Plan Your First Trip: Find Your ‘Wa’

Time to start planning your first trip! But there’s so much to think about, where do you start?  For newbies, I suggest you start with the (seemingly) simple process of choosing how many days you will backpack as it is an important decision worthy of much consideration.

Many experienced backpackers will suggest that your first trip should be quite short, maybe one or two nights, max. I believe it’s a very personal decision and there are pros and cons to longer vs. shorter trips. It all depends on you.

Backpacking Henry Coe State Park
‘Wa’ and backpacking in Northern CA

Shorter trips give you an opportunity to get your feet wet (perhaps literally!). You aren’t committing to anything too lengthy or strenuous. After all, you don’t even know if you’ll like backpacking yet! Short trips are the way to go for many reasons and there is nothing wrong with planning a two-night trip. Plus, let’s face it – with our busy lives, that might be your only option. And finding friends to backpack with is sometimes challenging (more on that in a future post). Many people backpack alone, which has its own set of perks, so don’t count that option out for yourself!

BUT – Short trips don’t give you much time to adjust to the life of backpacking to see how you really feel about it. Just as you are starting to get used to that sleeping pad, you are back in your own bed. Just as you begin to feel you’ve mastered packing and unpacking your pack every day, you’re unpacking it at home and putting it all away.

Have you ever gone on a big vacation and noticed that it takes almost three days to really settle into it? That first day, you are usually overly excited and also tired from traveling. The second day you feel gung-ho and attempt to plan out or think through every single waking moment ahead. What beach are we going to today (you ask as soon as your eyes open)? What about tomorrow (you ask over breakfast)? Where will we eat dinner (you ask while eating lunch)? You can’t wait for tomorrow and that is detrimental to ‘living in the moment’. But right around Day 3, something called “wa” sets in.

Sunsets can induce 'wa'
Sunsets can induce ‘wa’

Wa is a Japanese cultural concept that generally means harmony. My parents taught this concept to us kids growing up when we took family vacations and my own family utilizes the concept now. Wa is what you should strive for on any vacation and Day 3 is notoriously when it seems to sink in. You know you’ve hit a state of wa when you feel settled into the day-to-day of your new (if temporary) life. You stop wondering what’s around every next corner and cease to act like a five-year-old kid in a candy store. I describe it as “sinking in”. Wa is the best part about any vacation. And wa is where you want to be when you backpack.

My dog and I find ‘wa’ by a river after a day of backpacking.

Heather and Josh Legler of the awesome podcast “The First 40 Miles” named their podcast after their shared belief that it’s not until you hit 40 miles for the first time (in one trip) that backpacking begins to feel transcendental instead of feeling like a somewhat uncomfortable chore. I agree.

After a certain point, whether it be Day 3 or 40 miles in, backpacking is revealed for what it truly is: simplicity, beauty, rejuvenation, adventure. The only way to fall in love with backpacking is to hit that point, and for most newbies it take some time to get there. Once you become an “expert”, you will fall wa faster; it won’t take three or four days anymore. Many experienced backpackers hit wa when their feet first hit the trail!

If you can swing it, I suggest a trip of more than three days. Like I wrote up top, though, it’s very much a personal choice that likely depends on a lot of factors. There’s certainly nothing wrong with choosing to do a weekend trip so you can get those feet wet. HYOH!

Next up: The WHEN and WHERE of your first trip.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness. – Mark Twain

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