I have done my share of traveling over the years. Some as a tourist and some as a global citizen in search of understanding new cultures and peoples. Regardless of the intent, one thing remained true. I hated packing.
When my husband and I were preparing to move overseas to the Philippines (for what turned out to be 12 years), I was overwhelmed with the thought of packing for our family of four. I did my research, created lists upon lists, and still felt undone by the myriad of decisions before me. Seeing my distress, my husband pulled me aside and said, “Page, it’s a good idea when crossing cultures to travel lightly.”
I gave that some thought. In general, I tend to operate from a “less is more” mindset, so it squared with my internal value system. I also believe that questions open our minds, so I asked myself, “What does it mean to travel half-way around the world in terms of the stuff we carry with us?”
The first word that came to mind was “trust”. Could I trust that the place I was moving to was inhabited by people who shared the same humanity and could help me discover ways of caring for my family using their ways and their products? …or did I have to pack the goods that my family would need for the next four years? Could I trust that I could enter the culture as a learner (and not a knower) and could receive their collective wisdom? …or did I have to carry my books of knowledge to inform me? Could I trust that my new neighbors would invite me to enjoy their fun and fellowship? …or did I have to bring my own forms of entertainment?
The idea of traveling lightly began to settle into my bones. When we finally got on the plane, we carried with us 8 suitcases (our allotment). We had no shipment forthcoming. As I passed through the domestic to the international terminal at LAX with an infant and toddler in tow, I felt a sudden sense of panic. I think my husband did, too, because he turned to me and said, “Do you realize that we don’t have a single key between us?” No car key…no house or apartment key…no office key. We had donated our car, given away our "stuff", moved out of our apartment, and left our jobs. I turned to him laughing and said, “Hey, don’t look at me. This was your idea!”
That was more than thirty years ago. Life back in the States brings me more opportunities to travel lightly…in a metaphorical sense. For example, what do I “carry” with me into a conversation? The desire to be right or the desire to learn? I was intrigued by one of stories told by presidential historian, Jeffrey Engel, in the many remembrances shared about George HW Bush’s life last month. He stated, “…from time to time, President Bush, if he had a few moments on his calendar, would call up a foreign leader…and just ask them, what's going on in your world? What do you think is important? And just listen. So the fact that we have so many transcripts of President Bush not talking, but actually listening to other people around the world, as the most powerful person in the world, is really quite telling to me.”[i]
Part of traveling lightly for me has also involved letting go of resentments and grievances. Yes, I have been hurt by careless remarks and even intentional injustices. But I have learned the fine art of letting go so that I won’t be bound by bitterness.
In what ways to do you want to travel more lightly in 2019?