Things I've Learned From Living Out of an 85L Backpack

Coming to YWAM, I didn’t invest in the largest suitcase I could find. First of all, I didn’t have the money; second of all, I didn’t think it was necessary. I figured I could take six months of my life and live more of a minimalist lifestyle, but even then, I brought way too much. I packed up my violin, camera gear and computer, and then packed all my clothes and shoes inside one 85 L backpack and a carry on suitcase, together weighing only around 65 lbs. Getting there, I thought I was doing pretty good. Some girls had massive suitcases, some brought two or more. But about a month in, I realized that bringing clothes for two and a half weeks was a little overkill. Did I really need two pairs of denim shorts? I had three dark red tank tops of slightly different styles, couldn’t I have just brought one? And don’t even get me started on the black shirts. I thought I did pretty good, but the reality is this;

Sometimes, we pay so much attention to the little details and the slight differences in some things, that having three of almost the same thing doesn’t even register to us.

I didn’t wear a lot of my clothes that I brought in Kona. I intentionally brought plain shirts so I could wear the same thing for multiple days and nobody would really notice, and I probably wore the same five tank tops for the majority of my time there.

Since coming on outreach and only having that 85 L backpack to bring all my clothes with me, I realized once again that I brought too much. After leaving a bunch of little things in San Diego, shipping a few shirts to my boyfriend, and after leaving about six or seven more articles of clothing in Mexico City, I’m sitting in Panama realizing that I really don’t need that much. I still have way too many shirts, but it’s about half of what I originally brought.

Living out of a backpack has taught me a few things.

First of all, you really have to decide what’s important, and keep it at a minimum for the issue of weight (my backpack was nearly 50 lbs when I left Kona!) and space (you’ll definitely buy things internationally, it’s inevitable, I thought I could escape it, but I failed). So it’s been a little bit of “out with the old, in with the new” mentality as I got things in Mexico and now Panama. I had to prioritize what was necessary, what I would never use again, and of course, make room for the items I bought. I think coming into this, I was under the impression that I wouldn’t be able to get anything anywhere and had to have everything I’d need for almost three months of travel. Other countries are not that different from the US. They have the same types of products, maybe not always the same brands, but they have it. So I will be sure to make note of that for future travel.

With what I said before about having multiples of the same kind of shirt, I am guilty of this with what I brought on outreach. Two black tank tops, three pairs of running shorts, two pairs of below-the-knee running pants (Gold star to whoever can guess how many runs I actually went on) two painting shirts, and more. Being minimalist in traveling is important. You can do laundry, you can wear something 2-3 times before you actually need to clean it, so you can make seven shirts last two to three weeks before washing (depending on what you’re doing of course). I’m discovering that I kind of like a little bit of a minimalist style. Solid colored shirts are the perfect canvas for scarves, necklaces, or a cardigan. One black shirt in my backpack can have multiple variations just by changing something small, and nobody notices. I’m going to bring this home, simplify what I have in my closet, and get creative with less. Less sometimes really is more.

I’ve also really grown to appreciate every time my mother did laundry for me. Washing machines vary depending on where we go. Kona cost $2, in Tijuana, we had free laundry (oh happy day!), Mexico City, we could either do it by hand, or take it to a place and they would do your laundry for you, Panama City is the same way, the campground didn’t really have anything that we could have access to (that made for some stinky socks for four days!) and the base we’re currently costs $2.50 for each load. Technically doing laundry at home costs money, but we don’t have to slide our quarters into the slots to get it going. But after doing so many loads of laundry here, I am so grateful for every load I didn’t have to do back at home. I’ve also learned that you need to keep an eye on how many pairs of underwear you have left before you run out. It’s not a pleasant surprise to get up and find that you have no clean underwear.

I’ve learned to appreciate the small things. I got to sit outside in my hammock the other day and read Walden, and that was a highlight of my day. I had a cup of hot chocolate today while it rained, and it made this place just feel a little more like home. I’ve had to get creative about things to keep me occupied since I can’t drive here and I can’t go anywhere alone (being a girl in a foreign country can be a bit of a bummer sometimes) but I have picked up Calligraphy, something I used to enjoy, ran out of time to do, and now I’m falling in love with it again. And it’s a perfect hobby to have on the road, a small notebook and pens don’t take up very much space and can be a really fun conversation starter on airplanes.

I’ve learned a lot about communication since being gone. I discovered that when you don’t call, message, or skype your parents, they might worry a little bit. I’ve learned that communicating my schedule to my boyfriend is a good plan of action so we can know we’ll both be available for a phone call when it comes around. I’ve learned how to work around slow, slow, slow connection, when calling isn’t possible. I’ve learned that when I get tired, I don’t really like to talk much, so it’s probably best if I just don’t say much and call it a night early. It’s been a good experience too being out of service most of the time. It’s really been teaching me that while I’m not home, I should be interacting with the people around me instead of sitting on facebook at bus stops or updating my Instagram in line for fast food. Even though we’ve been so lucky as to have internet (with the exception of a couple days at the campground) we’re still disconnected because of how limited it is sometimes, and it’s been great.

I’ve learned that sometimes, no matter what your food preference is, you just need to shut up and eat what’s in front of you. Traveling leave a lot of room to be picky. When you’re meals don’t have much food to begin with (portion sizes are smaller here) and half of it is something you don’t care for, you have a couple options, eat it and be merry, or stick to your pride and pass it off to somebody else and feel hungry. I ate a few things that I normally wouldn’t eat, and probably won’t eat again, but I’ve been a little less picky since coming.

Going to other countries also makes you realize what you really love in life. I miss rock climbing, performing in orchestra concerts, mountains, running through the grass barefoot, friends, going to tea shops, driving, my boyfriend, my family, having somewhere to call home. For the longest time, I thought that I wanted to become a professional nomad, traveling wherever I want to, live in different places, never stay in the same place for more than a year, hop from job to job, build up a blog and print shop and make a living from that and easy jobs, go to Europe, stay in hostels and ride trains, and all of that sounds fun, but more than anything, I feel like I want somewhere to call home, a home base, somewhere I can always come back to, somewhere I belong. I want that more than anything, and I believe with everything in me that my home and my place in the world, is back in Colorado.

I’ve learned that my camera gear is way too heavy. When your checked bag is around 37 lbs and your carry on camera bag is 30 lbs, you have a problem. I’m also realizing travel would be so much easier if I wasn’t a photographer. I wouldn’t have to pull out my laptop at every security point, I wouldn’t have to worry about my camera gear getting damaged and having nowhere to repair it, and I wouldn’t have a crazy amount of weight on my shoulders all the time when I’m out walking around for the just in case scenario. But if I wasn’t a photographer, I wouldn’t be able to document all the beautiful things I see.

I’ve been living out of a backpack for over four months, and while I can’t wait to go home and not move around every couple of weeks, I wouldn’t trade this for anything.