The Things We Carry

image of a snail carrying a house on its back

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, on Instagram @dennyholland, and Facebook emilyhollandarts.

7 thoughts on “The Things We Carry

  1. Rob Race says:

    So true! It is easy to get hung up on “did I bring everything I need – and even something extra!!”. It IS okay to pack light and then help boost the local economy if you forget or need extra ‘stuff’…..Have fun and see you in a few weeks!


  2. Les says:

    Great piece [Denny and Emily..👏]. Checked this out: you can buy a 2nd hand guitar in Australia and probably sell it back later….just saying!


  3. Russ Klein says:

    I bought a hat and scarf in Perugia. You know, you were with me. Who knew I would need a hat and scarf? Yet, there we were, at the top of the lift facing a bitter wind. I’ll never forget the shop, midway up the main street between the tram stop and the castela, on the left. The fond memories I have of that day and of that time in our lives come rushing back like they happened yesterday when I recall the thick smell of wool and the kind warm welcome that awaited us just inside the shop. You never know what you might find yourself needing along the way, but its finding can sometimes be a defining part of the experience. I don’t have the hat or the scarf anymore. Why continue to carry them like a snail? I carry them in my memory which is as sweet as the gelato we enjoyed in the piazza later that day.


  4. Lane Klein says:

    What a thought-provoking essay about an enormous task; and your accompanying artwork is perfect! I trust you’ll share some of your shopping excursions and results along the way. You have a great eye for style; now you have room to express it.


  5. Judy Green says:

    I love your idea of combining DENNY and Emily’s art with your beautiful writing. Your descriptions made me feel what you were pondering. If you’d like to visit California you are always welcome to stay here. Love, Aunt JUDY

    Sent from my iPad


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