Over the past month or two, as I’ve been dismantling my life in St. Paul and preparing to leave, the one thing I’ve spent a lot of time thinking specifically about is gear. What to bring on this trip of trips? Being a gear geek, I thought it would be fun to outfit a trip of this potential diversity and length. But as it turns out, gear became the outlet through which my fears have manifested themselves.
I’m a seasoned traveler and an experienced backpacker. I’ve been to 18 countries and grew up camping and backpacking deep in the woods for weeks at a time and always with a sack on my back. It occurred to me recently that in each of those situations, I was always returning somewhere afterwards. This is the first time with no specific route, no specific return. How do I possibly pack for a trip with no real route or timeline involved?
My first thoughts centered around the most basic needs; food, water, and shelter. I pored over websites reviewing clothes lists, gadgets, and packs. I started riffling through other traveler’s packing lists, both with an eye of skepticism and awe at how much or how little some people were bringing. I take pride in my experience and at being a light, efficient backpacker and some of these travelers put me to shame, which just ended up making things more intense. I can do that!
I tweeted about pack sizes and gear and was obsessed with finding the right item and creating the perfect packing list (cue choir of angels). I planned a post about it, with many clever insights of course, to show the world how good of a backpacker I was. I spent a few nights in Midwest Mountaineering questioning various sales staff on the different items I was planning to take along. It was keeping me up at night, hopping out of bed more than once to re-review some specification or function.
I headed back to Midwest for another run and as I was weighing the pros and cons of a particular item, a thought flashed in my mind; it’s not about the gear, it’s about fear. It wasn’t about the right backpack, as important as that might be, or the right gadgets or clothes, it was about the fear of no real idea of what’s next in any sense. All I know is I’m on flight 295 to Bangkok on Wednesday and have a room in a hostel for two nights, that’s it. No real plan of what I want to see, no real people I know when I get there. Nothing.
No matter how beautifully constructed my list is, packing the right bag won’t solve all my problems or provide any answers as I take this leap. Through the noise, it occurs to me that I’ve designed it this way and there’s a reason why I’ve resisted any planning except in its roughest forms. If nothing else, this journey will be about exploration; emotionally, spiritually, and geographically. How can I plan for that? Why would I want to? And anyway, I’m pretty sure they don’t sell whatever that is at Midwest.
As for what I’m actually taking with me for the next year: I’ve filled my pack with less than I want, but more than I need.