As far as I know, there are two kinds. Emotional and physical - and both can be packed to the limit with things that weigh us down. But, as the latest self-help gurus tell us, both can also be “unpacked”.
Today, as we were packing to travel on an obscure airline between Siem Reap, Cambodia, and Saigon, Vietnam, whose baggage allowance was at best obscure it hit me that both definitions apply to being a full-time traveler.
I travel with one large suitcase, a daypack and a purse, those three pieces of “baggage” hold my emotional as well as my physical well being. It’s all fine and well to pontificate about finding your minimalist state, and to be made to feel guilty about having too much “stuff”, but when most of your world is contained in a roller duffle bag I feel stretched to the limits of my ability to reduce any further.
Now that we’ve flown almost 50 different airlines we can say with confidence the usual weight limit is 23 kilos (50 pounds) for a checked bag. I’ve become really adept at hitting that weight. When Mr. Campbell gets out the ominous “fish scale” to weigh our bags before we head to the airport mine usually hovers around 23.10. I’ve also been able to hit 20 - but that means our daypacks are back-bending, my purse is bulging and I have snacks stuffed up the sleeves of my coat (which I will be wearing) even if it’s 90° outside.
If I have 25 kilos that means I can carry the olive oil I just bought and take some of the strain off the day pack. If I have 30 it’s like hitting the jackpot. Then I can keep a few additional comforts like a fat candle, a few more kitchen essentials, maybe a “real book” and a big bottle of good shampoo. Inevitably, I will have to get back to 22.99 kilos eventually - but in the moment I am happy. Michael seems able to maintain his weight, so the only thing that gets him ruffled is when I try and slip a few of my “extras” into his bag when he isn't looking.
Which brings me to emotional baggage and the human need to nest. I don’t know what it was like for nomadic tribe members to knock down their tents and move on, but I am sure they traveled with some of their favorite things, regardless of practicality. I reserve the same right. I haul a full pound of sketching materials with me just in case I decide to start capturing our surroundings with a few strokes of brush and pen. And I might. Someday.
Or my need to have the ingredients for whipping up a vinaigrette under any circumstances. Or a full complement of snacks in case we are stranded on a bus or Michael needs a cookie. Which is often. The cookie, not the bus breakdown.
Or a “good outfit” and shoes in case Ellen calls and wants to interview us on the fly. And that is in addition to the various clothing combinations I carry to accommodate more temperature settings than a toaster oven.
Then there is my small stash of candles and a few shells and stones. I have not taken up sorcery, I just like to put a few things out that resemble decorating. A shawl flung here, and a few comforts of home do wonders to dress up a mediocre Airbnb. And of course, we travel with our trusty bed pillows and they take up their share of the suitcase. But as Michael often reminds me, "everything weighs something", so I agonize about what to hang on to.
I also feel the need to have an odd collection of maps and brochures from cities we’ve visited stuffed into the side pockets of my suitcase. Why? Perhaps it's from years of conditioning as a graphic designer to collect “scrap” to stimulate ideas. Maybe. Or maybe I am a hopeless hoarder. I could be featured on a new reality show called “Luggage Losers”. Not as in an unfortunate person who constantly loses their luggage, but more like a profile of a pathetic person who has packed a suitcase almost daily for five years and still has discipline issues.
You should see the faces of the taxi drivers or hosts who help us with our luggage. I know they are thinking “Crazy Americans! Why are they hauling 50 pounds of luggage each on vacation?” I am compelled to tell them we travel full-time and this is everything we own - and each item is precious, blah, blah, blah, but it rarely translates - so I’ve learned to be stoic under their withering gaze.
Which brings me once again to emotional baggage. The new mantras: “keep only those things that bring you joy. Less is more. If you haven’t worn it in a year, out it goes.” make sense. My response? I have lived with less for a long time now. And even though I stuff the odd extra bar of soap in my purse, or resist our “if you buy a shirt, toss a shirt” rule, I know we are the picture of "living lite".
We envision when we have a home again it will be small. And we will be very careful to fill it with just what we need and love, and no more. It will be fascinating to go through our 10’ x 15’ foot storage unit and reveal what we thought were our most precious possessions five years ago. At this point, we’ve paid far, far more in storage fees than the monetary value of what’s inside that steel cage! But I also know as we excavate each box that we will be able to choose to keep only those things that we are willing to haul into our next phase of life.
And I can also say with some certainty, that I may drop my entire suitcase, unpacked, at The Salvation Army depot on the way home from the airport - and never look back!
Thanks for following along,
Debbie and Michael
The Senior Nomads
P.S. Just finishing a week in Beijing, China. Heading onward to Seoul and then three weeks in Japan! This Asian adventure has been very rewarding and definitely different.