Never Say Never, Unless You're Packing for Backpacking


May 25, 2015
By Emilia S., Environmental Studies, Australia & New Zealand

Part I: The Personal Lesson

“Never say never.” -Love, Mom & my wise teachers.

“Never say never” was a quote I frequently heard when I was growing up. Whether it was from my mother, or a wise teacher, I would always roll my eyes when I heard it, thinking “how on earth is it possible to ‘never say never,’ and why not?!”

I never thought checking two “bucket list” items at once was possible. Especially, when it involved exploring two of the most beautiful countries on the planet. I used to make a “bucket list” every summer, to keep myself busy. Each bullet point would correlate with a goal I’d set for the summer. Summer after summer, my bucket list would constantly change- a good reminder to myself that I was able to set realistic, attainable goals. My bucket list gained momentum in middle school, starting with little goals (like going to the beach, or on a road trip), slowly morphing into challenges friends would “double-dawg-dare you” to do (like wearing footie-pajamas to a breakfast joint). Although some of the outrageous bullet points on my list were rather uncomfortable, it was almost a comical way for me and my closest friends to get out of our own comfort zones, to test the waters. Frequently influenced by those closest to me, I tried my best to cross off some bullet points, sometimes rolling over uncheck items to the next summer...

As the years changed, so did the goals on my bucket list. Goofy middle school summer bucket lists were replaced with more serious, high school summer bucket lists that consisted of long term goals and achievements- items that would somehow make me a better person, or help someone else. Although my goals from middle to high school changed, my determination to achieve each goal, did not. By checking off the items I’d place on my bucket list, I noticed a couple of things about myself, and also about life in general. I’d always compare my goals, and what I was doing each summer to that of my friends, to see if I was outpacing them, or lagging behind in accomplishments. When noticing that I was the only one making up goals for myself each summer, out of all my friends I tried to understand why. What was the purpose for these “silly” goals I’d set, and why do I crave to obtain them each summer? Why am I the only one doing this for myself, when none of my friends are doing the same? As I grew increasingly aware that I was the only one encouraging others to join my craze for creating summer bucket lists, I became curious as to why this was. I started asking questions to my peers, trying to solve the mystery. After much observation and connecting the dots, I slowly understood that those who weren’t practicing the same bucket list ritual as I was each summer, those who weren't setting and achieving goals, were the ones that frequently had “never” in their vocabulary.

This is when I stopped rolling my eyes to the “never say never” quote, I’d grew up hearing like a broken record.

It wasn’t until I realized that just a change in this mindset, would change a lifestyle. Instead of “never saying never,” what I found to be more powerful in my life, was to never think “never.” The word “never”, and thinking of it, I found to be the mortar that constructs a mental barrier, prompting many people to use “never” in their vocabulary, specifically linking the word to one’s ability (or inability) to do something, or take action. By changing my own mindset, I was able to see the variety of doors that had been opened to me. My “cant’s” turned into “cans” and my inability morphed into abilities- blossoming my teenage life into that similar to the life of Jim Carrey in the movie “Yes Man”, once he started saying “yes”. My bucket list didn’t look as daunting, and I was able to give myself enough confidence to attack what I had on my list, for me to accomplish. And with that, my bucket lists grew increasingly interesting.

After changing my mindset, opportunities popped up for me like dandelions do in Massachusetts. By removing the poisenous word “never” from my mindset, and thus, my vocabulary, I began to meet so many wonderful people, have had opportunities to go to so many beautiful places, and have been a part of a variety of glorious events. But, if it weren’t for the abolishment of all the “never’s” in my thoughts, and the loving support from those that are dear to me, I doubt I would have been able to accomplish so much, placing myself where I was when the opportunity to study abroad was presented to me. Instead of immediately turning the idea down, I did my own research and mustered all the information needed to rationalize the opportunity as a “once in a lifetime” chance (as the trip speaks for itself), so I could check “visit Australia, and New Zealand” off my bucket list, and beat all the odds.

Because of the removal of the negativity of the word “never” from my mindset, I’m now fully packed for a trip to where the utterly creative series, Lord of the Rings, was filmed, and where my childhood crocodile hunter hero, Steve Irwin was from (slightly bittersweet). I strongly believe that my lifestyle changed for the better as soon as I convinced myself with my fruitful optimism, that there wasn't anything I'd "never" achieve. And with that, I have been a happy camper- because life is more fun when you (perhaps naïvely) convince yourself that, "there is no limit".

"You believe what you can see. And that's why we imagine, and I dream."

I always thought that it sounded childish to "dream," but with the removal of "never" in my mindset, I can understand why most optimistic people encourage others to do so. The song "Dream On" pops into my thoughts whenever I have a dream, and feel as though it may be too far-fetched to even imagine it. I hear Aerosmith's voice screeching, "Dream on! Dream on, keep dreamin' 'til your dreams come true," because no one could've said it better. If you can't dream it, you can't even imagine yourself achieving it, so you won't. Which, will bring us back to the very roots of our first ancestors, before cave people. Beings without an imagination. "Never" is a limit, one that by thinking and correlating it with one's ability, blocks one from the beauty of imagining. When you're unable to imagine, it's impossible to dream. If I hadn't changed my mindset, my lifestyle wouldn't have made any room for the ability to imagine, dream, or act. I wouldn't have had the will power to rearrange the puzzle pieces of my life to fit nicely around my dreams, and what I wished to accomplish on my summer "bucket lists".

Part II: The Packing Lesson

Soon to be off to what I categorize as two of the most visually stunning places on Earth - New Zealand and Australia - and packing for these two atmosphere’s is quite “#thestruggle”. With the majority of my items I thought I might need on the trip, I had to be realistic with myself, shutting down my perceived utility of these items on my journey. Instead of thinking to myself, “I’ll never actually need this compass on the trip,” I exercised my ability to shut down every ounce of optimism I had for items like an "olden-days" compass that I saw having potential for use on my trip. Even if I had convinced myself that a compass would be useful, it’d end up in my “do not bring pile,” because why would I need this additional item, if I have it on my iPhone anyways? When it comes to cramming everything into your pack, items like the one-function compass quickly outweighs its perceived “usefulness” when you have other items that are multi-purposed and take up less space in your pack.

For those interested in studying abroad, do it. And for those of you tangled in thoughts of how to even start packing for your trip- as it is “hella” overwhelming, start and end with only three piles of stuff. Trust me, this will help you make your packing process SO much more efficient. Arrange these three piles in whatever shape or way that pleases you, because little things like control over the shape of your piles will give you small spurts of joy while you stay organized, as this rather hectic, and indecisive packing time arrives like a freight train. I like the triangle formation, with each pile of my stuff at what would be the corner of my invisible triangle. Make one pile and name it the, “Will Definitely Need” pile. The next should be the, “Could Possibly Need” pile. Lastly, your third pile will be named the, “Will Definitely NEVER Need” pile. Now, I know you may be utterly confused, as your last 5 minutes were consumed reading my lifestyle-changing lesson, to “never think never” - or else. But, one of my exceptions to the meaning behind the quote, “never say never” would be when it comes to packing for backpacking!

“Never say never, unless you’re packing for backpacking.” -says me.

So, unless you’re packing for backpacking, never say never, because backpacking is exactly what the Environmental Studies: Ethics, Culture, and Sustainability program offers to those brave enough, for a little over five weeks straight. This may just be as close to “roughing it” as you may get in your entire life (so exciting). Keep in mind that “never” is only a necessity, when it comes to backpacking for this trip.

In your “Will Definitely Need” pile should be your personal daily needs. “Needs” in the 21st century are constantly confused with just what you're used to- a.k.a "wants". This trip will require those original “needs”; the sole necessities that will keep you clean, healthy and alive. An example of this will be your toothbrush and its life-long partner, toothpaste, some travel-sized soap (so no excuses of appalling hygiene just because you're backpacking) and any medications or dietary supplements you may have to regulate your body to it own chï balance. Obviously, we aren’t cave people anymore, so clothes are also a big necessity. This isn’t a trip like the Discovery Channel’s “Naked and Afraid” reality show. Layers, layers, layers! You will be entering climates that are ever-changing, from sunny and 75° (who's thinking of Joe Nichols “Sunny and 75” song right now?), drastically shifting to the lower 50°’s windy, and raining. So, bring items of clothing that are not only multi-climate-purposed, but also ones you can use on top or underneath others. If you’ve watched any outdoor survivor shows, hopefully you’ve learned that you want your skin to stay as dry and as close to normal body temperature as possible, and this is where smart packing with clothing is key! Mother nature is a beautiful beast, and can be tricky at times. Hopefully mom and dad have also warned you about the sun, and if they haven’t, hopefully you’ve learned from your first sunburn- it doesn’t have to be hot and super sunny in order to get badly burnt- skin is meant to be protected from the elements. Because I’ve been tracking the weather for New Zealand and Australia (which I highly suggest you do the same for your trip) and have tried to forecast the weather during my trip (which is about as “accurate” as any weatherman’s-lol), I know the clouds abroad will be playing peek-a-boo with us throughout our trip. A sneaky sun calls for good sunscreen (or protective clothing), and hydration packs (reusable water bottles) these items will be a must when it comes to being outdoors.

When it comes to your “Could Possibly Need” pile, this is for all your “maybe” items. When you start gathering items to pack, of course looking at the packing list our wonderful Arcadia helpers supply to you, you have a lot of “ehhhhh” moments. Because we’ve never been to these destinations, we’ve absolutely NO idea what items we might need. So, don't freak out, this is normal.

“You can never be over-prepared.” -says too many people to credit just one

“Better to have it and not need it, than need it and not have it.” -Mrs. Victoria Smith (mom), & Mr. Nathan Smith (dad)

My parents are always reminding me that it’s usually always “better to have ‘it’ and not need ‘it’, than need ‘it’ and NOT have ‘it’,” when referring to "it" they mean things I might need in life. Their spectacular quote speaks for itself, and will most definitely come back to haunt you if you choose NOT to pack (in my case) those ‘it’ items. Who knows, I may need ‘it’ one way or another. An example of items you “Could Possibly Need” are specific items of clothing that may better your experience. On the packing list Arcadia staff suggests to you, this might be those items that are considered “optional,” such as the “waterproof pants”. But, don’t freak out, there are always substitutes, and most likely you will already own something that will be a good substitute for your “Could Possibly Need” items. A personal item that went in this pile for me was a multi-tooled Swiss Army Knife. I know the packing list requires a knife, but I’ve always been loyal to the Swiss Army brand as they make fantastic products, and I figured one of their tools that aren't typically on a regular knife may come in handy in certain situations while abroad. This is the “you never know pile”. But go easy on this pile, because like me, you could overestimate an item’s perceived utility on your trip, and this will just add unnecessary weight to your pack while exploring.

Your “Will Definitely NEVER Need” pile is where I strongly encourage (and the only time I ever will) you to exercise the word “never” in your thoughts. While packing you may even need to say it outloud, to make you realize that you will “never” actually need your hairdryer (girls), or guys- your hair gel. This will be the most difficult part of your entire trip. Believe me, as the QUEEN of overpacking and thinking “this item could be used for something,” departing from your beloved luxuries is very hard. But, once you realize you can function without your luxuries, and you’ll “never” actually have any use for them during your trip, you will not only save yourself room in your pack, but also make your experience a little more enjoyable.

“Less is more.” -chirps Mr. Nathan Smith (dad, my whole life) and Andrea del Sarto (1855)

Life actually CAN be better with less. The less you have, the less you need to worry about- especially when going to foreign countries. So, don’t pack the luxuries. "Don't be that guy". Collectively, we will all enjoy our experiences together if we come to terms that these luxuries AREN’T necessities, and if it’s not a necessity, you will “never” need it during your trip!

After your three piles are properly organized, your next goal is to try and fit your two piles, “Will Definitely Need” and your “Could Possibly Need” pile, into your pack. GOOD LUCK! Leave the “Will Definitely NEVER Need” at home- you most likely will regret it if you add the weight to your pack. But overall, if you come to terms with yourself, and what this once in a lifetime opportunity is offering to you, you realize you have to soak up every second of it, as time is extremely limited. You don’t want to spend the extra time blow drying, or styling your hair with gel to look extra spiffy for no reason. Everyone is in the same boat (or in this case, on the same trail), and on this trip to New Zealand and Australia you don’t want to miss anything.

In conclusion, pack light, leave luxurious items at home, and “never think” or “say never” unless you’re packing for backpacking. The world may just be too big for me to explore every “nook and cranny,” but if I can check one bullet point off my bucket list, one at a time, I believe that I will continue to have opportunities sprouting like the most beautiful dandelions in my yard. I encourage you to reflect on your own mindsets, and asses if it needs to be reestablished, as mine did. I ask you to please, never stop imagining, dreaming and achieving- as the world needs you and all the items on your bucket lists too!

Emilia SmithEmilia Smith is a student at Providence College and is blogging from her summer abroad with the Environmental Studies program in Australia & New Zealand.