December 13, 2023

The Unexpected Lessons I Learned while Living out of my Backpack.

If you would have told me over a decade ago that one day I would live out of a backpack, I would have laughed for at least 10 minutes.

I didn’t laugh when I sold most of my belongings three years ago and embarked on a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, living out of a 30-pound backpack for almost two months.

I knew I needed a change in my life, but I thought the pilgrimage would be something temporary, a one-time adventure. Little did I suspect that it would give a whole new direction of my life, and that I would keep living out of a backpack for years after.

On the Camino, you don’t need much—one of the most important things is to pack light. I packed two T-shirts, one long-sleeve top, leggings, hiking pants and shorts, a jumper, a towel, a raincoat, hiking shoes and sandals, some hygienic essentials, and a sleeping bag. I still felt like I had way too much stuff to carry.

I met quite a few women who brought tons of clothes. I quickly realized that although sometimes I longed to wear a nice, freshly washed dress, it’s not something I can’t live without. We need just so little to be happy in life and our happiness should not depend on the way we look or dress or the objects we own.

After my first Camino, I started to work as a tree planter. I flew to Scotland directly from Santiago de Compostela, and in the first few rookie months, I was using the same backpack and same clothes I wore on the Camino. Well, I had to invest in a second small bag, to be honest, to be able to take my food with me to the sites, and I had to get wellies and waterproofs as well to work in the rain, so I needed a bit more space.

I still have my “little” 30-pound bag, plus upgraded to a 70-pound big backpack in my second planting year. I keep my fragile belongings like my laptop in the smaller bag, and all my clothes in the big one—mainly clothes for working outside all year, in any weather condition. And to be frank, even like this—having so little—I feel at times that I have so much stuff with me. Clutter makes me feel suffocated. I still want to reduce and optimize my pack, but it isn’t as easy as it sounds when you have to keep stuff for four seasons all year round.

The most important thing I learned while living out of my backpack is to live in the moment and savor every second of it. For that you don’t really need belongings, a girly dress, or even a clean T-shirt. Happiness is perfect as it is in the given moment. I could walk in the same T-shirt for a week, yet the beauty of the landscape would be the same, the taste of food would be the same, the laughter would be the same sweet, and the tears just as salty, and yeah, real friends might tell you that you stink but love you anyways.

Mass media does a really good job of selling us the idea that we need more and more of everything. More clothes, bigger house, faster car—many people want these things, but do they actually need it? Will any of these make them truly happy?

I realized how most of my problems are such #firstworldproblems. I am blessed to have everything (and even much more) than I actually need. When I felt like my back was going to break under my 8.8 kg backpack on the Camino while climbing up the mountain, I felt so privileged because it was something I chose to do, because I could.

I am 33 now, living out of my backpack, traveling around for work—and no, I don’t feel like settling down at the moment. I don’t feel the need to own a house, a car, clothes for occasion that I will wear only once a year. Life is so much better if you keep it simple.

It doesn’t only apply to the size of my backpacks. I also came to understand that home is wherever I make it and not where I store my stuff.

The things we own end up owning us and they don’t just occupy the space surrounding us but also the space in our head. When I first arrived in Santiago de Compostela (the final destination of all Caminos), I surprised myself with a new T-shirt and a small bag because I thought I deserved it. Frankly, I did not need them.

Immediately, I noticed the more objects I had, the more concerned I was about them. I had more things to wear, but I also had more things to pack, wash, dry, and carry with me. I was happy the moment I exchanged my money for the T-shirt, but it didn’t keep me happy for long. I ended up donating the items I did not use just to simplify my life again.

This became a habit since I work in forestry. I noticed every time we stay put for an extended period of time—meaning we stay at the same accommodation for over a month—I somehow hoard more things. A hoodie left by my friend here, waterproof pants left by someone there, tons of gloves for different types of jobs, boxes and boxes of food because I have more space to store them in the room and don’t even notice how much space they actually end up taking up.

Simple living became one of the most liberating things for me. It provided me with many lessons about myself, proved to me that happiness only depends on the individual, and that there’s no need to be scared of anything life throws at you (still mastering the skills though).

At the end of the day, it only matters what you carry in your heart.


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