How a Trail can change your life

Your life will be richer.

„I’m beginning to learn that this is the sweet simple things of life which are the real ones after all.”

Shopping binges, trying to make yourself happy by buying stuff. Maybe you’ve experienced how buying a new dress or a new shirt sometimes cheers you up when you’re having a bad day. But when will we be able to say that what we have is enough?

Even while we were getting ready for the Trail, we had to choose what we really needed. A few stages later we knew that even that was too much. We could hardly walk anymore; my T-shirt was stained with blood where my heavy rucksack had rubbed on my hips. But on that day we had a stroke of luck: We found a post office and could send everything we didn’t need home.

It was only when faced with pain and the desperate urge to get rid of as much weight as possible that it was possible for us to recognise the unnecessary burdens in our rucksacks. On that day, I sent home two pairs of socks, a book, our selfie stick, the tin opener, a dress and lots of odds and ends. I felt lighter and unburdened. It was a totally liberating experience to have only as much as we really needed.

Since we came back home, we have been looking at our things differently. I feel as though I have been suffocating from having too much stuff. Now I can walk through department stores without any desire to own something, or to buy something new. Honestly, I feel perfectly happy just thinking that I own everything and that I don’t need anything.

Your mind will become clearer.

„Our inability to see things that are right before our eyes until they are pointed to us, would be amusing if it were not at times so serious.”

In our lives, we are always meeting new people with whom we share our time, who accompany us, or who are simply there. We don’t usually question that. Not even when these people leave us with negative feelings – perhaps it’s that they make you feel that you should somehow be different than the way you are, or you get the feeling that they don’t really mean what they say. In our everyday lives, we hardly take the time to recognise these feelings, and rarely think about most of our relationships.

We were on the go, alone, for a month, and we knew we wouldn’t see the few people that we did meet ever again. There were no distractions in our lives at that time. This newly achieved freedom created clarity and the space to question the way things are. I thought of the people back home and the time we spend together. I could no longer find ways to hide away from my thoughts about these people.

I started to remember conversations I had had which made me lose belief in myself and my dreams for a short while, or which had dragged me down or were full of negative energy. I asked myself what would be wrong with avoiding these people. The answer was simple: nothing. It’s not wrong to say ‘No’. ‘No’ to people who put you in a bad mood, or people in whose company you can’t be yourself. This doesn’t mean that you have to cut off all ties, but it is okay to not spend more time with them than you need to.

This realisation might sound simple – but it was only along the Trail, when we had completely broken away from structures and conventions, that we had time and space to see our lives and our relationships clearly, and to recognise which people made us feel better or worse.

You will learn to appreciate the small things in life.

„Some old-fashioned things like fresh air and sunshine are hard to beat.”

You might have seen the film Amélie and know the scene where Amélie puts her hand very deep into a bag of dried lentils at the market and smiles? You might also be smiling now because this sounds a bit silly, but it is these small things in life that make our days and our lives so enchanting and worth living. A hand in a bag of lentils, a meadow with long blades of grass blowing in the wind, a brief encounter with a stranger, or falling asleep next to a warm stove. We all have our own small things that make us happy, but we often forget about them in our stressful everyday lives and in our jam-packed houses.

We were no different. Since our last trip, I had spent four months at university and was trudging through my dull, daily routine. These periods between travelling always make me feel like I’m going mad, no matter what I try to do. When we were finally out on the Trail, in all weathers, and had nothing besides ourselves and the bare necessities, for the first time I had the feeling of being completely free from big things. Free from convention, free from needless thoughts, free from possessions.

The Trail was a completely new experience for us in this respect. We could see our environment clearly for the first time, with no haze, no distractions. A tree’s branches swaying gently in the wind, clear air to breathe, little flowers by the wayside, warm raindrops on the skin. We felt the small things and they became important, we noticed them. This feeling is still there. The madness of routine is creeping in again, but more slowly than before, and the memories of the days along the Trail make us a little more aware.

You will become happier.

„The real things haven’t changed. It is still the best to be honest and truthful to make the most of what we have to be happy with simple pleasures.” 

If you ask your friends what they want out of life, they will often answer: “I want to be happy.” However, thanks to the many Facebook pages that busily share quotes by clever people, and from our own experience, we know that happiness is an emotional state rather than the final goal – and the way to being happy is very simple.

We just need to make our lives simpler – by seeing minimalism not as a lack, but as a gift. This might sound like a joke because this basically means turning both your lifestyle and the way you see the world on its head and embracing the very thing you have always considered to be negative. That is how I saw things before I set out on the Trail, and you are almost certainly thinking the same thing now.

It was only the liberating feeling of not having anything more than I needed that woke me up and made me see my environment more clearly so that I could concentrate on the essentials. If we tidy up our lives and purge ourselves of useless things, we can understand what it really means to be rich: our minds will become clearer, we will finally see the small things and we can define our freedom in an entirely new way.

By Magda Lehnert, December 2015. All quotes by Laura Ingalls Wilder. This article is part of an emerging series on the Alpe-Adria-Trail.


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