One morning, I woke up and said to myself, “I want to travel the world.”
So, I sold everything that I owned and traveled the world for several years. That decision changed my life. Thirteen years later, I winter in Spain and am still crossing off places to explore from my bucket list. As an “untourist” I’ve learned so much about other countries, things I never would’ve known if I’d merely taken a cruise or stayed in hotels or resorts. My horizons were broadened and my world view altered, forever. Over time, I also tapped into my own inner resources, figuring out how to travel cheaply and with greater ease. One of the biggest breakthroughs was learning how to travel light.
Less is more, I soon discovered.
If I wanted to honor the old hippie lady living inside of me, I had to disentangle myself from too many encumbrances. That started with selling my house, car and 98% of all of my worldly belongings and culminated with knowing how to pack light. Whether I’m on the road for a week or eight months, I only carry a small backpack. It has to fit under the seat in front of me or in the overhead bin. That forces me to think long and hard about every item that goes into my bag. It must pass a bag-worthy test in order to earn a spot next to my two pairs of pants, four shirts and Teva sandals.
Over time, I mastered the art of traveling light and suddenly travel became so much easier.
No more standing in lines waiting for my suitcase to unload on the carousel. No strange looks from the cab driver as he hoists my heavy suitcase into the trunk of his car. No need to ask an unassuming stranger to help me lift my suitcase from the bin. I just grab my backpack and I’m on my way to the next adventure. I don’t have to think about how to pack any longer. Any time I’m ready to take off, I know exactly what to leave behind and what to take. People are in awe of my ability to cling so lightly to stuff and things.
But Wait! There’s more.
Soon, I began to notice that getting rid of unnecessary baggage could apply to lots of different scenarios in life. While I was learning to travel with less, I also started going through the storage closets in my brain. It was a spontaneous exercise that I believe was jumpstarted by getting rid of most of my personal possessions before I left the country. Suddenly, the mental clutter began to reveal itself, too. I identified a lot of junk and trivia that was taking up far too much space in my head, keeping me from being as free as I longed to be. Outdated ideas, cultural constraints, myths about what life is or should be were being pulled out of the dusty cobwebs of my mind where the light of day could help me sort through them. Much of it was pretty harmless. Some of it, however, had interfered with my ability to experience a more carefree existence. A fair amount of the garbage was nothing more than silly expectations that my own culture had foisted upon me long before I was old enough to think for myself. I’d carried these expectations around for years merely thinking that was just the way things were.
One of the biggest bits of junk that was cluttering my brain was religion.
Don’t get me wrong, I hadn’t gone to church for years. After growing up in a cult, I left home and never had the desire to become a card-carrying member of a religious club again. It didn’t once occur to me to explore other religions. I was an apathetic agnostic, not terribly interested in what other religious people believed in as long as I didn’t have to do it. Yet, there were remnants of my religious notions still clinging to the walls of my brain. While wandering, they dropped away one by one leaving me completely free of the god virus. Maybe because borders were open to me, my mind was more open as well. Maybe the contrast of cultures allowed me to take a peek at the limitations my own culture had placed upon me. I don’t know, but I was an unabashed atheist at last and comfortable in my own skin being one. What an immense relief. The new me emerged. I was out of debt, had no stuff to look after and the god virus had been completely purged from my system. I felt like I was sixteen with money in my pocket. The whole experience was life altering from start to finish.
After freeing myself from so much baggage, I began to realize that If there’s an easy way or a hard way to do something, humans tend to choose the hard way.
We load ourselves down with far too much in life, often just because that’s what everyone else is doing. We marry too young, have children for the wrong reasons, buy things we don’t need, create a mountain of responsibilities, hang on to old belief systems that are harmful to us, bury ourselves in debt and cling to traditions that often never served a useful purpose but sure as hell kept us from experiencing life fully. In one form or another, it all became a part of our massive baggage collection.
Then, we proceeded to haul it around with us for the entirety of our lives.
Have you ever been in an airport and seen a fellow traveler with one of those giant carts loaded down with suitcases, golf clubs, purses, bags and packages. They are literally so overburdened with stuff that they can’t even pay a visit to the bathroom. They look frazzled, tired, frustrated and like they desperately need to pee. That’s what life does to most of us. That picture is the best visual reminder of what I want to avoid. Trust me, it’s tricky business trying to travel light through life. There aren’t a lot of us. We’ve got to be hypervigilant or before we know it we will become buried up to our necks again. Most people will never dig their way out in the first place.
I was lucky.
I woke up one morning and said, “I want to travel the world.” And, so I did. Along the way, I’ve seen some fascinating places, enjoyed exotic foods, watched the sun set over the Mediterranean Sea, gotten lost with free-range sheep on an Irish peninsula, lived on three different islands, wandered the narrow kissing streets of old world cities and learned to travel light. It changed my life.
Teresa Roberts is an author, world traveler and dedicated myth buster. Her recent book - Have We Been Screwed? Trading Freedom for Fairy Tales - can be purchased on Amazon.