes: While Canadians are often stereotyped as friendly, polite, and peace-loving, relying on these generalized notions can be limiting. Locals might interact with a traveler based purely on these stereotypes, rather than seeing the individual for who they truly are.

Overshadowing Personal Identity: For genuine Canadians wearing the flag, there’s a risk of their personal stories, identities, and experiences being overshadowed. Instead of being seen as John or Jane with unique life experiences, they might solely be interacted with as “the Canadian.”

Ethical Implications

Borrowing Identities: For non-Canadians, wearing a Canadian flag brings up significant ethical concerns. By consciously choosing to adopt another country’s identity for personal benefits or perceived safety, individuals are essentially appropriating an identity that isn’t theirs.

Undermining Authentic Canadian Travelers: When non-Canadians wear the flag and then possibly engage in inappropriate or disrespectful behavior, it can lead to skewed perceptions of Canadians. This not only taints the image of Canadians abroad but can also affect the interactions of actual Canadian travelers, who might be judged based on the actions of impostors.

While the Canadian flag is a symbol of pride for many, its use as a protective cloak or as a tool for misrepresentation in international travels raises several issues. From diminishing the authenticity of travel experiences to potentially jeopardizing one’s safety and propagating stereotypes, there are profound implications to consider before sewing that maple leaf onto a backpack.

Sharing culture as a traveler

Other Ways to Showcase National Pride Responsibly

Sharing Cultural Experiences

The Power of Cultural Exchange: One of the most beautiful aspects of travel is the mutual exchange of cultures. As global ambassadors, travelers can play a pivotal role in presenting the best of their homeland to foreign shores. This doesn’t necessarily have to be through tangible symbols but can be achieved through the rich tapestry of cultural experiences that every nation possesses.

Canadian Music, Art, and Stories: Canada has a vast cultural landscape. From the evocative sounds of Leonard Cohen and Joni Mitchell to the compelling works of Margaret Atwood and Douglas Coupland, Canadians have a rich array of artists and thinkers to introduce to the world. Sharing a song, recommending a book, or discussing Canadian art can be enriching for both the traveler and the listener.

Cooking Up Memories: Food is a universal language, and every culture takes immense pride in its culinary heritage. Offering to cook a traditional Canadian dish like poutine, butter tarts, or tourtière for hosts or fellow travelers not only showcases Canadian culture but also fosters a deeper connection through shared meals.

Wearable Souvenirs

Subtlety in Representation: While it’s natural to want to showcase national pride, doing so subtly can sometimes be more impactful. Instead of the more overt display of a flag, smaller tokens can spark genuine curiosity and open conversations without overwhelming or misrepresenting.

Canadian Pins, Necklaces, and More: A tastefully designed pin featuring the maple leaf, a necklace with a Canadian motif, or even clothing items with Canadian symbols can be conversation starters. They’re discreet enough not to overshadow the individual but still signify the traveler’s roots.

Spreading Kindness and Respect

Embodiment of Values: Canada is renowned globally for its values of kindness, tolerance, and respect. Instead of merely showcasing a flag, Canadians traveling abroad can embody these values, leaving an indelible mark of genuine Canadian spirit wherever they go.

Positive Interactions and Lasting Impressions: Being a responsible traveler involves respecting local customs, understanding boundaries, and engaging in positive interactions. By doing so, a traveler not only upholds the reputation of their homeland but also sets an example for others. Such behavior leaves behind a legacy far more potent than any symbol – the memory of a respectful, kind-hearted individual who represented the best of Canada.

In essence, national pride doesn’t have to be a visible proclamation. Sometimes, the most profound representations come from shared experiences, subtle symbols, and, most importantly, the values that a traveler embodies.

Canada Flag Close-Up Shot

Why It Is Not A Good Idea To Wear A Flag On Your Backpack

Wearing a flag on your backpack while traveling may seem like a harmless gesture to showcase your national pride or identity. However, it is a practice that could potentially create unintended consequences and should be approached with caution. In fact, it is generally considered ill-advised for several reasons.

It is essential to keep in mind the importance of cultural sensitivity when traveling abroad. Displaying national symbols, including flags, can be perceived differently depending on the region you are in. In some cultures, it may even be regarded as a political statement or a sign of disrespect towards the local customs and beliefs. As such, it is crucial to be mindful of the cultural norms of the country you are visiting to avoid any misunderstandings that could potentially lead to unpleasant or even dangerous situations.

Wearing a flag on your backpack can make you more noticeable as a foreigner, which can attract unwanted attention from individuals with nefarious intentions. For instance, it may make you a target for pickpockets, scammers, or even more serious criminal elements. In regions with a history of political unrest or anti-foreigner sentiment, displaying a flag can make you more vulnerable to attacks, discrimination, or even arrest.

Wearing a flag on your backpack could potentially lead to misrepresentation, which could result in awkward or even hostile encounters. For example, if you are not from a particular country, but wear its flag, locals may assume you are from that country and make assumptions or judgments about you based on that. This could create unnecessary tension, misunderstandings, and even hostility towards you.

It is essential to consider the inappropriate use of national symbols. In some countries, the flag is considered a sacred symbol of national pride and is treated with reverence. Using it as a fashion accessory or casual decoration could be seen as disrespectful or even offensive, causing unintended offense or hostility.

While it may seem like a small gesture to wear a flag on your backpack while traveling, it could potentially create unwanted attention, misunderstandings, and even safety risks. To ensure a smooth and respectful travel experience, it is best to avoid using national symbols as fashion accessories and instead focus on immersing oneself in the local culture and customs with respect and mindfulness.

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  1. says: Steffan

    I am Canadian. I never wear a flag when I travel and neither do my friends (I have asked them). We don’t wear flags when we are in Canada, so why would we do such when we are away?

    My own experience has revealed that most travellers sporting Canadian flags are Americans pretending to be Canadian. I hope you folks aren’t giving real Canadians a bad name!

  2. says: John

    Awesome article – I found it while sitting in the Sydney airport in front of two young women with Canadian flags sewn on their backpacks.

    I have travelled extensively all over the world for many years and am extremely social when I do. Part of the love of traveling is to experience new and different cultures. You can do that in double time when you’re abroad by both experiencing the culture of the place you are visiting as well as meeting other travelers all over the world.

    One point if disagreement though. Americans sewing Canadian flags on their backpacks are extremely uncommon. After more than a dozen years travelling and visiting more than 50 countries and talking to literally hundreds of fellow travelers, this is the first I’ve heard of this. It also doesn’t really make a lot of sense, the flag is a visual thing, people always ask where people are from. Do these Americans lie and say they are from Canada? Or make up some story about what life there is like?

    In many many counties – in parts is Asia, and especially the Middle East, there is little distinction between the US or Canada, or The UK, or Germany for that matter, we are all often seen as “from the west”. As someone noted above the vast majority of people in the world I think, or at least in my experience, can distinguish between the Amwrican people and our government’s an policies. Locals generally treat you well of you are nice and polite.

    Also agree with people abroad being very curious about the USA and what life is like there. I live in LA, and generally tell people exactly where I live in LA (Hollywood) because it’s a great conversation starter.

    Thanks for this article! As you can clearly see, people are finding it years after you wrote it 🙂

  3. says: Joe


    I don’t think you can compare Cambodia vs. Thailand with Canada vs. America.

    I don’t think you can compare the strong feelings and associations people have with Americans to any other nation. People have such strong feelings of like/hate for them that is unlike any other group of people. So it does make sense in a way for Canadians to want to disassociate themselves from them. If not for personal safety at the least.

    I think it goes on in most countries though. In Thailand, no one wants to be Thai and they all claim to be of Chinese descent (unless they really can’t pull it off) rather admit to being simply Thai.

    Its sad but I guess everyone want to be something different.

  4. says: Paul

    I agree with this article wholeheartedly. The more that you travel, the more that you feel like you belong to a global community in any case, and it seems kind of silly to identify with just one place. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that it’s not good to be proud of where you are from, but if a conversation turns in that direction overseas, let it be because that was where the natural flow of the conversation took you, not because you’re putting out there as part of your first impression that you give to people. One less thing for people to categorise you by means that you’re more likely to be accepted for who YOU are.

  5. says: Montecristo Travels (Sonja)

    As a Canadian I found this really interesting. I don’t have a flag on my gear but have to say it does from time to time bother me when people assume I am American. not from a sense of inferiority but precisely because I don’t think we are alike. Not even our English is the same. But you make a very good point – I will sadly admit I can rarely tell where in Latin America people come from so how can our situation be any different really? . It is likely why I have never placed a flag on anything.

    We are far more often remembered as that couple that travel/sail with that ‘tiny dog” anyway. It’s who we are.

  6. Often times I’ve heard and seen Americans pretending to be Canadians when abroad. I was under the impression that they would be treated differently. I wouldn’t have known being a South Asian-Canadian. Come to think of it, lot of Canadians have the Maple Leaf on their backpacks 🙂 Although I don’t carry one on my backpack, I think it has its benefits due to how Canadians are perceived by some countries as “friendlies”.

  7. says: Jim

    Living in London, ON in 1995 the Canadian Government was airing TV ads telling Canadians to put the Maple Leaf on their backpacks when traveling abroad. I am an American and was in London living with my Canadian GF. We had some laughs about this before spending the summer in Europe. It can be trouble for Americans in many foreign countries because of US foreign policies. I say go with the Maple Leaf, it is in your best interest. In general Canadians will not associate with Americans in Europe although Canadians that get off the Eurotrac and find themselves in Africa, the Middle East or S. America are quick to be friendly. While traveling with my Canadian GF in Europe Europeans as a group were surprised that a Canadian would even be with an American. America bashing is something Americans traveling abroad quickly learn to accept, so much of it has merit.

    I like the Maple Leafs and the idea has merit, Anti Americanism is firmly entrenched in Europe. Canada IS superior to the US in a long list of ways. 🙂 be proud of the Maple Leaf, coolest flag ever!

  8. Being an American traveler, I particularly enjoyed reading your post and your perspective. In my early travel days, because of certain American policies, I was shy about claiming my nationality. However, the more I travel the more I agree with you that a warm smile and a few language phrases say a lot more about a person then the flag they choose to or not to wear.

  9. says: Bula @ The Irreverent Traveller

    Great post! It’s so refreshing to see a fellow Canadian say this. On the road, when I tell people I’m Canadian, they’re either like, “OH! THANK GOD!” and “Oh, don’t be offended, but I so thought you were American!” I’m not offended… I could not care less. I had one evening where a Brit was trying to vex me by calling me American all night and then he seemed vexed that I wasn’t getting upset about it.

  10. says: Rhonda


    I’ve been told a few times (esp when I went to Ireland) to say I was Canadian instead of American. And while there has been a lot going on in my country that I don’t agree with (for many years), I did find it awkward and a little offensive. I enjoyed reading a Canadian’s perspective on this, nice post!

  11. I stated my thoughts on G+ but I agree with you. If you are wearing a flag to show who you are not (or even who you are), then you are doing a poor job as a traveler. Sure, there will be people that have stereotypes about you. However, it is your job – through your actions and words – to show them who YOU are and change the stereotype. If you are letting a flag tell people about you, then you are only reinforcing the stereotype you are against.

  12. says: Kim

    Everybody is entitled to an opinion, I would defend your right to state it, but I certainly don’t agree with it. The situational awareness of the local people no matter where you travel allows them to differentiate between who is who when it comes to Americans and Canadians based on our actions. Don’t think they don’t know the difference, they do, especially in tourist areas that both frequent. They interact plenty with Americans and Canadians and have been for many years. There are blatant differences that after years they will realize, flags or not!

    1. Kim, I really appreciate your opinion. We disagree on inherent differences between Canadians and Americans. Although, it’s common to associate certain stereotypes, it doesn’t in my opinion, hold much weight in reality. I feel that two individuals and their respective personality traits are far more variable than the difference between two different countries.

      1. says: Rhonda

        I completely agree with looking at people as individuals and throwing stereotypes out the window. Just because I’m an “American,” it doesn’t mean I’m “spoiled, loud, rich, fat, ignorant, easy…” (the list goes on). I try my best to correct these views when I’m traveling abroad. Sadly, many people I meet will tell me they find it hard to believe I’m American because I don’t fit into those categories. We need to stop believing the lies the media feeds us and judge people based on character.

  13. Hey Samuel – Interesting post. I traveled around the world for 3 years and 45 countries as an American. I’d heard the joke about having a Canadian Patch, but just thought of it as a silly joke.
    I loved meeting people all over, getting to know them and vice versa. And nearly everyone I met was happy to talk to me and could very easily separate the American government from it’s people. I was proud to be a good ambassador to my country. It’s just another reason I think travel is so good…I learn…and so does the world. It’s a total peace-keeping mission!

  14. says: Ryan

    Hey Samuel. Thanks for the post. I ran into this a ton already in New Zealand. People will always ask me, “Are you Canadian?” and when I tell them I am American they say, “Oh, I didn’t want to offend you if you were Canadian, I always ask that first.”

    While I was traveling the Northland of New Zealand with a Canadian and two Germans, I was constantly told how surprised they were about my open mindedness and desire to learn, because they expected different. I agree, I was more closed minded when I lived in the US, but I have an unbelievable craving for knowledge and experience now. I just feel like assumptions are no good while traveling, but I’ve experienced it a lot as an American.

    Thanks Sam, great post, and I agree with ya!

  15. says: Jeremy (TheTravelApprentice)

    I’m rocking the Canada patch, i find it comforting to see that flag now and then but i’ve always been like that with the Canadian flag…That being said, nobody really ever sees it and most people assume i’m American anyways, and i’ve always been treated very well. I don’t have a problem with Canadians or Aussies or anyone wearing their home flag patch on their packs but if you’re not Canadian, don’t pretend to be, that’s my only issue.

    I’m surprised how passionate some non-patch wearers are on this subject, and the response is usually the same in that most people wear it for themselves and not for others as often assumed by those who are against flag patches… it’s an interesting line that get drawn.

    On a side note, i once met a Brazilian with a full size flag draped over his backpack and i thought it was great!

    1. Hey Jeremy,

      I think it comes down to a personal decision. I’m glad you wear it for reasons that are positive. I’m personally considering sewing flags from all the countries I’ve ever lived in or visited on my pack.

  16. says: Terri

    I have to admit that I found this post really interesting. As someone who was born in another country and grew up in the U.S and has relatives living in Canada (I’m from the English-speaking Caribbean, so there is a large Caribbean population in the Toronto area especially) this has definitely shed some interesting light. I wish I had more to say, but I think your post brings up some interesting points about North American cultural identity and to be quite honest, geopolitics. Thanks again for the enlightening post.

  17. haha I agree that it is strange that our culture is based on being “not” something as well… I also wrote about that on my blog! I have a Canadian flag on my backpack…. but then again… i have a flag from everywhere I have been in the world. Some people dont like it when others sew on patches – but hey – I will never lose MY bag in the airport. EVER. so there. 🙂

  18. says: hogga

    Very interesting. I’m Canadian and I have no problem with people confusing me with being American, it doesn’t bother me at all. I’m a person and although I am also proud of my country, it doesn’t define me.

  19. says: Pete

    I have always sewn the CAD patch on my backpack. Even when I was in school in Canada had one of my backpack. Just a matter of pride for me, and when traveling I’ve never worn it to be “not confused as and American”. The patch I have on right now is one from the Canadian Navy, which my Grandfather was part of, and he passed last year so I also wear it in his honour. I think as you commented above it is really your choice and I agree. I certainly don’t sport it to get preferential treatment. Sure, it has helped us get a ride when we were hitch-hiking (the guy told us that he saw the CAD flag and immediately pulled over). It has helped spark up conversations with other people, especially with other Canadians in remote areas of the World. It also serves a purpose to cover the branding trademark name on my photogear backpack. But mainly I wear it in pride.

    I’m also one of those “people” that puts other country’s patches on my bag, not to brag, but to take a little something with me when I leave. Being a “permanent traveler” we can’t take souvenirs from these places simply because we don’t have room to accumulate things, so this is how I take a piece with me. I think another travel blogger made his opinion that people who do this generally are bragging about all the places they’ve been. I guess it can look that way, but not the reason I do it.

    All in all, I could really give a shit if I see a backpacker with a patch or multiple patches sewn on his/her bag. Whatever their reason for doing so or not doing so, is that it’s really what matters to them.

    1. Hey Pete, I can relate to a lot of what you’re saying here. This was definitely a strong opinion piece and I didn’t really take much time to consider those who wear it for other reasons. I like the idea of sewing all the countries you’ve visited on your bag. It shows you’re a global citizen. I might do that myself!

  20. says: Emily

    Interesting stuff–I definitely have noticed that a lot of Canadians like to wear their flags on their backpacks when they travel, but I never thought about it too much. I’m an American, and we definitely don’t wear our flags when we go out….we know that a lot of people abroad aren’t crazy about us, so there just isn’t a sense in flaunting it.

  21. says: cheryl

    I don’t sport one on my back pack either but I like seeing it out there as it usually makes me rush up to them, find out where they’re from and how they came to be at our shared destination. I love meeting other Canadians on the road … So for me it’s more of a conversation piece than anything.

  22. says: Erica

    Oh man this is so great. While I don’t go around parading an America flag, I definitely make sure that people know where I’m from. If no one is on a mission to change people’s minds about what the USA is, who will?

  23. says: Maria

    Kudos! That brilliant smile will get you more than you think and your fumbling in their language – I’ve always found it’s appreciated.

    Thanks for another great post.

  24. Like most other Americans, I got this silly advice also — claim to be from Canada, etc. Funny thing is… I think America is the MOST loved country in the world. In fact, doing up a post about it soon. I have rarely ever gotten anything but an amazingly positive response when I say I am from the US. People may hate our government, but I really never meet anyone that hates the country. In fact, the US has the highest level of interest in people wanting to emigrate from all over the world.

    So, I proudly proclaim my American-ness when asked. Don’t know why anyone wouldn’t do the same.

    1. Michael, glad you’ve realized all of this while traveling overseas. There is no reason not to be proud of where you come from – wherever that may be. Looking forward to your article that touches on this subject.

  25. says: John

    “However, when in doubt, I will ´wear a smile´ and try to fumble a few sentences in the native language of my host country as a way of making a real positive first impression.”

    Perfect. This says it all. The flag is a meaningless gesture to try and selfishly benefit yourself (get better service, etc.) while your suggestion gives respect first in hope of mutual benefit. A much better strategy and unselfish.

    Thanks for the insights, it was a pleasure reading. Also, I loved the Tim Hortons reference!

  26. This topic is interesting. The first time I went abroad solo, just after 9/11, everyone told me to sew a Canadian patch on my pack b/c tensions were so high and people were concerned with my going abroad as a solo female AND an American. I didn’t do it. But, many backpackers I spoke with on that trip commented similarly — if an American feigned Canadian, we could possibly avoid negative stereotypes. The comment you made about Canadians not wanting to be mistaken for the stereotypical American is interesting — that type of American people want to distance themselves from likely doesn’t travel in the first place. Personally, I am proud of where I come from. If anything, I would sew on my state flag before I sew on my country — that’s far more how I identify myself. As for Canadians sewing it on their bag — it’s almost a phenomena to me — it’s some unspoken Canadian thing. I don’t think I’ve seen any other traveler with a flag on their pack but Canadians.

  27. says: Cindy

    Interesting article, didn’t entirely agree with it though. I’m a reasonably well-traveled Canadian (28 countries) who has spent more than 5 years as an expat (in Korea, Scotland and the U.S.) and traveled both with (as a teenager on several people’s advice) and without the Canadian flag (mainly). In a few countries it did make a difference, but mainly it was just a conversation starter and unnecessary. But I met several Americans who were using it in Europe which I always found funny. The few times I did use it was mainly because my parents felt it was safer.

    However, as a proud Canuck (living abroad only made me more so) I disagree with your view on Canadian identity. My Canadian identity has nothing to do with “not” being something but rather my family’s history in this country (and before it was a country), the fabulous things Canada has contributed to the world and culture that is uniquely Canadian. And yes, we do have Canadian culture!

    But I do agree that wearing a Canadian flag on your backpack in mostly unnecessary. However I always flew one in my apartment while living abroad 🙂

  28. says: Tom

    I think a lot of Americans wear the Canadian flag because they’re ashamed of their country and its policies, but they need to remember that, unlike the American public in general, many people in other countries tend to be a lot more politically savvy and can distinguish the American people from the American government – and it’s usually the government that people have a problem with.

    People sometimes think I’m American or Australian (I’m British), but I would NEVER wear a UK flag solely because I’m afraid of someone thinking I’m from North Carolina instead of North Yorkshire. I’d only wear a UK flag if it looked good on my bag!

  29. says: Kurt W

    Sam interesting post. I am American and have often wondered about that notable maple leaf on backpacks all over. I have a pack that has a dozen flags on it from places I have traveled, neither being a Canadian or American flag. Having lived abroad for awhile and backpacking over 30 countries, not once have I been greated in the slightest rude manner for being American, in fact quite the opposite. From cab drivers to locals it has always been overwhelmingly positive. It usually spawns a million questions about the US and what it is like to live there. Since it is such a large country, the locals often have a broad knowledge of American pop culture, sports or politics, it is as if they believe they have a common bond with you.

    1. Kurt, I’m really pleased to hear that! I think it’s a great idea to sew flags on your pack from the countries you’ve visited. It’s kind of symbolic of being a citizen of the world – a well travelled individual.

  30. says: Dayna

    It’s funny Sam, but I’ve wanted to write about this for awhile and couldn’t find a tactful way to do it without sounding like a jerk toward Canadians, who I generally tend to really like. So, thank you, my tactful friend.

    It discourages me when I hear of Americans wearing the Canadian flag… that’s just ridiculous. The only time I have EVER seen flags on backpacks were when they were Canadian ones, which I just find a bit odd. When I first started traveling, I was a bit wary of how people view us and submissively agreed whenever people would make derogatory and incredibly generalized and uneducated statements toward/about Americans. I don’t do that anymore. At Christmas in Romania, people of several nationalities were discussing the politics of the US and how we felt about our country… were we proud? I replied something along the lines of – ‘I don’t like what we export as far as ideologies and pop culture and wars that I don’t agree with. To be honest, though, I’m proud of the many good things, and I’m thankful for where I’m from.’ I am proud to be an American, in many ways. I’m not so daft as to think that there is a greatest country on earth, or that everyone should want our style of democracy, or that everyone should buy into the ‘me’ attitude that is sometimes prevalent. I know many back home who think that way, and I try to nicely explain why those things are not true. I know lots of Americans whose attitudes I dislike, yet the same goes for Canadians. Generalizations help nobody. Every culture has its great people and its not-so-great.

    I can understand some reasons for Canadians donning the flag (simple pride in their country, being patriotic, etc), but when it comes to doing so simply for the reason of being ‘not’ American, that sounds like a person I’d rather not meet. I actually met a hitchhiker once who specified on her signs CANADIAN in huge letters, which made me literally laugh aloud. Thanks for the post Samuel.

    1. Dayna,

      Thanks for such a though provoking and thorough comment. I truly embrace the concept of treating people I meet with a blank slate. I think the less labels we wear the more we’re able to connect with one another.

  31. I think it’s pretty poor form when Americans sport the maple leaf just so others don’t know they are American. I think it’s awesome to do so if you’re actually Canadian, but sort of a slap in the face to other Americans if you’re trying to lie about your identity.

  32. Seen from the outside, it seems to me that Canadians wear their flag so as not to be confused with Americans by other people who are not able to tell the differences in their accents. It must be tiresome after a while to be told you are something you are not.
    It sometimes happens to me that people here in Texas refuse to believe I’m Latin American (go figure than one out), and at times it bothers me. So I feel for the Canadians who want to be recognized as such and not as their Southern neighbours.

  33. says: Andrea

    I find it especially distasteful when Americans wear the Canadian flag – only reinforces the stereotypes that all Americans are the same and to be shunned by foreign countries. People should own their identities.

  34. I found that a well-written, emotionally grabbing, and perceptive article.

    I think I was advised to wear a flag the first time I went hitch-hiking abroad when I was 16.

    I think the idea was that it would elicit more interest from passing motorists than if they thought they were passing one of their own countrymen.

    I wouldn’t like to wear a flag – I wouldn’t be sure whether I was wearing the flag, or it was wearing me.

    1. What a great comment…”I wouldn’t be sure whether I was wearing the flag, or it was wearing me.”

      I personally just like to remove as many labels as possible when I’m out on the road.

    1. That’s a great point Laurence. I’ve met backpackers who pride themselves on ‘never’ visiting a touristy locale and/or slurping packaged noodles 3 times a day. It’s like a bragging contest – who spent the least…LOL

  35. says: Pierre

    Hi Sam, great topic! I came across your blog while searching for opinions on putting the Canadian flag on backpacks. I did the search for this not because I want to clearly identify that I am Canadian, but because I wanted to find out if other cultures find it offensive or that I may be ‘bragging’. I am a proud Canadian and maybe just like to show my true colours. I even have a small flag on my car here in Toronto! Funny enough, the only time I’ve ever been snubbed was at a bar in New Zealand, when speaking with another Canadian traveller, when I responded to his question and told him that I was from Toronto. Oh well….safe travels all………………….eh!

    1. Pierre, thanks for reading this article. I think that ultimately you should do what you’d like. I don’t think many will find it offensive you are wearing one and if you feel comfortable with it, I would say go for it 🙂 It’s just not for me, if that makes any sense.

  36. says: Kelly

    interesting perspective Sam. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m American. I’ve traveled to 46 countries and spent a total of 6 years living abroad. I can honestly say that I’ve had wonderfully friendly/welcoming receptions from locals all over the world. Even in countries where people have warned me against traveling, I’ve been blown away by how kind and generous locals have been to me. I really don’t know why there’s a ‘false misconception’ that Americans aren’t treated well overseas. I think smiling and being a nice person transcends cultures. Over the years, I’ve been humbled by the number of times people have invited me into their homes to share a meal with their family, or gone out of their way to help me in various situations. Now, with regard to Canadian travelers sewing a flag on their backpack, well… I find it kind of funny and patriotic all at the same time. But I can say, that after so many years of hanging out and traveling with Canadians in foreign countries, I have noticed that unlike Americans, Canadians will answer the question, “where are you from?” differently depending on the situation. For example, I’ve observed countless times that a Canadian will answer the question 1 of 2 ways… either “I’m from Canada” or “I’m North American.” It seemed to me that the same Canadian traveler would change his/her answer depending on the circumstance. In my experience, I’ve observed that a Canuck will either say Canada if they want to distance themselves from the U.S. or claim to be from North America, if they want the local to mistakenly think they’re American, especially since English is a second language and most locals will only pick up on the word American and not the geographic ambiguity of the answer.

    1. Hi Kelly, thanks for such an engaging comment. Firstly, it’s impressive you’ve traveled to 46 countries over 6 years of living abroad! I’ve lived abroad for 6 years as well 🙂 This sentence really sums up how I feel: “I think smiling and being a nice person transcends cultures.” I tried to check out your website but noticed it will be launching very soon. Let me know when it is up and I’ll come and check it out 🙂

      1. says: miguel

        Love this topic even if I am from Spain! anyway… I dont think being from the states is much of a problem when travelling. As I said earlier if you are respectfull and try to integrate into that new culture, people will be very friendly (apart form the idiots, yes, every country has their fare share!). But in general I guess people aren’t anti American but anti american governmet, international policy etc etc. This is my personal opinion of course, not being a canuck or a US national, I haven’t been able to experience the “problem” in my own skin. I just think that being humble and respectfull coming from whatever country yo come from will get you a very long way!

  37. Ha. Before I started reading this post, I thought I knew exactly what you were going to say. But I was wrong. You have tapped into exactly the reason people do these sort of things. It’s a feeling of inferiority rather than a fear of being persecuted as an American… Good one!

  38. says: Sasha

    I like the debate you’ve opened up here. I have to say that through my travels (which is nothing compared to yourself) I NEVER once displayed a Canadian Flag on anything. I believe that a good person is a good person is a good person, it makes no difference where you are from! While I was in Egypt, we (my husband and I) got asked where we were from. Of course we said Canada and the people were always really happy to make our aquaintence. But I was I ignorant enough to think that they were only nice to us because we were Canadian?? Absolutely not! They were pleasent to us because we were pleasent to them! Im sure they would have been just as happy to meet another nationality if the traveller was open to the culture and genuinely interested in the person they were speaking to.
    I have to admit I get really angry that people feel that if they have a Canadian flag patch on their backpack that they will get special treatment. Unfortunatley its the idiot people (of all nationalities including my fellow Candians) that do this and dont treat the people with respect that will end up giving Canadian people a bad name.

    1. I couldn´t agree with you more Sasha! My philosophy is let´s keep it as a blank slate and find out about each other naturally. If somebody is a jack-ass they´ve earned that reputation all on their own 🙂

  39. says: Alessandro

    Nice one Sam. I, too, met very great people from the US, but typically they “became” great people thanks to travelling abroad and seeing the world (to their words). Let me tell you an episode that happened to me while in Chile.
    I was at this typical Chilean bar with an American fellow traveller. He asked me not to tell anyone he was American. As he was dark red haired he could have well passed for an Irish, and so he was saying around.
    When I asked him why, he replied that since he got out the US he kinda understood that people from other countries can of course have prejudices and that not all other nations love US due to their last 60 years of foreign politics.
    So, my provocation is that the maple leaf perhaps doesn’t serve to gain a better reputation as Canadian but to avoid the bad one as American. And we come back to your Newyorker wearing a Canadian flag in Thailand.
    This is just a little thought given to the conversation, but I believe too that travellers don’t have nationality. The downside in meeting locals is that, sometimes, you find yourself speaking with people who have never been out of their countries and they too have their own strong prejudices hard to eradicate.
    Anyway, it all adds up to the experience 😉


    1. Some great points amigo! I especially agree with you on certain locals holding prejudices. I don´t know if you read an earlier post on my old blog, but I touched upon that in an article I wrote entitled ´Merely´ Change. Sometimes you just have to roll with the punches and expect a little bit of a backlash 🙂

  40. says: Dorf 27

    The reason that canadians wear their flag on their travel items is twofold…one is that Canada is still a small nation and some feel somewhat insignificant so any time they can show their colours , they will…#2 is an identity perception…Canada is still relatively young compared to most nations so some feel they may not be well known enough yet

  41. says: Alain

    I remember that some US Americans complaining about it when Canada refused to join the gulf war .
    The ambassador of US of A in Canada said “And you refuse to help us after we defended you against invasions”! I do not remember who in Canada answered :”Sir the only time we were invaded was by the USA, you should study history before talking”.
    As a European I must say I am quite pleased to see the canadian flag on the jacket or backpak, I do know then I’ll be able to talk with someone who won’t try to explain me he is from the most gentle, great, marvelous nation in the world etc… Canadians have the good sides of Us americans: Positive attitude, etc… without the arrogance wich makes a great mix. The only downside is, you must learn the Hockey teams names and scores for the last 126 years to be on good terms with them.But that’s acceptable. Do anyone says anything about the Germans wearing their flag on their sweat shirts or jackets??

    1. Alain, that´s a great quote…LOL Also, it must be terrible hearing all that racket about hockey. To be honest, there are certainly plenty of ignorant Americans but I tend not to meet those types overseas very often.

      1. says: miguel

        I think the ignorant ones stay @ home due to fear! 😉 and those who do travel, quickly change their mindstate. I guess travelling is like attending an intensive master/postgrad course in LIFE!

  42. says: Marc Passion

    Nomad Sam,

    Nicely written. The fact is when people travel they lose their own country traits, well at least I do. It’s about blending in to the new culture that you’re experiencing. I’m a firm believer of ‘living like a local’. Learn how to say thank you, hello, goodbye, please….and so fourth. It goes a long way and shows respect to that culture. And coming from Australia, we have a similarities to Canadians like the way we live and many of us are travelling the world. One thing though…..we don’t have an American accent! Hehehe

    1. Marc, I couldn´t agree with you more. When you travel you become a citizen of the world not a representative of your own country! That´s very true about the accent! I remember in Korea once meeting an Aussie who was pretending to have an American accent at school because they wanted a teacher from the US and were willing to pay more money per hour…LOL

    2. says: miguel

      I agree totally with Marc P on the fact that you you loose you country traits when you’re backpacking. Being from spain (BTW we have the same flag problem but internally, Catalonian & Basque Country flag vs Spanish flag) when I travel through latina America I can say that I slowly pick up the local accent and vocab, its just something that I do unconsciously. Its great not only because it helps you blend in “living like a local” but somehow casues curiousity becuase, despite having a funky accent no one knows exactly where you come from. I’ve had a few friends who were constantly mistaken for Argentinean during their trip in S america. I geuss it doesn’t really matter were you do come from, but how you represent yourself and how you respect the culture! GREAT POST BTW!

  43. says: Paul

    Didn’t like this one, Sam. There are many reasons Canadians put a Maple Leaf on a backpack, not only to be ‘not American’. While patriotism is sometimes a nonsensical and unnecessary argument waiting to happen, being a Canadian abroad is often considered a good thing. We are well-liked (generally) and we are proud of being Canadian, much like an Australian who has a kangaroo-themed patch on his backpack.
    One of my good friends played sports at a high level, representing Canada internationally. He has a maple leaf tattoo – does this make him ‘anti-American’?
    Paul (aka Hanson)

    1. Paul, some good points you´ve raised. I think it is great to be proud of your country but I don´t feel it needs to be visually represented on your backpack. I personally enjoy finding out where somebody is from naturally by conversation. Anyhow, if somebody is wearing it for some of the reasons you´ve stated above it certainly makes it more tolerable in my mind.

  44. says: Ahimsa

    Great post; you summed up my feelings exactly. I’m from the Pacific Northwest, which culturally isn’t that different from Canada anyway. We Yanks have our well documented problems, but I’ve probably met more culture conscious Canucks than any other nationality. The parallel between NZ and Oz is quite similar to Canada and the States, but you don’t see too many obvious kiwi backpackers either.

    1. I couldn´t agree with you more. Growing up near Vancouver I feel more at home in Seattle (other nearby areas) than I do/would in Toronto. Sometimes it´s not the borders that separate us but just sheer ignorance…LOL

  45. says: Paul

    When I travel in Asia, I wear a Canadian flag for a different reason. I don’t want people to think that I’m Korean. Unfortunately, Koreans have a bad reputation in Asian countries to the point that I’ve had friends tell me not to tell people that I’m Korean.

    1. That´s interesting Paul. I´ve noticed Korean culture is at least very popular in SE Asia – especially compared to 2008 – with plenty of Korean songs being played all the time. Maybe the reputation is improving significantly.

      1. says: Tom

        Koreans definitely DO have a bad rep – largely thanks to the population being hugely xenophobic/racist due to what they’re taught in public school. I see Koreans openly laugh in the street when they hear migrants speaking Thai or Vietnamese, and dark skin is equated with dirt…from what my (Korean) bf has told me, a lot of south-east Asians like the music, but resent the Korean public due to the awful way that they treat south-east Asian immigrants in South Korea.