The Evolution of Packing

I wasn’t always a backpacking traveler. Being from a tiny affluent country in Europe, it’s pretty normal to go on holidays abroad (privilege!) and I personally don’t know any of my fellow same-passport holders who hasn’t been abroad. Travel has been a part of my life since birth. Normally, we’d travel by car, giving us plenty of room to bring Stuff™ and sometimes we’d go by airplane. Only for the latter we’d have to really think about what to pack as there’s limits to how much Stuff you can bring.

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport, July 2011. I’m flying to Argentina for five weeks to learn Spanish. My premature birthday present: a huge, lime-green suitcase for checked-in luggage. The weight limit is 23kg and that’s what I’ve loaded into it. Dresses, shoes – yes, even make-up – goes in there. I have to sit on it to close it. I drag the dead weight on the scales for luggage drop-off. Weighing the suitcase at the airport brings the total weight a little under the maximum. Success! Or not… Five weeks later, I’ve used maybe 60% of the Stuff I put into that huge, lime-green suitcase. I arrived  back at the airport of Buenos Aires with five pairs of shoes on top of the ones I’d already brought, among other Things™ that I counted as Souvenirs™. I can’t lift the monster of a suitcase by myself. Panicking about the weight, I drag it onto the scales and see the number climb to 30kg. I look the check-in lady in the eye with trepidation. As I was the first person to check in for this flight and she could probably smell my consumerist regrets, she calmed me down and let me take the 7kg extra without charge. I fly home. The only borderline-genius Thing I bought in Argentina was my first backpack for a meager €18 for some trip with my new friends. Only once more would I use that huge, lime-green suitcase, but now it’s collecting dust in the attic of my grandmother’s house. By now, I’ve evolved into a Backpacker™.

That backpack joined me on my first solo-backpacking trips in Scandinavia, when I was still flying. Most of the time, I was able to pack it under the weight limit for hand luggage and I enjoyed the freedom this brought me: no more waiting for Stuff after landing, no paradox of choice for what to wear and manageable weight I could load on my back from the ground with ease. I still bought Stuff though, but slowly I started to kick out the excesses and impediments. No more impractical shoes and clothes, no make-up (the world doesn’t care), a near 100% use of the contents. Alas, this cheap backpack didn’t last too long, in Greece, 2013, I found a new backpack for €22 to retire the one from Argentina. As I discovered couchsurfing, the need for a sleeping bag became apparent and the size and weight of the backpack went up again. When I wanted to go freecamping, I realized I needed to bring a tent, too. Then I found out that hitchhiking is a really efficient mode of travelling and there’s no weight limit. Finally, I bought a guitar and now I was back at carrying a lot more again, but it is worth the weight for me. Now I don’t use airplanes with their weight limits anymore except for emergencies, but the struggle to pack my backpack as light and efficient as possible will remain a struggle for life.

Armenia, August 2014. I’m hitchhiking together with possibly the most annoying “I’m such a better traveler than you”-guy™ in the world, but there’s one thing I envy: his packing skills, or lack thereof. He has a backpack the size of a normal day bag, with an insulation mat hanging on the outside. It weighs 5kg and I’m in awe. By now, I’m at my third backpack, a shitty €17 one bought in Georgia, that had a strap ripping off the first time I put it on when packed. Excluding my tiny guitar, this was about 10kg and I was impressed with myself until I met this guy. By now I’ve met many of these guys – somehow, they’re almost always guys – and I’ve come to realize that they have to give up a lot of things to travel as light as they do. Things they usually don’t bring are a tent, sleeping bag and mattress for camping, and for clothing only one pair of pants, two or three undies and socks, two t-shirts and a blouse. Not even a jacket or sweater for the cold. I’m incapable of that. Oftentimes, my feeling of disgrace for not packing as smartly as they do is cancelled out by their immense stupidity of putting their passports in their bags (Never-Do-This™).

Spain, summer 2015. Currently, I’m at my fourth backpack, an inheritance piece from a family member and it’s a good one. The twelve kilos I carry consist of my house (tent, sleeping bag, mattress), my four-season wardrobe, my kitchen (2,5L water, food box plus stove and pan), my guitar and my other Things like a book, playing cards and other optional Stuff that do bring joy to travelling. This backpack is fully equipped to be travelling year-round in pretty much any climate – and that’s exactly what I need, having gone hitchhiking since the end of 2013. These Things actually bring me more freedom to do what I want while travelling than if I’d leave them out. I know this is not a static state and will evolve again, but I do hope I’m never going back to being that little girl that carried 80% of her body weight in Stuff she didn’t use in Argentina. Moral of the story: cheap backpacks die young, go and find out your own balance of too much Stuff versus too little Stuff and evolve your packing skills where neccessary. Less Stuff makes happy, people.

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