It seems like it was a lifetime ago, but only 3 months has passed since I packed all the essentials (and few just in case pieces I never used) for my pilgrimage on the El Camino. I did not give much importance of living out of a backpack, but looking back I realize how transformative this decision was. It completely altered my mindset in ways I could not have foreseen.
On the Camino, you don’t need much—one of the most important things is to pack light. This was something that entertained me so much on the way—to find out what other pilgrims decided to pack. It tells so much about the person that otherwise you’d never find out about them.
Some people only arrived with a 5 kg bag, others looked like they are carrying their whole house with them (imagine 11 kg of clothes only). Some girls arrived with 2 t-shirts and 2 pants, some women brought 5 pair of shoes, some brought a fancy dress and flower clips in the hair and some were fixing their red nails on a daily basis.
I packed 2 t-shirts, 1 long-sleeve top, leggings, hiking pants and shorts, a thermo pullover, a towel, a raincoat and a sleeping bag. As I looked at other women who brought so many clothes, I quickly realized that although sometimes I wished 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. I came to re-evaluate what is truly essential in my life and most of the essentials can be bought anywhere.
There’s no sense of time on the Camino. The world slows down, there’s nowhere to rush (though, for some this also turned into a competition). The most important thing I learned is to live in the moment and savor every second of it. For that you don’t really need belongings, a silk dress or even a clean shirt. Happiness is perfect as it is. 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, and yeah, real friends might tell you that you stink but love you regardless.
Living out of a backpack made me realize 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 is going to break under my 8.8 kg backpack climbing up the mountain I felt so privileged because it is something I chose to do, because I can. Unlike those people in the Himalayas who carry heavy packages so travelers can enjoy their trips there, for barely any payment. Or the Africans who have to walk kilometers each day just to get their daily fresh water.
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?
Life is so much better if you keep it simple. It doesn’t only apply to the size of the backpack. We need to simplify our everyday life as well. Since living out of a backpack even for a short period of time, clutter makes me feel suffocated. 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 arrived in Santiago, I surprised myself with a new t-shirt and a bag because I thought I deserve it. Frankly, I did not need them. 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 very 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.
Simple living is liberating. It provided me with many lessons about myself, proved me that happiness only depends on the person and that there’s no need to be scared of anything. In the end of the day, it only matters what is in your heart.
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Photo: Imola Toth