My family didn’t understand why I chose a backpack over our traditional Christmas. These 7 lessons I learned were priceless.

Choosing a backpack over our traditional Christmas was a decision that puzzled my family throughout the holiday season. Their bewilderment was often expressed through curious inquiries, parental disappointment, and concerned friends, each subtly pressuring me to return to the status quo.

But why should I need to justify my unconventional choice?

Our society often imposes unwarranted expectations on individuals, pushing them to conform to established norms rather than exploring unique experiences that could potentially lead to personal growth.

In this piece, I will share 7 valuable lessons I learned from my unorthodox Christmas decision.

By the end, I hope to convey the idea that there’s no shame in choosing a less-traveled path, just as there’s no shame in adhering to tradition.

Ultimately, our decisions should stem from personal reflection rather than societal influence.

1) Embracing the unknown

This lesson was a tough one for me to grasp.

“Sticking to tradition” came from the belief that familiarity and routine were key to a happy holiday. But the reality is that sometimes, the most memorable experiences arise from the unexpected.

Let me elaborate.

Think about your own life right now. Your days probably follow a certain pattern. You wake up, work or study, eat meals at certain times, and eventually, you sleep. This routine happens almost automatically.

If you’re going to truly live, it’s vital to accept that embracing the unknown can lead to enriching experiences. You’re venturing into uncharted territory.

It’s essential to let go of the comfort that comes from predictability. It doesn’t always lead to happiness. Your actions do, and they are most impactful when they push you out of your comfort zone. When you act spontaneously.

2) Traditions aren’t everything

Most holiday advice will tell you to “stick to traditions” or “keep up family customs.” While this is the norm in many households, it’s not the only way to celebrate.

Instead, true celebration comes from becoming an “explorer” of experiences. It stems from observing your own desires. As this famous philosopher says:

“Explore your desires. Don’t do anything—no following of tradition, no adherence to family customs—just explore whatever your heart is yearning for. Don’t suppress it, don’t ignore it, don’t repress it; don’t do anything at all to stifle it. You just be an explorer, and the magic of exploration is celebration. As you explore, slowly life becomes full of experiences; but you are not just going along with the flow, you are becoming more alert, more aware.”

When you try to “stick to traditions” all the time, you give too much power to your past. You give up your explorative spirit.

Now, I give lesser power to traditions. Sometimes I do miss our old customs. Other times I feel a pang of nostalgia. But I don’t worry about this anymore.

3) Freedom can be uncomfortable

You might convince yourself that this is an adventure, but soon, you may find yourself missing the comfort and predictability of your traditional Christmas.

You might even find yourself feeling a tinge of regret. Few decisions are strong enough to weather that kind of emotional turmoil.

Longing for familiarity creeps into all adventurous pursuits, but if you willingly put yourself in a position to feel uncomfortable, you are setting yourself up for challenges.

Also, it’s important to ask yourself about the role of discomfort in your life.

Perhaps you and your family are feeling uncomfortable because this is a genuine departure from tradition.

Often, we chastise ourselves for discomfort, as though it’s something that we shouldn’t feel.

Perhaps it’s time to embrace these feelings. They may be a sign that you’re onto something truly transformative.

4) Material things are not what matters

I started this article by focusing on the decision and the experience.

The thing is, decisions and experiences also justify how we value material possessions.

In my case, I tend to get wrapped up in the holiday season. I become consumed with buying the perfect gifts and decorating the house to match a picture-perfect holiday scene.

My intentions are good. I want to make the holiday special for my family.

But when I get so caught up in these material aspects of the holiday, I can lose sight of what truly matters – spending quality time with my loved ones. I can become stressed, and probably not such a pleasant person to be around.

If I judged myself for my intentions, I wouldn’t question my behavior.

Instead, because I don’t focus on material things during my backpack Christmas, I am more able to reflect on my actions and change how I behave. I am learning to slow down and appreciate the people in my life.

How you value people is what matters, not the material things that we often allow to drive our behavior.

5) Growth comes from unexpected places

When I embarked on my backpacking journey, I was expecting an adventure. What I didn’t expect was the profound personal growth that came with it.

I remember one particular day. The weather was terrible, and I was lost. I had no cell service, and my map was soaked. I was cold, tired, and honestly, a little scared. But in that moment, I realized something crucial – I was far more resilient than I had given myself credit for.

Back home, surrounded by the comforts of tradition, it was easy to fall into a routine, to play it safe. But out here, faced with unpredictable challenges and forced to rely on my own resourcefulness, I found a strength within myself that I never knew existed.

That day taught me that personal growth often comes from the most unexpected places. It’s not always comfortable or easy, but it’s always worth it.

6) Embrace simplicity

In the culture of many indigenous tribes, there is a deep appreciation for simplicity and living with just the essentials. They see simplicity not as a sacrifice, but as a way to foster mindfulness, gratitude, and a deeper connection with nature.

Here’s the key point:

This mindset urges us to reassess our needs, to understand what truly matters in life, and to embrace the freedom that comes with simplicity.

For those feeling overwhelmed by the hustle and bustle of modern life, adopting simplicity can provide a sense of relief. It’s a reminder that we don’t need material possessions to be happy or fulfilled.

Embracing simplicity encourages us to see our journey as part of a larger narrative—one that values experiences over possessions—and can provide a sense of purpose and tranquillity.

7) Traditions can be reinvented

After returning from my backpacking adventure, I realized that traditions aren’t set in stone. They’re not sacred scripts that we should follow blindly. Instead, traditions can be fluid, evolving with us as we grow and change.

When I chose a backpack over our traditional Christmas, I was challenging the norm. But in doing so, I was also creating a new tradition—one that valued experience over routine, and personal growth over conformity.

This doesn’t mean that I no longer value our old Christmas traditions. On the contrary, I appreciate them more because they are a part of who I am. But it is equally important to recognize when it’s time for a change, when it’s time to create new traditions that reflect who we are becoming.

Reinventing traditions is not about discarding the old. It’s about embracing the new while honoring the past. It’s about acknowledging that growth is as much a part of tradition as continuity is. And ultimately, it’s about realizing that we have the power to shape our own life narratives.

Bottom line: It’s about personal growth

The complexities of personal choices and their impact on our lives often have profound connections with our experiences and personal growth.

One such connection is the relationship between unconventional choices, like my backpacking Christmas, and the invaluable lessons they teach us.

These lessons, prevalent in many life-changing experiences, play a pivotal role in shaping our character and worldview.

For those who dare to step outside the norm, such experiences could potentially induce a sense of fulfillment and personal growth that outweighs the comfort of tradition. They open up opportunities to discover new facets of ourselves that might otherwise remain hidden.

Whether it’s embracing the unknown, letting go of material attachments, or reinventing traditions, the underlying wisdom gleaned from these experiences can enhance our journey through life.

As George Bernard Shaw once said, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” This backpacking Christmas was my way of embracing change, and the priceless lessons I learned will forever shape my future Christmases, traditional or otherwise.

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Picture of Tina Fey

Tina Fey

I've ridden the rails, gone off track and lost my train of thought. I'm writing for Ideapod to try and find it again. Hope you enjoy the journey with me.

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