Hollen Terry: Backpacking Across Europe with College Human Sciences Summer 2019
Five weeks, nine countries, fourteen cities, and one big, green backpack. Mine was no ordinary pack, It wasn’t the outdoorsy type that hikers take when they go camping, backpacking, or trekking through rugged terrain. I found those types of packs to be too small for five weeks’ worth of clothes and shoes because I am a notorious over-packer and couldn’t bear to be without at least 6 pairs of shoes. Instead, I took my aunt’s big green machine- an L.L.Bean pack made in 1985 that she took with her when she studied in England. By the time I had packed all my most essential shoes and clothing items, the pack weighed a merciless 48 pounds, just under the airline’s limit. Barely within regulation, I hopped on a plane to Rome with 15 other Auburn students I hardly knew.
This backpacking trip through Europe required hostel hopping and train rides, (no hikes or intense outdoor activities) but even still, the walks from the train stations to the hostels were quite the endeavor given I was carrying half my bodyweight on my back. My big green backpack nearly toppled me over every time I wore it, so I counterbalanced it with my carry-on which was worn on my front. This two-pack system for porting five weeks’ worth of belongings altered my gait and caused me to walk with a sort of waddle that made me laugh any time I passed by my reflection in a store window or mirror. I had to be cautious whenever I turned around or changed direction, as my pack extended two feet behind me and I often whacked those around me. Needless to say, the big green backpack made quite the scene wherever we went.
As the trip went on and I grew more accustomed to packing and unpacking when we arrived at new hostels, I realized how easy it was for me to get settled into each new city. From city to city, everything was different. New languages, new atmospheres, new cultures, new architecture, new food, new directions, everything changed every 72 hours. But I felt right at home. I had grown so close to the people I was travelling with and had everything I could possibly need in that big green backpack. The pack had become more like a mobile home. Everywhere I went, the pack was with me; so wherever I was, I was at home.
My backpacking trip had its fair share of challenges and plenty of exhaustion, but I was so surprised by how comfortable I felt in places that would otherwise be a little uncomfortable because of how new they were. Being fully prepared for any city, any weather, and any activity meant that I spent less time worrying if I could make it through each day and more time embracing every new experience with open arms. The people travelling with me became a little family of sorts, so those relationships added to the feeling of peace wherever we were. I think that’s all you can hope for on a journey like Backpacking Europe, or any high intensity experience full of change and challenge – peace. Making peace with self-sufficiency and minimalism, making peace with adjustment and resettling, that is what made my experience so rich. And because I learned to find peace in 9 different countries, I know that I can find that same peace anytime and anywhere. That is the gift this program gave me, the peace, confidence, and independence to go anywhere and do anything.