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Having Baggage while Traveling

29 April, 2011

Travel is something that frees us, well at least that is one goal. We hope to be free of responsibility or things that hold us back. Even so we carry a lot of things with us on a trip. Some of them are in our backpacks, others in our head. This emotional baggage can be as weighty as the physical stuff. What happens when you bring more baggage than just your smartly packed carry-on?

End of Vacation Mentality

For a lot of us, travel is something we have to limit to vacations. This being the few weeks a year that we escape from the rest of “normal” life. I have 5 weeks of vacation here and still have a bit of that mentality. When I travel like that, there are always things in my head that I can’t escape from. I always remember in the back of my head the stuff I am leaving behind and must return to. Work or family or other stress.

If you pack as if it is a vacation and have in mind that you will be “returning” then sometimes in fits of frustration you lose sight of the joy of the trip, even short ones. This is the idea of knowing I only brought enough underwear for the trip without doing laundry and as I get down to only one or two pairs left I feel the end of the trip very acutely. Then I suddenly think of all of the emails that are piling up back at my desk.

The routines of life, such as laundry, seem linked to my non-vacation self. As I run out of clean clothes and the time to “go back” nears, I tend to let my mind wander from enjoying the time away and too soon back into the grind.

Overpacking the Mental Suitcase

There are often stresses or mental habits that we just can’t let go of. Travel is a time when you can step out of a routine and recreate yourself. Bringing your old ideas with you will make it harder to recreate and easier to just follow the same pattern. Eat the same kind of things, fall asleep at the same time or look for the same kind of pictures.

Having fewer preconceptions of what the trip should be like is like having fewer tickets booked and a smaller backpack. Carrying around a large amount of stuff in your head makes the small places of travel harder to deal with. The mental equivalent of managing a large suitcase through very narrow cobble seats or cramming it into the overhead bin.

When you are on a trip in a sunny warm place, does it really make sense to worry about the taxes that aren’t due for 6 weeks or what someone 1000 miles away might think about you. Leave those heavy things at home. Do we really need to carry our entire wardrobe around with us? Probably not. The mental one isn’t really needed either.

Repack Along the Way

This entire metaphor can be a little warped and needs some imagination so bear with me. We always carry our mind around with us. It is not easy to “unpack” certain things there. A lot of memories are attached to situations that occur during travel and are brought up often whether we want them or not. This is what makes travel actually a good thing for cleaning the mental closet.

Travel gives us new situations and new aspects of old ones. People you will never meet again, so it doesn’t matter if you make a fool of yourself. Just the kind of thing to allow you to throw out the old stuff that you are carrying around. That old shirt finally get a big enough hole in it that I can’t wear it in public, toss it. My fear of flight getting in the way of seeing cool places, get over it. I am a picky eater at home, but I make conscious choices to try things abroad that I wouldn’t normally. This kind of thought pattern lets me refine my “mental packing list” and throw out the bits I don’t want, and replace them with cool things I acquire while traveling. Think of it as replacing a worn out t-shirt with a new one bought in Bali. It may just be a t-shirt, but it’s the “one from Bali”.

I love this effect of being able to adjust one’s mind while traveling just due to being somewhere else. Like it is easier to dump a pair of worn our shoes on the road so you don’t have to carry it, instead of at home keeping them because you have space. Man, I’m itching to travel again. Only 4 more weeks now.

Have you ever found yourself with too much “mental baggage”?

PS: Oh and if you feel somehow cheated by this post not being about actual luggage, check out Ali’s look at changing luggage over time.

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10 Responses to Having Baggage while Traveling

  1. Heather says:

    Starting two months ago, the mental weight of the year in Oz ending and needing to return home started weighing on me! I tried to stay in the moment every day, but the weight/baggage was always in the back of my mind.

    Within a few hours of being home, I’d unpacked my suitcases (to have something to distract me from being so upset) and I think it’ll be a while before I can unpack all the emotions and thoughts!

    • Andrew says:

      That aftermath of a trip is a pretty important part of it. Especially going back into a known situation, you get to see how you react different and who you have become with the travel experiences in the old situations. Good luck to you in unpacking and organizing your mental baggage.

  2. Sabina says:

    Taking mental baggage on any trip can really basically ruin it. One time I went through something really difficult at home, so I escaped to the Bahamas for a week afterward. The problem was it was immediately afterwards, and the stress was still 100% with me. If I’d waited a couple of months to unwind naturally at home first, I would have enjoyed the trip so much, I think. Instead, it wasn’t totally ruined, but it’s nothing I ever even look back on fondly.

    • Andrew says:

      It depends on how you best deal with such baggage. I tend to like to get away and think. So I pick places that aren’t really “vacation” spots with beaches and such; but just a place that isn’t home to try to get my head organized. A few years ago I was in Bologna and took a late train to Rimini in the winter, so it was dark and deserted, and had to take a night train home. Not much of a vacation, but good to think.

      But if you need time to just unwind and use the vacation to re-energize as opposed to clean-out, then I can get onboard with the idea of waiting.

  3. Jeremy B says:

    I have too much mental baggage every day!! :) However, I agree that travel can clean out the mental closet. And that’s a good thing. I think traveling has an effect on me now as well. I’ve stated this before but traveling for me is about a mindset and not so much the next trip or destination. When that is the case, it changes how you think and live when you are at home too.

  4. Natalie says:

    I seem to be able to forget my mental baggage when I am traveling however once back home then it starts again. I always need to go back to work and top up the penny pot, perhaps if I stayed away for longer then I would not be apprehensive about returning to normality

    • Andrew says:

      Or you might be more anxious. Humans seem to get stuck in a rut. After a long time away, maybe you really wouldn’t want to return. I applaud you if you can keep your mental baggage from weighing you down until you get back. As I wrote, it is usually the last day or two of the vacation when the idea of going home creeps up on me.

  5. Ali says:

    I’ve gotten pretty good about forgetting about work while I’m on vacation, though not entirely. It’s those last couple days before going back that the bad feelings start creeping in. When I was in Australia last year, I got so sad on my last day because I knew it was ending.

    Thanks for the link to my luggage post :-)

  6. Katherina says:

    Absolutely – It happens to me more often than I wished. If I travel, I take with me my blackberry, which automatically means receiving work e-amils 24 hours a day. I know, many would say “turn it off” but I can’t, so I keep on carrying those documents I have to urgently send when I’m back, that meeting preparation and model adjustment wherever I go.
    I’d like to leave it all behind and just enjoy of my free days – which is why (in terms of work) I made a new promise: I’ll only read my e-mails once a day maximum, and will answer if its a really urgent matter (as per my own judgement, not from others). The rest of the time – I will even forget my blackberry at home (I did this during my holidays – it felt great!).

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