There’s something that’s just kind of romantic about the idea of backpacking.
After all, there’s a reason why so many people really loved the book, and film, The Beach, which was basically all about a backpacker’s quest to find a perfect, untainted piece of paradise for himself.
Or, for that matter, Into the Wild, which followed the real-life exploits of a tragic wanderer in search of adventure.
Part of the attraction is obviously the fact that when you’re backpacking, you get to see the world on your own terms, with nothing but inspiration to guide you, and the clothes and supplies in your pack to weigh you down.
Another part of it often has to do with getting out into a truly beautiful natural setting that you might ordinarily never visit.
Backpacking in Yellowstone, for example, certainly puts you back in touch with some of the beautiful corners of the natural world in a pretty dramatic way.
Maybe you’ve been backpacking around cities before, but have never really been on a prolonged camping and hiking trip.
If so, you owe it to yourself to do it. But here are a few things that you should expect, first, just so that you’re not too surprised.
If you’re used to fast-paced city life…
Get ready for a moment of boredom, followed by a complete change in how you experience the pace of life.
There’s a certain idea that’s been pointed out by various popular outdoorsy types over the years, which is that those of us who live in cities and general-purpose urban and suburban environments end up adapting to a pretty “frantic” pace of life, that puts us quite at odds with the general rhythms of the natural world.
If you live in the city and have all the modern amenities, including a good Internet connection, TV, et cetera, you’re probably pretty well-conditioned to the idea that entertainment and “action” are only ever just around the next corner.
The thing is, when you opt to spend a decent length of time camping and hiking in a natural setting, without taking all your high-tech gadgets with you, this particular mindset means you’re likely to find that the experience starts off seeming really kind of sluggish, and maybe even boring.
The trick is that if you stick with it, this feeling will end up dissipating pretty quickly, and within a couple of days you’ll likely find that you’ve completely changed the way in which you experience the pace of life.
Instead of being so restless, you’ll feel more content just strolling around and “going with the flow” to a degree.
Instead of always being on the lookout for the next great panoramic “action shot” of wolves in the mist, or an Elk standing on top of a rocky outcrop, you’ll begin to appreciate the setting more as a whole.
There’s something quite amazing about this experience, and quite remarkable about the shift. For many people, it feels something like “coming home” and finally being able to relax and take a deep breath after being on edge for too long.
Of course, you’ve got to be willing to embrace that sensation, and deliberately slow yourself down a bit, as well.
Expect your sleep to get a whole lot more regular
The creation of electric lighting started a trend where people’s sleep became increasingly worse, and they began going to bed later and later.
The reason for this is, pretty simply, that bright light signals to our bodies that it’s daytime, and that artificial lighting in the evening, therefore, stifles melatonin production and disrupts our circadian rhythms.
Of course, the ubiquitous use of digital gadgets at night time in recent years has only exacerbated this issue, and more and more people now report experiencing pretty severe insomnia.
Interestingly, some research has indicated that just a few days spent camping in the wild without modern gadgets has an almost miraculous ability to reset people’s circadian rhythms, and get them aligned to the cycle of light and dark again.
After a couple of days of camping, you can expect to find that you’re far more alert in the morning, and get sleepy far earlier in the evening, as the sun goes down, and the campfire starts-up.
You’ll have plenty of time for good conversations, and to reflect on your own thoughts.
If you’re camping and hiking by yourself, you’re going to have a lot of time with your own thoughts, and should expect that you will be doing a lot of reflecting, and introspection.
If you’re camping and hiking with friends or family, you can expect that you will have a lot more time and motivation for good conversations.
Assuming, once again, that you’ve left your digital devices at home, or at least in the bottom of your rucksack, the experience of being out in nature kind of brings your awareness back to the basic personal and interpersonal social dynamics that we sometimes take for granted in everyday life.
Consider bringing some board games, maybe a journal to write in, a pack of playing cards, and so on. Revel in the opportunity to enjoy a more “analogue” approach to life for a while.
You’ll end up seeing the world in a different way – at least for a little while.
One of the great things about spending some time in nature, is that it helps us to get a different sort of perspective on our everyday lives – specifically in the sense that we are better able to see them from an “outsiders’ perspective.”
If there’s something that’s been on your mind, that’s been bothering you, or that’s been making you wonder, getting into nature for a while can refresh your perspective, grant new insight, and help you to move past mental stumbling blocks.
Often, the stuff that’s been bothering you back home begins to seem kind of irrelevant, and ephemeral, when set against the awesomeness of the natural environment, and the eternal rhythms of the seasons, the cycle of day and night, and all that other stuff that speaks to something ancient within us.