I’m taking BootsnAll up on their “Indie Travel Challenge” this week:
Travel Transformations: How has travel changed your life? Can you pinpoint a single moment – a day, an hour, a split second – when you knew that things had changed? How did that change impact your life, both on your travels and at home?
Although there have been a handful of transformative travel encounters in my life, I think the best answer for me would have to be the incident with my backpack.
My friend and I were planning to take advantage of our early-twenties, no-strings situations, and take off to Europe for an indefinite amount of time. As our departure date drew near, and I had to vacate my apartment, I thought it would be a grand opportunity to learn what others meant when they spoke of the liberating experience that comes from detaching oneself from worldly possessions. I had never considered myself very materialistic, but relatively so, simply as a modern Westerner. I planned to whittle down my belongings to a bare minimum, leaving only those necessities in storage, and to pack light for the journey. However, being the procrastinator that was, I never did do that whittling I had planned on, and while shoveling the remains of my studio apartment on the morning of our scheduled departure, I committed to follow through with my plan upon my return, when I would eventually unpack all of these things.
We stopped by my father’s to drop off a load of things to be stored in his attic, and were held up by his insistence upon my taking, or at least considering, the plethora of items he had set out for me to pack for my trip. Being in a hurry to make our flight, I sighed and did a quick and inefficient triage of articles, stuffing my already packed, smallish backpack, while listening to Dad berate me about the risk of carrying a purse and having it razor-snipped off of my shoulder. I brought only a carry-on sized, wheeled suitcase, containing clothes and a few toiletries, and a student-sized backpack, full of everything else I wanted for a potentially 6 month excursion overseas.
My friend and I arrived in London, explored a little, spent a lot, and quickly opted to cut our stay in that lovely city short. Though, not before I gave in to the frustration of operating without my usual appendage: a purse, and purchased one in Camden Town. We had plans to meet up with another friend in Italy, and decided to head there early. Not certain of where we were meeting said friend, and unable to reach her by email, we selected the centrally located metropolis of Rome. We packed up our things, I emptied my newly acquired purse, rolled it up, packed it, along with everything else, into my overstuffed backpack, bid farewell to our friendly hostelers, flew to Rome, and then hitched a shuttle bus to the central train station. We gathered our bags and made our way to the main piazza. It was our fifth day in Europe. I wheeled my suitcase over to a bench abutting a fence, heaved my undesirably heavy backpack off of my back and onto the bench, took two steps over to my friend, turned to keep my things in my periphery, laughed about something, and then noticed a discrepancy in the setting on the bench. My friend caught my blank stare, and followed my gaze. We both thought for a moment, like trying to decipher a “what’s missing from this picture?” puzzle, considered whether I grabbed everything from the bus, noted that I did, and then immediately looked out into the piazza, scanning the swarm of people, trying to spot it: my backpack.
It was gone. I was robbed by Houdini. Catatonia set in as I numbly followed my friend around in search of the polizia, filled out a report, in duplicate, and it slowly began to lift as we watched the rain fall outside, from within a waiting room at the police station, awaiting their response. It was smart thinking on the part of my friend; having lost my passport in that bag, it was crucial that I acquired that police report. However, that was only one of a few dozen issues weighing on me in those moments. My money, my glasses, my iPod, and numerous other precious and semi-precious items: gone. I remember cursing my dad for convincing me I needed all those extra things that made my backpack too heavy, and that it was unsafe to travel with a purse, and believing that had I not bought into his fears, I would have at least had my essentials at my side. I held a silent vigil in my mind in which I stood wading in a river, gently releasing each of the contents of the pack, and eventually the pack itself, into the current, and saying goodbye. Then it hit me: I had got what I asked for. The Universe heard my wish to be liberated from material attachment, saw me falter on that path when I failed to whittle down my belongings back home, and stepped in to do me the favor. I mourned the losses for a couple days, but meanwhile increasingly found solace in gratitude for the retention of truly valuable things, such as my companion, our safety and health, and the experience of this incredible journey I was on.
I stayed in Europe, meandering happily about, for a total of three months. My friend returned home after just one, but I wasn’t done exploring, and no lack of possessions was going to stop me.
When I did eventually return home, it took me a long time to transition out of travel-mode, and it wasn’t for approximately three years that I finally allowed myself some minor accumulation of things. To this day, I still vastly prefer a relatively minimalist lifestyle, and refuse to get too attached to any thing. I will forever recount that experience as a major blessing, and a great big hug from Omni.