The Perks of Traveling Light

It’s amazing how much freedom can come from leaving possessions behind. Here are the most recent discoveries I’ve made while traveling, with a 22-liter backpack as my sole companion.

Vacation. More than two weeks. Hiking, swimming, discovering, eating, sleeping. One little rucksack. This is the story about what I learned from my most recent adventure.

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GOOD FRIEND. 22 liters of pure happiness.

Going north from Nice in southern France, my holiday was almost over. I just needed to get back to Grenoble saefly. Then it happened, the incident that made me start contemplating the perks of traveling light.

I missed my bus in Digne-les-Bains (got on a  train instead, totally lost in translation). Eventually, after lots of walking, frustration and misunderstandings, I found a bus, heading the right direction. How lucky! Life was good again. While dragging my backpack around  under the burning sun, I caught myself  appreciating its lightness.

This is why you should leave some of your beloved possessions at home when traveling:

  1. Size matters.
    You can take a small bag into the cabin of a plane, or keep it next to you on a train or a bus. If you’re hiking, the limited weight and volume surely is an added bonus.
  2. Safety first.
    Do you have a habit of losing items? It’s less likely that something wil get lost or stolen if all your belongings are on your back. There’s true comfort in knowing this.
  3. Get creative and appreciate.
    Learn how to manage without the unpractical sequin sweater that you love. Maybe you’ll even see what you already have in a new light. Good lesson for the future.
  4. Be flexible.
    Go where the wind blows. When traveling light, there are no heavy, unpractical stuff to slow you down. And it’ll be easier to simply change your plans if a local gal secretly tells you about the best place to go.
  5. Freedom.
    All the reasons above adds up to an amazing feeling of freedom. Appreciate and embrace the beauty uncertainty has to offer.
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READY. The starting point of my journey, the cathedral in Le Puy-en-Velay.

Okay, so I’ll admit it, there are disadvantages too. For instance, you’ll hve to do laundry quite often. And if you’re going hiking in places where the weather gets rough, it’s better to bring that extra sweater than to freeze. Respect the nature.

However, the advantages of raveling light far outweighs the troubles of it.

Bottom line: if you’re heading to a comfortableclimate, just leave half of what you think you’ll need behind. It’ll make your life on the road a whole lot more pleasant. I promise.


I’d love to hear how you feel about traveling light. Feel free to add your tips in the comments below!


 

 

 

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The Struggle of Saying No

Why is it so difficult to simply say no?

“Do you have some money for me?” a woman asked.

I looked up at her, sitting on a large stone staircase in central Oslo. She must’ve been around thirty-five years old and was standing above me, wearing a colorful headscarf and a long skirt. “Please. I’m from Romania, and I have five children,” she continued.

I reached for my wallet. Maybe I should give her something? I’m priveleged, isn’t it almost an obligation to help out those who are less fortunate? I opened it and peeked inside. Receipts, tram and train tickets were curled up, making a mess. In between the chaos I spotted some euro notes, leftovers from my recent time in France.

“I’m sorry,” I said. We were in Norway, and the expected currency would be kroner. “I only have some euros”.

The woman looked at me with big, brown eyes. “I can take euros,” she said. I gave her five, and expected her to thank me and move on. Oh, was I naive. 

“Can I have more?” she asked. “If you do, I can give you a magazine”. She was carrying a pile of them, selling them for hundred kroner each.

I felt trapped. She had already seen that I had more money. Reluctantly, I gave her another five, and told her she could keep the magazine.

“You’re so pretty,” she said. “Do you have more?” I was flattered and annoyed at the same time. I checked if I had some coins. I did, and gave her two euros. She sat down next to me on the stairs, wanting more. I gave her two more. Still, she didn’t give up. This was one petsistant lady.

“Kroner are better,” she said. “Can you go to the ATM-machine and get me 200 kroner?” 

I was starting to feel used. I gave her two more euros, hoping she was being honest and sincerely needed the money.

“You’re so nice”, she said, and added: “Are you a Christian?”

I’m not, so I told her that. She looked a bit disappointed, and confused. Did she think that only religious people are good people?

“I have children in Romania,” she repeated, wanting even more money. I gave her my last five euro note, and she finally left me alone. 

When I watched her walk away in perfect sunlight, I felt used, naive and weak. Giving should be a good feeling. She didn’t steal my money, I gave it to her. But she was greedy and pushy.

I don’t know if this woman honestly needed the money, but I hope she has children who will benefit from my inability to say no.

Fight The Darkness

In light of recent events in Orlando, I feel the need to say something: There’s good and evil in everyone. If we want the world to be a better place, we have to shed light into those dark corners of our souls.

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There’s light and darkness in everyone. Fight the last one.

In Orlando, 50 people were killed, by the all-consuming darkness in one person only. He claims he did this for ISIS. It was clearly aimed at the LGBTQ-community.

I don’t know why the killer went to that club that night. What I do know is that fear is a scary feeling. People fear non-straight people, others fear Muslims. Some fear spiders. Why?

The answer seems clear to me: Ignorance. Fear isn’t very frightening in itself – usually the danger exists only in our heads. What’s scary is when people choose to act on their fears, accompanied by a blind conviction that the thing they fear is dangerous and better off dead. Fear can turn into darkness, hate, murders and pain. We need to look at where our fear and hatred comes from, if we want to get rid of it. We need to look it straight in the eye.

Some people say religion is the root of all evil. I disagree, but I think blaming religion is easy for people who search to legitimize their actions. That way their real motives can remain hidden. I’m sure religion creates dome division between people, but it also inspires people to do good. The important thing is: We can’t blame this attack on all Muslims. This was executed by one man, who happened to be Muslim.

It’s very different to be afraid of something, and to actually pull the trigger. I believe it takes more than a strong religious belief to harm the people you fear, and have grown to dislike. It takes a big chunk of crazy and a total lack of empathy. He was one person, one who had let darkness, hate and ignorance take control.

There’s good and evil in everyone. We need to shed some light into the corners of our souls, to make sure nothing dark is hiding there. We need to check that there are no monsters in either the closet nor under the bed. Because these monsters within us can cause serious harm.

If we want to combat ignorance to combat fear, understanding is key. People keep telling others to face their fears if they’re afraid of spiders. We should say the same if someone’s afraid of a certain kind of people. Face him, talk to her, see the human behind the label. Make the world a brighter place.

20 Tips For a Successful Camino

Thinking about walking Camino de Santiago, or parts of it? Here are some lessons that I learned the hard way.

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THUNDER IS COMING: Don’t trust the weather forecast.

1. If you’re walking at a time or place where it might rain, use hiking boots/hiking shoes. Not sneakers. Water creates blisters. Blisters are not comfortable.

2. Your backpack should have a waterproof cover. I didn’t have this. Solution? Plastic and garbage bags. It got messy.

3. Bring a waterproof jacket. Or one of those awesome-looking ponchos that also covers your backpack. Some people choose to wear rain hats too. They look badass.

4. If you walk in France, learn some French. Or bring a dictionary, it’s useful for booking accommodation. You can also find a French speaker and ask for help. Pilgrims are nice people.

4. Don’t walk with a stick, according to some people I met. It seems like it may give you knee pains. But, on the other side, you will look like a real pilgrim. Two sticks seem to work fine, though, and may even help you stay in balance.

5. Put vaselin or something similar on your feet, if you’d like to avoid those blisters.

6. Carry band-aids. Use them before it’s too late. Blisters are hard to get rid of when you walk every day.

7. Walking alone and with other people are two completely different experiences. Think about what you want from this walk.

8. You don’t have to be religious to use the roads. Some accommodations, however, will need your credential (a book where you collect stamps from places you go) to let you stay there. Get one, I got mine at the Cathedral where I started. The morning mass is also a good place to meet other hikers.

9. Set a goal for how far you want to go, each day and in total. It’s motivating to count down the kilometers.

10. Remember sunscreen, even if it’s cloudy in the morning. And don’t trust the weather forecast, even if it’s presented to you by otherwisely very trustworthy Germans.

11. Pack less than you think you’ll need, you have to carry your shit every day. In fact, use a smaller backpack than you originally planned on. For reference, mine was 22 liters. It worked, but was smaller than most people’s packs.

12. This may be obvious, but don’t wear brand new shoes.

13. Cook dinner sometimes. The best meal I had was pasta, tomatoes and pesto, made in the company of a Kiwi, a Frenchman and a German couple. We called ourselves “the pilgrim family”. Very cute, yes.

14. Take time to actually see some of the villages you pass on your way.

15. Bring sandals for the evening. It’s not very tempting to put your semi-clean feet in wet/muddy/smelly shoes when you’re supposed to relax. This also helps heal your potentially sore feet.

16. Check for bed bugs. Better safe than sorry. Most cheap accommodations require you to have your own sleeping bag or linen.

17. Take pictures of the people you meet. It’s way more interesting than just scenery, and there will be more memories connected to them. Cows, horses, donkeys and sheep are also great models (in my opinion, anyway).

18. Not all villages have ATMs. Carry enough cash for a few days ahead. Thanks to the nice Swiss woman who paid for me in Monistrol d’Allier. I honestly, really appreciate it.

19. If you don’t feel like walking for hours on an empty stomach, eat breakfast where you’re sleeping. Don’t plan to “grab something in the next village”. That village you see on the map may not actually be a village at all.

20. You have lots of time. Talk to people you meet. This is easier said than done if you don’t speak the language, but you’ll always find international pilegrims and/or people who speak different degrees of English.

Let me know if you have other questions, I’ll help you if I can. My knowledge stretches from Le Puy-en-Velay to Figeac in France, but I’ve heard stories from other parts of the trail too.

Good luck, and enjoy your journey! Buen camino, bon chemin, and ultreïa!

 

Behind A Wall Of Stone

Recently, I heard it again: “You’re kind of quiet.” My stomach turned, like it used to do a long time ago.

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Memories came rushing back. Suddenly I was standing in an almost empty classroom in 3rd grade. A classmate asked me, in a mocking tone: “Can you scream, Siri? Out loud?”

I remember trying to do as she asked. I couldn’t make a sound; all that came out was a little wheeze, a strange breath. Oh, the humiliation. The person I was talking to made it pretty clear that there was something seriously wrong with me and my vocal chords. I think the name I was called was the Norwegian equivalent of ‘monstrosity’.

This feeling of inadequacy stuck with me for the next fifteen years. I didn’t think about the incident much, but it was always there, in the back of my mind, contributing to a feeling of inferiority.

Of course there isn’t actually something wrong with my voice. I have just always been more quiet than most people, and surely didn’t see anything natural about screaming out loud at this particular time, around people I didn’t know nor trust.

It’s been a long time since then, and I have put the incident to rest. Until it resurfaces every now and then, if people tell me I don’t speak a lot. I’d like to say what I’m thinking more often. However, this is a part of being an introvert; you can’t just leave it behind, no matter how much you may want to. But you can work on it.

I’ll let you in on how introversion can work, at least for me.

Picture this: You’re listening to a conversation when you come up with something interesting you could say to contribute. You wait for the right moment to share your piece of opinion or information. The moment the room finally is quiet and the words are lingering at the tip of your tongue, the silence is broken by someone saying something related, or even changing the subject entirely. You breathe in your well-thought-through words and swallow them, save them for another occasion, a better one, perhaps. Then you turn your attention to the conversation once more, looking for another window of opportunity. If you try to force your entry, it feels rude and respectless. Why would your opinions be any more important than the ones of others? Listening is also often more interesting than speaking, because you already know your own opinions, right?

It’s frustrating. People say things like: “Embrace your weaknesses.” Embracing introversion means almost only listening. And not caring what other people think about what you say, or if you interrupt them. Who’d like to hang out with someone who never says anything? That person would be labeled as socially awkward, a creep. A monstrosity, perhaps. It’s simply not acceptable to use too few words.

The person who recently told me that I’m kind of quiet is a friend.  She followed up this statement by saying: “That’s a shame, though.”

Thank you for recognizing that I too have thouhts worth listening to. I will try to share them more often.

 

A Promise Never Made Is Always Kept

She looked at the cake. Chocolate, like always. Beautiful, like always. One piece only, just like always – until the day the new one entered.

They had had this agreement for a long time, her and the cake. It started a very long time ago, when she had first laid her eyes on it.

“I would like a piece of that,” she had said to the baker that day, pointing at the cake that had caught her attention.  The baker cut a perfect piece, put it on a plate and gave it to her. She sat down to eat it, and it tasted just as rich and smooth as she had imagined. It was what she’d always wanted.

A little while later, the woman felt the urge to have more cake. She wasn’t satisfied any more, and went back to the bakery. The baker tried to cut her one more piece, but the cake moved out of the way, dodging every cut from the sharp knife. The cake spoke:

“You can only have a little bit of me every day. One piece each day will do,” it said.

The woman thought about its proposal a little while. “Why?” she asked. “Because that’s all I can give you right now,” the cake answered. It wasn’t ready to give her its all. The woman thought that one slice every day would surely be a lot better than nothing at all, and accepted its offer.

The woman happily announced the agreement she had with the cake to anyone that would listen, and she never looked at other cakes again. The cake, on the other hand, never said anything about its agreement to other women that came to the bakery.

Every day the woman returned to have her piece of chocolate cake. She felt like her happiness depended on it. Years went by, and she started noticing that other people also were eating the cake. She walked up to it and asked why she couldn’t have more when it was giving pieces to other people too. She was hoping that their long relationship would make it more inclined to give her what she wanted.

“You agreed the first day,” the cake reminded her. “There’s no reason asking again.”

The woman never uttered her wish for more ever again. Inside, she was holding on to the hope that one day the cake would find her worthy of more, that it would be there for only her in the end.

One day, the day when another woman came along, everything changed. A woman no-one had seen there before was standing in front of the baker’s counter. The new one ordered the whole cake.

This time, the cake didn’t resist. Not a single crumb was left behind when the new one and the cake left the bakery together. The cake had not hesitated, not even a second.

The cake would never return to the bakery again, and the woman who had been there for years felt betrayed. She had been patient, always agreed to less than she’d wanted. She’d done everything the cake had said, but it had never been enough.

But the cake hadn’t done anything wrong. It had never promised her more.

Walking For the Sake of… Walking?

Walking very far gives me nightmares. And weird anxieties. But I think I like it.

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The Church in Conques, France.

“Would you like to go to the mass?” a newly made friend asked. We were sitting on an ancient stone wall just outside a famous church in beautiful Conques in southern France.

“No,” I said, and paused for a bit before I continued, feeling like there were so many things I should do. “What does it really mean to be a pilgrim?”

My friend burst out in laughter. “We’re nine days in, and we still have no idea what we’re doing!” he said.

I couldn’t help laughing either, despite the sudden feeling of lostness. We had walked two hundred kilometers on The Way of Saint James, and still had no idea why. At least my friend looked like a pilgrim, wearing a hat and carrying a wooden stick.

According to one definition, a pilgrim is “a person who journeys to a sacred place for religious reasons”. I’m on a journey to sacred places, sure, but not for religious reasons. At least I  don’t think so.

About a week ago, a few days into the walk, my mom asked me: “So, do you feel like a pilgrim now?” My immediate response was no. Throughout that evening, I kept revisiting this question. without having any answers. That night I had a dream. I thought someone wanted to kill me because I wasn’t a proper pilgrim. I kept waking up, looking around the empty, dark room, wide awake. It was a long night.

I still can’t say that I feel like a pilgrim, but I don’t think going to church would change that. It would just make me feel misplaced. Why should being a traditional pilgrim be a goal anyway? Just going for a long walk for the sake of walking seems like a perfectly valid reason to me.