When I think about traveling with luggage, the image of a snail comes to mind. A snail carries his home with him all the time. I don’t want to be the snail. I have always hated being weighed down by stuff. I was that mom who would go off to the playground with a spare diaper in my back pocket and hope for the best. It did not always work out for me (or my kids), but we survived.
That said, when I’m on the road or in another country, I don’t want to be frustrated by knowing that I have what I need but it is locked inside a snow-bound cabin in Maine, hundreds or thousands of miles away. These two instincts — to be prepared and to travel light — are engaged in a fierce competition right now, playing out in piles of clothing sprawled on our bed.
Mother Nature is letting us know it is time to move on from Maine. The temperature inside the cabin echoes the outside temperature, and some mornings that means we are trying to convince ourselves to get out of bed into 45 degree air. The hours of daylight are rapidly dwindling, the leaves are dropping from the trees, the lake is shrouded in mist, and the birds are migrating south. And so we take our cue from the hummingbirds and herons, and turn our sights towards warmer locales.
As planned, we are closing up the little cabin in the woods and hitting the road. But we at least thought we would know where we were going! With Covid making a mess of global travel, we find ourselves unsure of where we will be this coming year. That’s fine; we can be flexible. But our suitcases? There’s a limit to their flexibility.
Which brings me back to the piles of clothes. This past week we started sorting what we’ll bring with us from what we’ll leave behind. What might we need if we were hiking the Rockies? What would we want if we were swimming in the warm Caribbean waters? Will we need dressy clothes for work-related or special family events? And, what shoes do we pack? It seems like the shoes are always the tipping point for me between being able to fit my things into one suitcase and needing a second bag.
Recently, Al was explaining this conundrum to a colleague in Australia. She teasingly reminded him that they do sell clothing in Australia, even suits for men. When he relayed that to me, a light turned on.
I realized carrying everything with us we think we might possibly need, like the snail with his heavy, bulky shell, would rob us of an opportunity to engage with our place. If we need to buy a suit, or find we really want to go snorkeling and have left our fins in Maine, or need a warm hat for hiking in the Andes, it will draw us out of our shells and provide us a chance to explore our community, meet new people, and perhaps have an adventure.
And so we ponder the piles, consider the options for where the coming year might find us, and sort and cull. We seek the balance between being burdened by our possessions and having what we think we need. We try to imagine what lies just beyond the horizon and to remember that it is not about what we take with us in our travels but what we discover along the journey, what friends we make and what memories we carry forward that matter.
Snail image courtesy of Denny and Emily Holland, my cousins who are both wonderful artists (and father and daughter) and who collaborated on this piece. See more of their work at dennyholland.com, on Instagram @dennyholland, and Facebook emilyhollandarts.