Sometime in my twenties I was bitten by the travel bug—I’m not sure exactly when or where it happened, but I realized that being in airports, train stations, hotels, and unfamiliar cities made me extraordinarily happy.
Interestingly, this passion developed during what I’d call an “accumulation phase” in my life. After graduating from college, my now-husband and I went through the typical process of “setting up house.” In fact, decorating our apartment became a creative outlet for us. Since we had little money, we scoured antique shops and flea markets for hidden treasures—and hauled a good deal of “junque” back to our abode.
I think in some sense travel became an escape from my increasingly-cluttered environment (though at the time, I never consciously regarded it as such). I loved the opportunity (and challenge) of editing my possessions down to a single suitcase. I’d start making a packing list weeks in advance, and select the contents as thoughtfully as if I were curating an art exhibition. (Thankfully, no one was privy to my intense internal debates about whether to include hand cream, or an extra pair of socks; they would have thought I’d lost my mind!)
Why the enormous effort in packing for a week’s vacation? As a teenager, I had over-packed for my senior class trip to Florida (thinking, in typical teenage fashion, that I needed a new outfit for every day of the trip). I suffered the misery of dragging around a heavy suitcase, half the contents of which I never even used. I remember wondering how anyone could enjoy traveling when they had to cart around their stuff like a pack mule.
That was the last time I checked in a suitcase at the airport. In the following years, I realized that travel didn’t have to be so burdensome. On my first trip to Europe, I took nothing more than a small carry-on bag (swapping my wardrobe of clothes for a packet of laundry detergent). I knew every ounce would weigh on me like a little anchor, so I was determined not to include a single item that was unnecessary or superfluous.
The experience was exhilarating—while others trouped to the baggage carousel, I hit the ground running. I was mobile, flexible, and fancy free—and never once struggled to maneuver my bag on buses, subways, or long flights of stairs. Furthermore, my sightseeing schedule was unaffected by hotel check-in and check-out times; I could carry my little bag to museums and tourist sites, and stash it in a locker when need be.
I had never felt so free! I was heady with the notion that I could go ANYWHERE when all my stuff was in one little bag. When I returned from a trip, I would count the days until my next vacation. Half the excitement was the opportunity to explore other cultures; the other half was the chance to recreate that feeling of unbridled freedom. I looked forward to those precious weeks when one bag sufficed to meet my needs.
Eventually, the idea of living with just the essentials expanded beyond the days of my twice-yearly vacations. Traveling light became a metaphor for how I wanted to live my life. I began to edit the contents of my surroundings with the same fervor as I had my suitcase. As I slowly ditched the extra “baggage,” I could feel the weight lifted from my shoulders.
My passion for minimalist living now equals my passion for travel. In it, I’ve discovered a way to practice the art of traveling light 365 days a year. And in the process, life has become an easier, more exciting, and infinitely more interesting journey!