The Best Things I Learned from Girl Guides

As an organization that loves camping, going places, and doing things, I can’t imagine that there’s a Girl Guide out there who hasn’t had to pack for a trip away. Packing is an experience that we all go through, and it certainly can be a trial. I remember well that some of my first camping trips started with me pouring painstakingly over my kit list, trying to find the perfect pair of pants, and squishing things into my bedroll. I also spent a few years as a Trex, where everything had to be waterproofed, lightweight, and portable. Sometimes, however, packing just doesn’t work for you. You forget that extra pair of pants (and so camp all weekend in mud-soaked jeans), or you accidentally set the kitchen on fire while cooking the falafel you promised to bring the group. It’s happened to all of us, I’m sure.

I’m equally certain, now that I’m a leader, that at some point we’ve all heard (or said) something like “I’m not helping you carry your bag over to the lodge! If you couldn’t carry it, you shouldn’t have packed it!” And the child you were huffed and struggled to carry your far-too-heavy bag over the hill, up the pathway, possibly in the snow or mud, to the lodge. Next time, you brought less stuff–you learned to pack ‘smarter.’

Packing ‘smarter’, and the ability to pack in general, is a valuable skill – or so I’ve found out. I don’t know about non-students, but in the student world, the end of April is moving month. Since I was kicked out of residence a week before the lease on my new apartment started, I had to find places to stay for a week. This is how, in exchange for helping friends pack and move, I ended up on a week-long inter-provincial couch-hopping adventure, re-learning all the best things I learned about packing from my years in Girl Guides. Here’s a re-cap of the most important things I learned through packing:

1. It’s always handy to keep tools handy. We were advised to have super long rope on our bedrolls and a sturdy tarp in case we needed to use those tools. I’ve kept extra tools at the ready in my adult life. Being the only person in your group of friends with a roll of packing tape suddenly makes you very popular, I’ve found. And, of course, having a screw driver at the ready in case you need to take  the legs off a desk so you can walk it and your friend’s antique dresser across town will get you brownie points, too.

2. You must be able to carry what you’ve packed (or find a way to get it there, preferably by yourself). It doesn’t take too long to figure out what you didn’t need when you’re on a wilderness backpacking trip and have to carry that unnecessary pair of sandals the entire way. Similarly, I’ve navigated the Montreal Metro system with many a too heavy bag (even a styrofoam penguin), and all these trips have made me wiser. I don’t believe in hogging all the wisdom, though.  After I weighed my friend’s luggage to make sure they fit the weight restrictions for her flight back home, she asked me if I’d go with her to the airport to help her carry them. Naturally, I let her try it on her own.

3. Optimism is always a necessary trait in packing. Rolling things and packing them in airtight plastic bags can reduce the amount of space taken up in your luggage, but keeping an attitude of “there’s always enough space” can be even more helpful. This has always been useful as a Spark leader, where you have to throw in that precious teddy bear at the last minute. Without this motto, the Herculean task of fitting enough essentials in a single normal sized suitcase to take my friend through an entire year away in Ecuador would have been impossible. It’s a motto that serves me well.

4. It’s better to fix things than to throw them away, especially if you need them. I’ve always been a great believer in duct-taping the tarp I do my bedroll in, and of taking a sewing kit on longer trips to fix ripped clothing instead of buying new. I don’t think that I’d ever taken it to the level of sewing up the holes in my friend’s canvas flats until now, though. As I sat on the floor sewing them up, she kept wondering aloud that I even thought of fixing them. It was only a blanket stitch, though!

5. Never underestimate yourself. While at camp, there is no one to rescue you, and you must do things all by yourself. We learn to value our own strength. We learn how to cooperate to do the things we aren’t strong enough to do alone. I’ve solo carried a canoe while wearing a full backpack on my front and back, and thought nothing of it, because I already believed that I could do it. Sometimes, though, when you get into a situation where you’re not with a bunch of Girl Guides, it’s easy to forget that you can do it. My friend, who thought he had a week or so to move all of his stuff to his new apartment, got a call from the new tenant asking him to have it ready that afternoon. His room, although completely a mess, was cleaned in a couple of hours by me and a friend while he moved out. When he returned, he was super sorry that he underestimated our ability to make the space live-able. However, he still didn’t think I could help him move his stove up four flights of stairs, or carry his washer and dryer out to the curb. While he was gone, I moved the dryer across the room just out of spite!

6. Finally, and most importantly: You should give help to those you want to help you. We’re not mind-readers and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out when people need help, but that’s why we need to be ever eager to help. Sure, I was completely exhausted at the end of the week of moving, but I did right by those I cared about, and my vacation wouldn’t have felt nearly as good without having to work to earn it. Little did I know when I was carrying those heavy bedrolls all those years ago that I’d be looking back on those moments now, marveling at how much I learned from being forced to struggle up the hill myself.

By guest blogger Shannon Jackson, 1st Lennoxville Guiding Unit, (QC) and Lennoxville District Public Relations Advisor. Don’t forget to read her previous post for GirlGuidesCANBlog: From Sparks, with Love.

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