What I Learned From 10 Days Without Shampoo

This past July, I went backpacking through Spain with a group of seven friends — you know, the quintessential (and very cliché) American college student summer experience. It was the first and only time in my life I had ever done something over the summer just for fun, unless you’re counting the summer I spent doing research in the 10th grade or the other summer I spent doing research in the 11th grade, and I was nervous (read: terrified) and excited (read: terrified). My plane was delayed by an hour, and from when I had lasted checked Facebook before my flight took off, we were all supposed to meet up at the hostel we were staying at — a hostel that was an hour from the airport.

Some background: it was my first time in Europe and I don’t speak Spanish. Sure, I took five years of it and both AP tests, but trust me on this. No hablo espanol. I had also broken probably the only rule of backpacking, since I brought a canvas bag in addition to my backpack. But, I reasoned, I needed my laptop and my notebooks and a variety of miscellaneous school-related materials, because I was going to get all my work done in my down time. Yeah, that didn’t happen.

But back to the story. I landed in Barcelona, exhausted from a long flight and with no idea of how to get to the airport, and it turns out my friends were waiting for me. So we were able to make it to the hostel together and alive. We had dinner that night at 11 p.m., an hour that seemed ridiculous to me then but I now know is a perfectly acceptable time to have a meal in Spain. The next few days were some of the most tiring and most exhilarating of my life. We went from museum to museum to museum, and there was so much to do in Barcelona that when we got back to our room, I would collapse on the bed, too tired to move. Most days, all I wanted was a nice, hot shower. Which was very doable, actually, except I had forgotten shampoo and conditioner. Okay, so full disclosure: I had not forgotten. I hadn’t packed it, because I reasoned that I could just buy some there, but as the days passed I began to wonder if it was really worth it to buy an entire container for only seven days — or six — or five.

And so we went on. We went from Barcelona to Seville, and we slowed down a bit, and many interesting things happened in Seville that aren’t really the focus of this post, but in a few words: a bus that was supposed to take us to Lisbon was missed, twice, a flamenco performance was not fully appreciated due to panic induced by the aforementioned predicament, six people were snuck into a room for two at the Marriott, a fanny pack was stolen, and a passport briefly went missing.

But the real takeaway from my trip — besides the friendships I gained, the memories we crammed into just 10 days (it felt longer because we slept less, though), and the crisis-aversion technique I learned — was that I have too much stuff. I guess, considering the enormity of the experience, that’s a very small lesson to take away, but a few days ago I went home for fall break and I brought back two full suitcases full of things I have never used at college. I came back to Duke with two empty ones, and I plan on taking home another full suitcase over Thanksgiving.

So yes, backpacking has taught me a lot, and I will carry all of those lessons with me into the future, but here’s the thing — I don’t plan on carrying much else.