Walking By Myself (with a really heavy suitcase)

Home from my two weeks in Kauai, I think of what I learned: about myself, about travel, well, and about traveling by myself!

Asides from some intense emotional first aid, this first trip was a trial run for the more adventurous travel on the itinerary for the next year.

I am certainly going to pack a lot lighter in the future! Hard to believe that someone who once went to Europe for 6 weeks with only a carry-on and a day pack went on this trip with a suitcase so big I had to weigh it to make sure it wasn’t over 50 pounds. And my carry-on probably weighed at least 20. How on earth did that happen?

First, I had so many books. Novels, language books (what better time to brush up my French and my Finnish!), Sudoku puzzles, magazines, notebooks. I also had an iPad and my phone. Why was I planning to be so busy? I think I was terrified of being at loose ends, without anything to do except–  think? cry? And yet, it was the being alone, thinking (and oh yes, crying. So. Much. Crying.) that was the most valuable part of the trip.

We have two choices about expressing our pain: Do it now, cleanly and consciously, or do it here and there in unconscious bouts of anguish throughout a lifetime. (Kathleen Brehony, After the Darkest Hour)

I don’t think I’m over it, but I’m learning to live with it. I didn’t cry at all the last 5 days of my trip. Next time I pack, there will be ONE book. I can always find another one when I finish it. And I can get an app to practice my French.

And what was with the shoes? Why on earth did I bring 7 pairs? Hiking and gym shoes, flip flops and Tevas, walking sandals and two pairs of dressy sandals. And the clothes! Three bathing suits and workout gear. Dresses, fancy tops, four pairs of shorts. I spent 75% of the time in one bathing suit, the Tevas, my Columbia hiking shorts, and a T-shirt from New York that is so old it has a few holes, which you can’t really notice because it’s tie-dyed.

I realized I packed for a lifestyle that I was leaving behind, and was dressing for the life I was wanting to live. When you’re staying in a condo on a golf course (not literally true here, but certainly on our trips to Arizona and Palm Springs) you need to look like you belong. People there (most of them perfectly nice, by the way) unconsciously judge by appearances how they will interact with you: Will we have things in common? Are we similar income levels, and therefore have similar interests and backgrounds? Will our differences be at a level that is interesting, rather than challenging or threatening? In those places it might actually matter if I wore the same dress to dinner again and again.

Of course, on a more practical level, when you only need to move that suitcase twice in two weeks, its weight is not so important.

But moving it twice, this trip, was not a delight. I was on my own. No one to stay with the luggage while the other person walked out and found the rental car. No splitting the roles of driver and navigator. No one to consult when a decision needed to be made, and no one to share the responsibility when things did not go well. At first it was intimidating, but I soon started to be proud of my competence; so much so that at the end when someone offered to help me get my suitcase into the trunk I politely declined and flung that bastard in there myself.

But I am definitely traveling with less baggage, literally and figuratively, in the future.

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