So, my Dad and I booked a trip the other day. We didn’t pay to bring checked bags. We’re going on a 10+ day trip and have access to laundry. We’ll figure it out. I don’t often check my bags when travelling. I do my best to travel efficiently and recognize that bringing too much can be more difficult than not bringing enough. It’s not always possible, but I aspire to be able to curate my belongings into what I need. And trust that I am resourceful enough to find what I need, when I need it, and that there are good people in the world who help.
It’s not easy to trust like this and I wasn’t always this efficient. I learned a lot when I spent a semester in Australia during my undergrad. I flew to Sydney when I was 20, alone, and with two giant suitcases and two carry ons.
I figured that because I was going for just under 6 months I needed to bring the entirety of my possessions with me, which at 20, wasn’t a heck of a lot but was way more than I could carry. I was so, so wrong. I managed the airport okay thanks to those suitcase cart thingies. It was getting off the train in the CBD and looking at 3 flights of stairs (up) and an out-of-order elevator, that had me go, well shit-so much for that plan. And I was literally standing there, for I don’t know how long, with the weight of my whole world, looking at the stairs.
A young man, older than me but not by much, wearing a suit, came up beside me, stood there and looked at the bags and the stairs and me.
“How you going? He asked.
“I have no clue.” I replied, totally overwhelmed and not realizing that this is the standard Australian greeting, and not an inquiry into how I was going to overcome this particular predicament.
“You need a hand.” It wasn’t so much an offer of help as a simple statement that was undeniably true. Here I was on my first big independent venture, and I totally botched the independence piece.
He picked up my two big suitcases, 1 in each hand, and just carried them up the stairs, with me managing the small ones.
“Where to now?”
“I’m staying across the street. Thank you so much, I have no idea…” and he just started walking my bags across the street when the crossing light changed, to the hostel where I was staying for a night.
“Thank you so so so much.”
“Righto- you might want to downsize a bit.”
And off he went.
This man, very kind as he was in that moment, probably didn’t realize that he taught me quite so much in those two short minutes as he definitely did.
Matter-of-fact, willing to help, no expectations… and incredible wisdom. I ended up mailing a suitcase home from Australia by freight because I didn’t want to be so overburdened with stuff. I also ended up storing one in a locker, at that very same hostel as I went out to tour New Zealand for 3 weeks before returning home. At this point in my life, I’m not sure I would’ve spent the little money I did have freighting and storing stuff around the world… but at that point, it seemed the most reasonable thing to do. While traveing New Zealand with my carry-ons I did get very frustrated wearing the exact same clothes for days… however, I could carry my own damn bags.
This way of being applies to the choices we make in life, as much as to our travel wardrobe and style. Some trips, like a romantic cruise with your partner, may include extra bags of sparkly shoes and swaying dresses. Other travels may only include: jeans, black shorts, beige capris, 3 black t-shirts, a maxi dress, bathing suit, and sweater. 6 undies and 3 bras. Face wipes, antiperspirant, tooth brush and paste, a hair elastic and brush. Meds and protein bars. Both trips can be equally adventurous, engaging, and enlightening. But you don’t pack the same stuff.
What are you carrying right now that is confusing you? Weighing you down? Just unnecessary for the journey you’re on right now?
I’ve found, sometimes, it’s not what you think it is…
People are quick to blame the people closest to them- partners, parents, children, best friends- for needing too much from them and not giving them what they need. Or work that is unsatisfying and demanding. Relationships can need negotiating and your work may not be the best fit at this moment in time. But oftentimes they are not the life-draining vampires a lot of us can make them out to be. (There are exceptions.)
The excess baggage- the shit that we need to let go from our every day life… well that’s unprocessed emotions and experiences, expectations for ourselves, our people, and our lives that are not true to our values, and beliefs about our worth and capabilities.
My overpacking for Australia was not due to lack of research, planning, or care. Oh no… I had read the books and talked to the people, and made all the lists, and carefully considered every fucking item I had packed, that turned out to be completely useless. I had reorganized each suitcase three times.
Nope, the overpacking was all due to an unrecognized fear. I wanted to avoid discomfort. I wanted to protect against scarcity. I was terrified that I wouldn’t be able to find what I needed, that I wouldn’t be able to look after myself, and that I wouldn’t have anyone to help me. I thought by bringing all the stuff with me, I would be okay.
As a 20-year-old, living with chronic illness, and setting off to live on the other side of the world, it’s understandable I had fear, then tried to overcome it, and overcompensated for it. There’s an obvious lack of experience navigating the world. Of trusting people- and trusting myself- that was developmentally appropriate. My parents tried to help me “condense” the stuff and advised me against bringing that much. They didn’t think I would need it all and that it would be difficult to manage. They didn’t push the issue. The only limit was they were unwilling to pay for excess baggage. Fair and reasonable. And I was 20 and didn’t listen to a word, because what would they know?
I have never beat myself up for that moment. Pretty much immediately I laughed at the whole situation. And realized I was going to have to scale back my stuff to meet my ultimate goal of travelling independently. I had been incredibly lucky to come across this good Samaritan, no doubt. And my parents were right- all the stuff was cumbersome and unnecessary, actually making it harder for me to be independent, which was very unfortunate for my pride. And also very fortunate- because ultimately they believed I could do this without so much “stuff.” I also learned through the course of all of this, that none of us are ever going to be totally independent- that’s human. Learning who and how to trust is key. But I do need to be able to- metaphorically at least- carry my own damn bags.
Since I continue to navigate through an adventurous life, I continue to learn in new ways, that packing light is key to living a full life. Full seems a much more apt description of complex and engaging lives. Nothing is lacking, however, sometimes we have to ditch certain things to make space for other things that are more important to us. Priorities are key. And also getting stronger. Part of it, is deciding what is worth working to carry and what is more beneficial to let go.
Yoga and mindfulness allow me some discernment and space. They allow me to see the little stuff cluttering up my mental landscape, and let go of things that at other times, caused me to buy another suitcase. Hanging on to experiences in an unhelpful way has been something I have had to learn how to let go. Mindfulness has helped me to identify these things. Certain things in life, I just can’t laugh off and move on. That’s okay- a willingness to deal with these things is as important as being able to let go and pack light. Certain things I need to process in depth before sticking in longterm storage. Other things, I need to strengthen my own core to carry more, because they are important and I want them with me. Many ways of handling the baggage are fine- but figuring out which for what and how- well that’s where good friends, writing, and therapy have been helpful to me.
There’s no one way to pack. There’s no one way to live. But for me, I like to be able to carry my own baggage, as much as possible.