As I pack my bag for Siberia, I realize how long it’s been since I travelled light.
The last time was ten years ago when I went to India and Nepal. My friend Anna and I went for three weeks, each carrying a modest bag containing a sheet, mosquito net and a few articles of clothing.
People around us balked at the idea of our going so far for such a short time. But I had a sense then that if I didn’t seize that opportunity, it would be a long time before it returned.
I was right.
The freedom, money, time and fearlessness of that Indian summer have never combined in the same magical way again. Since then, I’ve travelled a lot, but have felt very heavy indeed, dragging books, cats, an entire household behind me en route to another postdoc or teaching position.
I used to be an expertly light traveller, having started when I was only a teenager. I’d work some weekend or summer job for just long enough to buy plane and train tickets, plus scrape together a bit of pocket money, then take off with a friend.
“That’s what you’re bringing?” my dad asked the night before one such trip.
I was seventeen and heading off for nine weeks with a small pack borrowed from my cousin for the train trip through Europe that everyone was doing back then.
“Why, do you think it’s too big?”
“No,” he answered, laughing. “Just the opposite. I’m wondering how you’ll survive.”
I came back happy, healthy and strong. And having learned a ton.
Travelling light isn’t just about stuff. To do so, you have to believe that world will take care of you, that it will lend you things you need but didn’t bring, and that it will teach you how to be in the place that you are.
This trip, I’m going to try to recapture some lightness.
My plane takes off Thursday.
[Photo: Rachel Giese]