The raw beauty of roughing it

Every few years I walk into an outdoor shop to stare at the camping pillows. One will catch my eye and soon I'll be imagining our shared future: me crawling into my tent after a long day of hiking to find its plump form lying quietly in wait, already self-inflated. We'd be so happy together. But when the salesperson asks if I need help I always say no and leave.

A travel pillow of any kind – and I know this to my very core – would be the beginning of the end of my ability to rough it on the road (the privilege of roughing it by choice, that is). I only need shoes because my feet are accustomed to them. My eyes are sensitive to glare because I often wear sunglasses. So, if I camped with a pillow, then I'd forever after that need proper neck support in order to sleep. It'd be a slippery slope. No coming back.

From a youngish age, for reasons a very good therapist may one day unlock, I've done easy things the hard way: taken stairs rather than escalators even when carrying a full backpack; walked kilometres from public transport to my accommodation instead of hailing a taxi, even in the snow; slept in airports rather than finding a hotel.

Instinctive preparation for life on the road? Or am I just naturally masochistic? Either way, the training has come in handy.

Travel is all about unforeseen circumstances. If you're used to and expect some discomfort then walking much further than planned in the baking sun or missing a few meals or having a freezing night in a tent or sleeping on a picnic table outside an overcrowded hut with your puffer jacket stuffed under your head won't ruin the whole experience. Travelling solo also helps – access to my inner resourcefulness is instantaneous when there's no-one else to rely on.

And, like my relationship with kale, I've come to not just endure these times but actually relish them in the moment. Because when the lows are lower, the highs are higher. All food tastes incredible when you've really worked for it, the first shower in a week feels like the best of your life, no bed is more cushy than the one you sleep in after spending a frigid Rocky Mountain night in the back seat of your compact hire car.

What constitutes roughing it is relative to each individual. And, for me, it's not about being uncomfortable all the time or even actively seeking discomfort. It's about heading off without packing any fear of the physical challenges ahead, or a camping pillow.

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