I’m now 4 days away from jetting off to Europe, and it’s time to get serious about packing. You know I’m taking this seriously because I’m a dedicated procrastinator and usually pack for a trip the night before. Inevitably, with such limited space it forces you to make some tough decisions–guess I won’t be taking my beloved cast-iron dutch oven, after all–and you soon realize that less truly is more. Distilling your life into a single carry-on bag requires a lot of focus and honesty. In addition to my laptop, do I really need to bring an emergency cell phone, and iPod touch (a cheap 3rd generation one my parents insist I keep in case my laptop goes kaput)? When does a French-English travel phrasebook become a luxury rather than a necessity, and is it frivolous of me to bring two water bottles when one might do? Questions like this make me think of a scene in the film The Way, where the pilgrims have a brief discussion about what makes someone a “true pilgrim” of the Camino de Santiago. Does biking it or hitchhiking it make it less Kosher somehow? Do you lose pilgrim points for taking showers with hot water?
There is no completely straightforward answer. People find meaning in their own unique ways; there are happy ascetics and gluttons, and many others somewhere in the middle (I’m probably more on the glutton side of the spectrum). As for the “true pilgrim” question, the first person I ever spoke to about the Camino de Santiago never even received a credential (the official certificate issued by the Pilgrim’s Office in Santiago de Compostela for completing a minimum of 100 km on foot) for it, because he only walked the last day of it–and yet it changed his life forever. That’s enough to be a pilgrim in my book. Going on a trip like this is an exercise in stripping away everything but the most basic necessities in order to survive, and in doing so, it reveals who I am at the very core of my being. So, what happens when you fit your life into a 40 liter backpack and leave everything else behind? I’m not entirely sure yet, but chances are it’s going to be a purified, less-cluttered version of me, and I’m excited for that change to happen.
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