A backpacking trip changed my perception of what actually matters in life

This article was created for The Travel Project by Emma O'Neill, who is obsessed with travel and is becoming equally obsessed with writing about travel.

There is something to be said about the fact that I still consider the year I lived out of a backpack as one of the happiest years of my life. Mostly because it was during this year that my perception on happiness completely changed.

This is because when I think of the weeks before I left for my trip, I can recall so many frantic attempts at packing, with 21 year old me thinking ‘I can’t fit my entire life into one single backpack – I need about a million more backpacks!’ It was my opinion that my life would come to some sort of stand still if I didn’t have every possible item of clothing, jewellery and makeup with me.

Jump forward a few months and I can also remember a point in my trip where I decided I really didn’t need 15 pairs of shorts all in different colours, nor did I need 15 pairs of shoes to match every possible outfit, and I stripped my belongings back to the bare minimum. This was such a big step for me, I even took a photograph to commemorate the moment. For me, this wasn’t just about practicality; aside from the fact that I was definitely risking looking like an upturned tortoise each time I tried to lift my backpack, my opinion had changed.

I had realised that what I carried with me was irrelevant to how happy I felt.

In actual fact, with less clothes to choose from, it was as if I had freed myself from having to over analyse each morning what to wear that day. A simple t-shirt and shorts would do just fine. I had also realised that, contrary to what I had believed a few months before, nobody seemed to care what anybody else looked like.

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What was more important was getting to know each other, having a laugh and enjoying ourselves together. It was like I had entered into a completely contrasting world than the one I lived in at home where, to me, happiness came from constantly adding to my 2 wardrobes full of clothes I barely ever wore. Travelling opens you up to such a sense of community where people are more concerned with appreciating the company and the place they are in; what you look like and how much you own becomes irrelevant.

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girls-paris-laughing-louvre

As well as highlighting to me the things I really don’t need to be happy (namely copious amounts of clothes), travel also made me realise that the things that do bring happiness sometimes are overlooked and completely taken for granted. The very nature of travel takes you away from your family and one of the hardest aspects of travel for me was the waves of homesickness which I sometimes experienced.

I can still remember how something as simple as a phone call from my mum would make me the happiest person on earth some days. I realised how lucky I was to have such a caring family, and how precious time with your family truly is. While travelling is a fantastic experience and adds so much to your life by way of new places, new people and so many amazing memories, it also adds perspective. One of the most important things I have gained from travelling is a realisation of what is truly important in life, and what I can and can’t live without.

Girl in bathroom

Travelling gives you the opportunity to experience scenarios often opposite to what we are used to, or what we think we will enjoy, and to realise that happiness can be found in the most unexpected places. I returned from my trip to Australia a much less naïve and much less narrow minded person; I realise now that life is a balance, and that one particular experience doesn’t necessarily bring more happiness than another. Rather, we perhaps need one experience to appreciate what another brings; I learnt I could have an amazing time without a ton of clothes, but living with so little has also made me really appreciate clothes shopping.

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I am happy in my own company but it took spending unwanted time alone without my family to realise how much happiness my friends and family add to my life.

Some of my happiest times travelling were spent cooking and eating food round a campfire; I also love eating in fancy restaurants. I had a brilliant time camping in a tent, but how happy was I when I got to sleep in a bed?! Each experience brings happiness in itself, but without one we wouldn’t appreciate the other. By travelling, you give yourself as many new experiences as you can and, and as a result you gain a much more open view on where happiness can be found and more gratitude for every experience life gives you.

Has travel helped you to learn to let go, or challenged you in some way? Share you stories with us here and you could see your work published on six-two…

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