I used to over-pack for every trip. A weekend away would warrant at least six possible outfits along with a wide selection of footwear to match. Then, I would inevitably think of another shirt that would be better than anything I had put in my bag and spend the rest of the trip self-consciously crossing my arms in front of my chest.

It turns out all it takes to cure a severe over-packing problem is a summer backpacking in Europe. With every additional article of clothing I threw out because it was stained with sangria or got ripped as I was practicing my matador moves at the running of the bulls, I could make it a few steps further without stopping to curse my bags for bending my back out of place. The less baggage I had, the further I got, the more fun I had, the more I saw, more memories I could store with me forever with no additional weight.

It wasn’t just unnecessary clothes and my shaving razor I threw out. That girl who needed all the clothes she owned and more to feel comfortable in a new place had a lot of inner baggage as well.

When I first left for my European excursion, I was doing it to escape in a lot of ways. The impending last year of college had me confused and lost. I’d lie in bed every night and think about how I had no idea where my life was going. I felt passionless and lonely and suffocated all at once. I started questioning every decision I had already made that led me to this apparent dead end. I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to find a job as an au pair and run away to Spain.

When I first left, my bag was so huge; I think I lost five pounds dragging it from my apartment to the airport. My emotions weighed on me as well. I couldn’t help but remember that this trip was still only a temporary fix and after a few months of distractions, I would be back to the awful trapped place I was in before.

But, like I said before, backpacking changed me. Not only did I come back with a smaller bag, I came back with a new perspective. The freedom that I had while traveling allowed me to learn that the anxiety I was feeling before I left came from a societal pressure telling me that I needed to know what direction I wanted my life to go in. When I was sitting in my t-shirt and shorts, covered in sweat, hairy legged, letting my friend chop off my hair because the heat got so intense, I learned who I was.

It is that exact freedom that I brought back with me. Freedom from all the ‘should be’s that were trying to latch on to my future and force decisions that I wasn’t ready to make. Oh, and my closet isn’t overflowing as badly anymore either.


Contributor: Erin Bouwma
Erin Bouwma: Loves friends, family, reading, karaoke, bad television, peanut m&m’s, and writing. More or less in that order. Never be embarrassed of your Tinder, we all have one.