I may have never graduated college because of the school’s toxic environment and politics and a fire that NO ONE ever conclusively proved was the result of a secret meth lab explosion. But I’ll tell you what: I got a degree in life and seizing the day by butt-packing my way through Europe.
The idea seemed so simple in the beginning: travel with just the things that you can fit in your butt. But simple isn’t always easy. I had to really think about the kind of stuff I could realistically live without. After a few days of experiments, I determined that a change of shoes was one of them. One pair is enough. Same for pants and shirts really. It’s important, and far less painful, to get by with just the clothes you have on your back. It teaches you something about self-reliance and how all those “rolling” tutorials on YouTube that supposedly teach you to “roll any clothes to super small sizes” are all fucking bullshit.
So I would occasionally have to do my laundry fully naked. Big deal. I think we in the West have attached a stigma to nudity when there is nothing shameful or wrong about our bodies. We are all human and beautiful in our own right, be you fat, fit, or bleeding heavily while fishing for loose change for the laundromat. But what’s not beautiful is how this Western prudishness spread to Europe. I can’t tell you how many confused, judging looks I got on laundry day from people who forgot to see me as a person. All they saw was a naked man using a pair of chopsticks to look for that loose Euro coin I knew I had somewhere back there.
I’m happy to say, though, that not everyone was like that. Most people were very welcoming and so concerned about me. Everyday I’d have someone ask me: “Why are you walking like this? Why don’t you have any luggage? Do you need some help?” Their concern was touching, and with time they basically became like a second family to me. Though I still need to learn more about local European customs because it’s apparently somewhat rude(?) if you refuse to sit for three days straight while staying with a European family. Such a complex, mysterious culture.
And I wish I could end this on a more positive note but I can’t because the last thing I learned about Europe is that, even today, their governments don’t like having Americans there. At every border crossing, I’ve had dirty, confused looks shot my way when I dropped my pants and went to retrieve my passport. The look of shock and disgust they had on their faces when they saw it was an American passport will stay with me forever. Some would not even touch my documents. But I don’t hold it against them. They didn’t know any better because they didn’t have a lot of experience with foreign cultures. But if more of us butt-packers travel the world, the more accepting and tolerant we can make it.