1. Who we are determines what we do, not the other way around.
Work is a fundamental part of life. For some, it is life. And that’s fine for those who love what they do and who chose their profession with much care and consideration. But many of us simply stumbled into the thing that consumes our days. And even more are just trying to pay the bills. So how long until we become a product of what pays?
When backpacking, we find ourselves answering more questions about who we are rather than what we do. We are forced to answer those questions, to discover what remains when the positions and incomes that define us are stripped away.
2. Our reactions and opinions are constantly being challenged in real time.
Whether it’s work, or simply the familiar, we all establish routines in our daily lives that make time move a little more quickly. We are immersed in cultures that we don’t even recognize as foreign to many, cultures that shape the people we meet and the experiences we have. We are conditioned, we are comfortable.
When backpacking, we are constantly being confronted by new information and our minds must work to process it, must decide how to respond and adjust accordingly. People and experiences are fresh and varied. We are constantly learning new things and are asked to defend or dismiss the things we already know. It’s an education. It’s exhausting. And it’s exhilarating.
3. Empathy is easier to achieve at close proximity.
We live in a globalized world, but how much do we really know about our neighbors in this global village thrust upon us by technology? How much can we really learn through the veil of our computer and television screens?
When backpacking, we are able to make connections with people from all over the world based on the fact that we are together in the adventure, no matter where it may have started. We share in laughter and sorrow and realize that language can pale in comparison with the communication of souls. We learn to understand where other people come from, in the most real of senses, and are able to relate as people over products of a particular culture.
4. Living on a little makes us realize how little we need to live.
We are surrounded by things. Things that promise to give our lives meaning but so often leave us emptier than their discarded plastic casings. Often, we aren’t even conscious of this promise. And so the hollowness is hard to place. It makes us bitter. It leaves us searching.
When backpacking, we are forced to shove as few things as we can into a portable bag. We come to see how little we really need, how fulfilling the self-satisfaction can be from finishing a trek in an old pair of jeans without a bit of makeup and how peaceful a silence can be without the hum of electronics.
Our separation from the tangible things in our lives gives us a closer look at the intangibles. We come to understand what really gives life meaning and redefine our ideas about what’s essential and what’s expendable.
5. We are forced to exist in the present.
An old Buddhist proverb describes people that live in the past as being depressed, people that live in the future as being anxious, and people who live in the present as being content. Now, this doesn’t trivialize the importance of memories or of planning ahead, but the here and now must not be overshadowed by the then and soon to come. The present is the only place where we are truly alive, where we can really make a difference.
While backpacking, the present is all there is. We become skilled in the art of saying goodbye, of cherishing what has passed without dwelling. There is simply no time. We learn to go with the flow of our adventure, unsure of what awaits us in the next place or with the next person. We trust in our instincts and miss far less than we would if we weren’t constantly digesting the world around us.
Life may not always be as exciting as our travels, but maybe, just maybe, it should be approached in the same fashion.