Nature Is Never Closed: Kathryn Flinchbaugh
One will never truly understand the wonder of backpacking until he or she straps a backpack on to their bodies, walks through airport security, boards a plane and doesn’t look back. Walking straight into the world of unknown. It’s exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.
The weeks leading up to your departure date feel like a dream. Save money. Create a budget. Make dozens of trips to REI. Repack. Unpack. Repack. Download books. Download maps. Buy guide books. Who knows if you will ever truly be prepared?
You fill your backpack with whatever you deem worthy to carry for months at a time. Allergy medicine. Tampons. Travelers’ diarrhea pills. Nature Valley bars. Soap. Razor blades. Sweaters. Socks. Tweezers. Bandaids. Dry towel. Rehydration salts. A clothes line. Gold Bond. Chargers. A Nook. A water bottle.
You slowly realize that you don’t really need shit. It’s a journey away from the materialistic, privileged world we live in. Back to the basics. I remember getting ready for my first time sleeping without AC in 80 degree heat in Nicaragua. How do people DO this? How will I EVER fall asleep? How will I sleep without my down-comforter? How will I sleep with one pillow? How will I sleep on a Mickey Mouse mattress for a toddler 2 inches thick? How will I… and then I was out like a light. The truth is, I was exhausted, and that’s all it took. A good, hardworking day. Now I look back and laugh because it was such a ridiculous mentality. AC? A down-comforter? People have “throw pillows”? Bells and whistles. Now I jump up and down in elation just to discover I have a fan or a sheet. Recently, I slept in a jungle without a fan, without a pillow, in a twin bed with Jessica (Jbabs). We slept like that for 10 nights. We had to “toad proof” our room and we most definitely had to sleep in pools of sweat but you know what? We survived. Yet it’s safe to say, I will still never take a 65 degree room for granted.
Backpacking creates this sense of humility. You are the underdog. You’re the odd one out. Sometimes you’re stared at. Three crazy burned insect bite ridden white chicks with 30 -40 pound backpacks buying avocados and booze in the supermarket. What are they thinking? But most of the time, people want to help. They help you with translating, they help you find your way, they give recommendations, they make calls to help you find a hostel when you don’t have cell service, they pick you up on a moto when you’re dying in the heat. People are inherently kind. In this crazy, selfish world we live in, it’s a beautiful thing to experience the kindness in humans when you travel. Some people who probably have 75% less of what you have at home. People that are happier, easier to please, content. It’s reassuring to see people smiling, taking their time, saying hello, laughing in the streets – things I don’t always see at home.
A bitter sweet part of backpacking (for me at least and I know some may disagree) is that it creates this sense of independence and self reliance. I say bitter sweet because it’s this beautiful, fucked up thing. When you’re doing the damn thing, living out of a backpack, supporting yourself, conquering your dreams, you feel on top of the world. You prove to yourself that, “I don’t need anyone.” I did this all by myself. I saved the money. I bought the ticket. I planned my trip. I’m strong. You feel like a rockstar because so many people didn’t think you could do it, and you learn that so many people actually couldn’t do it.
But then it’s time to go back. You return home feeling extremely independent and almost isolated. It’s hard to get back into a “normal way of life”. No one gets it. Answering to other people. Following the status quo. Obtaining the unrealistic “American Dream”. You want to keep living off the grid. You don’t want to apply to 9-5 jobs where you know you’ll be miserable. You want to keep moving. Keep going. You did fine on you’re own, and you don’t need anyone now.
Yet this isn’t necessarily true. You need your family. You need your friends. And even though it seems unfair you need money. So you need a job. And you can find a good one. This doesn’t make you any less independent, but there’s an adjustment period. And sometimes when I return from a trip I come across as harsh, cold, and changed. But this is all part of the process. One minute you’re living on a jungle farm worrying about whether you should make turmeric tea or clean the dry bathroom with vinegar because it smells like shit, and the next minute you’re walking into a job interview in a pantsuit or picking out mascara in Target.
Again, this is my interpretation and my experience with backpacking. It’s one of the best feelings in the world to travel. It’s addicting, and it’s wild, and its intoxicatingly wonderful. I can’t express to anyone who has hasn’t traveled out of a backpack what it’s really like. It’s also hard and scary and frustrating. Some days you have to pee on your friends leg for mosquito repellent. Sometimes you’re on the toilet for hours on end because the lettuce wasn’t washed in filtered water. Sometimes you just want your parents to give you a hug and tell you it’s going to be okay. Sometimes you’re so swollen from bug bites that you’re not sure if you will live to see another day. Sometimes you lose your best friend in the airport for hours and end up on different flights. Sometimes you lose your favorite travel pants. Sometime people steal your flip flops. Sometimes you want sushi so badly you could cry. Sometimes you want to curl up in a 5 star hotel and sleep for 10 days. But it’s worth it. It’s so worth it. Living out of your comfort zone and seeing the world with opened eyes. Learning about new cultures, adapting to change, adopting new philosophies, discovering a new language, making new friends, losing old ones, growing as a person. Living in the moment. Taking a chance and walking straight into the world of the unknown.