January 23, 2015

How to Travel Light.


The first time my luggage got lost in transit, I broke down in tears in London’s Gatwick airport.

It was September of 1999; I was 19 and traveling alone, internationally, for the first time, embarking on a semester of college studying abroad.

I later realized it was a blessing, because I would have had a hell of a time navigating the underground and the unfamiliar, bustling streets of London with all my baggage; it was hard enough without it. The airline never did manage to locate my two bulging suitcases, so they compensated me with cash.

The second time my luggage didn’t make it to my final destination was nine years later when I arrived in New Delhi, India. I was jet-lagged, apprehensive and already overwhelmed with emotion from the moment I stepped into that country crammed so full of everything. I was sure that my big, red, borrowed backpack and I would never be reunited, but somehow, several days later, it was delivered to the very doorstep of my room at a remote ashram in Rishikesh, several hours from Delhi by train, moto-taxi and footpath.

The third and fourth times my luggage got lost were last month, when I visited home in Austin for Christmas. On both legs of my journey, there were delays, causing me to nearly miss my connecting flights. I ran through the airport, toddler—daughter and carry-on bags in my arms and somehow made it to the gate before the plane departed. Both times, my suitcase failed to appear at the baggage claim.

By now, I was used to the drill. I shed no tears and experienced minimal irritation.

“He who would travel happily must travel light.”
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I remembered the mantra I’d recently read in an article by Buddhist teacher Sylvia Boorstein about a bad day she’d experienced at the airport:

“May I meet this moment fully. May I meet it as a friend.”

It resonated with me.

I’ve become a wiser traveler through experience.

Flights will be delayed. There will be detours.

The six-hour bus ride will turn out to be eleven, because the vehicle will have mechanical problems, or there will be an accident on the highway or who knows what else. We will get so hot and bothered—if we’re watching the clock and expecting to arrive in precisely six hours.

I’ve learned how to travel light. (This is obviously more challenging when traveling with children, but it’s still possible!) When we are packing for a trip (even a day trip), I’ve learned how not to stuff our baggage to the gills with all the precious items we are sure to need along the way, a lot of which we may not wind up using or wearing.

As international travel guru Rick Steves advises,

“You can’t travel heavy, happy and cheap. Pick two.”

Traveling heavy is not advisable for two main reasons:

1. It will make us more of a target for theft.

2. It’s a real hassle to lug all that stuff around everywhere we go (or to have to pay a bunch of money to store it somewhere).

In exploring the vast majority of the places around this beautiful planet of ours, we will encounter potholes, cobblestones, gravel paths, uneven stone stairs and rickety wooden footbridges, none of which are particularly convenient for lugging suitcases, even the kind with the fancy rolling wheels.

Of course, a backpack or duffel bag can be just as bad if it’s huge and loaded down with too much stuff.

Traveling light isn’t just about what we bring from home, it also has to do with the things we accumulate along the way on our journey.

Do we really need to buy trinkets for all our coworkers and cousins back home? How many souvenirs will we buy for our own personal possession? Let’s choose our purchases wisely, remembering that every item’s weight and bulk will be with us for the rest of our travels.

Traveling light isn’t just about possessions and baggage, either.

It’s about being in the moment, letting go of preconceived notions and judgements about the customs and traditions of foreign cultures.

Be curious versus critical. Refrain from generalizations about an entire cultural or ethnic group based on your limited experience. Appreciate the amazing diversity of humankind.

It’s about being open and willing to trust that wherever we are, we can get the things we really need and, if not, it’s going to be okay.

“Own only what you can always carry with you: know languages, know countries, know people. Let your memory be your travel bag.” ~ Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

It’s about fully experiencing our lives, which includes our vacation, from moment to moment. Not viewing the world through our camera lens and guidebook, but rather with open eyes and ears and mind.

Experiences are more valuable than things.


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Author: Michelle Margaret Fajkus

Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock

Photo: flickr, flickr

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