What Mountaineering the Inca Path Taught Me About Packing Gentle

COVID-19 quarantine is making me nostalgic for travel. I am extra thankful for the trips I have taken in the past. It has been a joy to look back at the pictures and memories while we are stuck at home. One of my most memorable trips was hiking the Inca Trail in Peru.

Wouldn’t It Be Crazy If…?

Courtney Carver, a well-known blogger on simplicity at Be More With Less, writes about allowing our crazy ideas to play out.

In May 2016, my friend Ashley and I went on an amazing adventure. She was starting law school in the fall and wanted one last trip before she would be heads-down studying for the next three years of her life. I had recently read a travel article about Peru, and threw out the idea, “Wouldn’t it be crazy if we went hiking in Peru?” What started as a wild suggestion grew into full-blown plans. Neither of us had much experience backpacking, hiking, or camping, but we decided to hike the Inca Trail.

To provide some background, the Inca Trail is typically a four-day, three-night hike. It runs 26 miles, ending at Machu Picchu—a UNESCO World Heritage site of the famous ancient Inca ruins. It journeys through a variety of landscapes and micro-climates. The trek includes two steep mountain passes, with elevation ranging from 8,000-14,000 feet. Not to mention early mornings and long days.

After we agreed to go, we spent a few months planning. We purchased the recommended equipment, booked flights, and registered with a trekking agency, which was required to get a hiking permit. Before we knew it, we were waking up at 3:00 AM in a hotel in Cusco, Peru waiting for a bus to take us to the trailhead.

A New Challenge

I would be lying if I said the hike was easy. Coming from Minnesota, we were not used to the high altitude. And for some reason, working out and training never made it to the top of my to-do list before we left. Regardless of the physical and mental challenge, it was all worth it to see Machu Picchu at sunrise on the last day. Truly unforgettable.

However, one thing that particularly stands out in my memory was our struggle to pack for the hike. We read all about the warnings against bringing too large of a backpack, as it would weigh you down and make the trek miserable. Plus, the trekking agency provided porters to carry the tents and food. With that information, we each settled on a good hiking backpack for our frame. Mine was a 28-liter daypack.

Trying to make the most out of those 28 liters was a new challenge. After painstakingly packing, unpacking, and repacking, we settled on what we presumed would be the ideal amount of clothes, gear, snacks, and water to survive the trek.

Live Small to Live Big

The amazing part was that even though we were living out of relatively small hiking backpacks, we still managed to pack things that we did not use. Imagine if we had brought a bigger bag; we would have found a way to unnecessarily fill the space.

The same logic can be applied to our homes. If we move into a bigger house, over time we tend to accumulate stuff to fill the space. Pretty soon, the clutter starts to overwhelm us again, and we move into an even bigger house.

The problem is not the size of our living space; the problem lies in the number of possessions we own.

Declutter our possessions. Minimize our schedules. Downsize our lives and allow for the uncovered extra space to just be. Living small can allow us to live big in new ways. It enables us to have more money, more time, more energy, and more freedom. We can pursue our crazy ideas and seek out more adventures.

Physical vs. Mental Baggage

We have junk cluttering up our living spaces. Clothes in our closets that no longer fit or aren’t our style. Garages that are so full of stuff we cannot even park our cars in them. Storage units with boxes that have not been opened in years.

Often, our external physical clutter is a reflection of the heavy baggage we carry mentally and emotionally. Past experiences and trauma. Anxiety. Worries of what people think of us. Negative thoughts about ourselves. Unrealistic expectations. Broken dreams.

We are all carrying imaginary backpacks. It is impossible to know how heavy of a load those around you are carrying, so be kind. First, let us tend to our mental and emotional health in order to lighten our backpacks. And as a result, we are able to let go of the physical baggage as well.

Packing Light

One of the members of our trekking group hiked the trail with only a small pack for his water bottle, rain jacket, and camera. He wore the same pair of pants, shirt, and shoes for hiking and sleeping all four days. When we met him on the first day, we thought he was out of his mind to bring so little. But as we hiked along carrying our heavy backpacks, we were jealous to see him bounding lightly up ahead of the group.

Lesson learned. Don’t overstuff our backpacks, or we’ll regret it. Plan to bring only what we think we need, and then actually bring even less.

Pack light. Live lighter. Refuse to let the heaviness of possessions and mental baggage weigh us down any longer. And keep seeking out amazing new adventures, because we never know what we may learn along the way.

About the Author: Sarah writes an intentional lifestyle blog, Imperfect Pursuits, to inspire you to pursue a meaningful life you love. She is passionate about minimalism, sustainability, and travel.

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