What kind of baggage does she have? We’ve all asked this question, mostly when dating. But it’s true in most aspects of our life. We all have baggage – some good, some bad. Our baggage is our history and it’s what makes us who we are.
My history when it comes to literal baggage is long. From multiple heavy bags to a $1 bag from the grocery store.
A few years ago, I made my first trip to Europe. I was going with four other people and most of us had never traveled abroad. We were going on an eight day cruise and would be visiting five different countries and seven or eight cities. I started packing three weeks in advance. I had an outfit for every day and a dress for every night laid out on the floor in my bedroom. There wasn’t an inch of carpet exposed. I certainly didn’t want to have pictures with the same shirt in it! I brought along two pairs of boots, a pair of heels, and flip-flops. You never know what the weather will be like!
I also brought along several kinds of makeup, wanting to make sure I had a shade of eye shadow to match each shirt. I wanted this trip to be perfect…from the way I looked to the experiences.
I brought along medicines. Tylenol, Advil, sleeping pills, leftover painkillers from previous medical procedures. What if I fell and broke a bone? I didn’t want to be in pain!
I brought along an extra wheelchair. I was going on a cruise, to be crammed in a small cabin room in the bottom of the ship with two other people. There was no extra space in our small room that had bunk beds to save space. But what if a wheel broke on my regular chair? Or the seat collapsed? I was prepared for anything and everything.
So I packed all of this up into a large roller bag and two carryon bags. Between the five of us, I think we had roughly 15 to 17 bags. We loaded the car that morning and drove to the airport, giddy with excitement about our trip overseas.
We had to drop our luggage off at the main airport door, have someone wait with it, park the car, get on the shuttle, proceed back to the gate agent to check our dozen or so bags…it was exhausting.
But once we got to Genoa, Italy, where our cruise ship departed, we handed our many bags over to the staff and they took care of delivering them to our rooms. Since we weren’t changing rooms or hotels, like many of our other trips, it wasn’t a big deal that our bags exploded all over the floor. Each morning we would dig through the massive piles of clothes and find a new outfit for the day. And each evening, we would strip our day clothes and find a formal ensemble to wear.
At the end of the trip, we shoved, literally shoved, all of our clothing and souvenirs back into our many bags, realizing that 75% of the items we brought were never used. I had brought new clothes along and re-packed them, clothes still attached to the sleeves and waistlines. I made a mental note that on my next trip I wasn’t going to bring this much “stuff” along.
It took me several years to realize that I really don’t need much when I’m traveling. I started bringing less and less on every trip, and eventually invested in a small pack back. I can easily carry it on my lap or attach it to the back of my wheelchair. A roller bag never really worked well with my wheelchair anyway. I couldn’t pull it and it was awkward to carry. Why hadn’t I figured this out long ago?
So about a year ago, when I went to Ecuador, I made an arrangement with my sister, Julie, that we would share her pack back. We knew there would be lots of piggy back rides and steps and rough obstacles to get through, so the less baggage we had, the easier these processes would be. However, it became difficult since we were coming from different cities and meeting in Miami – me from San Francisco and she from Columbus. So, the night before I left, I stopped by the Safeway grocery store on my way home from work, bought a $1 reusable cloth bag, and proceeded to pack my next 10 days worth of clothing and personal items. And it fit. Everything I would need for 10 days in the Amazon and rainforest all packed into a 12” by 12” bag.
I’ve learned a lot about baggage. I’ve learned I don’t need to pack weeks in advance; the night before is just fine. I’ve learned I don’t need a change of clothes for each day; I now wear my pants and shirts two or three times on each trip. I’ve learned that one pair of shoes is just fine. It’s okay if I am wearing the same thing in every picture. No one will ever notice that I’m wearing the same blue shirt in every picture when I have the Amazon River or lions and elephants behind me (although maybe they will now…).
I’ve learned that I can never prepare for the worst. Bringing along medication and extra wheelchairs and a slew of makeup is pointless. People all over the world need these things too. In the event I would ever need any of these items, I would find a place or a local resident to help me through whatever may be happening. When I travel now, there are just a few things I always bring – my passport, my computer, a camera, and an extra change of clothes. Everything else about my trips is defined by the experience. Not the stuff.
And as I finish this blog, I realize that this is something I need to practice in my everyday life, with myself and with others. Letting go of useless baggage, focusing on the here and now, instead of the materialist things surrounding me. I know I have some work to do. I think I’ll start now.