The personal baggage we should leave at home

“The suitcase of guilt. A sack of discontent. You drape a duffel bag of weariness on one shoulder and a hanging bag of grief on the other. Add on a backpack of doubt, an overnight bag of loneliness, and a trunk of fear. No wonder you’re so tired at the end of the day.” – Max Lucado in Traveling Light

Whether I’m packing for a city trip or a more prolonged adventure, selecting what I need to bring has always been a struggle for me. I’ve spent hours choosing outfits, carefully considering what matches and is convenient and stylish at the same time. The most frustrating thing is that I tend to over-pack, curse myself in silence and I always end up using only a small fraction of the abundance of stuff I brought along. Luckily we can all learn how to pack efficiently, selecting only what we absolutely need and will use.
In the summer of 2016 the airline company managed to lose our bags on our flight to Brazil. This resulted in two girls getting really inventive and surviving with one spare outfit each. It might have been a stressful situation but it also gave us the opportunity to travel light, meet a lot of people and realize we don’t need 50 pieces of clothing for a month-long trip. More than two sets of underwear and not having to swim in our bras would have been nice though.

This experience taught me to pack more lightly and to survive with only the essentials. It’s very easy to think about our literal luggage and how optimizing this baggage can have a freeing effect on our travels. But what about our emotional carry-on we never seem to shake off? With the years passing by, our emotional baggage only seems to add up. What I would do to be able to just open a window and throw all my excess burdens out of the plane. Of course this isn’t possible, because you know, everybody in the aircraft would die.

But let’s get serious for a minute. What has put the most pressure on your adventures: Having to wash your underwear because you ran out of panties or having to constantly think about what others will think of you? Struggling to match your outfits by colour or struggling to decide where to go next because you’re paralyzed by fear? The pain in your shoulders of carrying your overweight bag or the pain of constantly worrying about all the unresolved problems at home? Let’s not forget the insecurities that keep you from meeting new people, the need for control that accepts only fully organized trips and the fear of the unknown that sometimes leads to not traveling at all. All of these things that are holding us back, have their origin in our past and are interlinked with our emotional baggage.

We all have it. Some of us are fighting their baggage with all they have and others are unaware it’s even there. Some carry their past along in the size of a miniature purse and others have a giant backpack that slows them down. We all have specific patterns of communicating with others, forming relationships, (not) expressing feelings and deciding what’s right or wrong that are the result of our upbringing. Whether we want it to or not, these patterns accompany us on our trips abroad.

Sometimes our emotional baggage is even the reason why we travel. We all know people taking a gap year to travel the world in order to figure out what they want to do with their life. Some of them find themselves abroad but others just drag along the indecisiveness and their fear to make a wrong choice far after this experience. There are plenty of travelers who go overseas in the hope of meeting more like minded people because they’re not happy with their relationships at home. Some of them get what they’re looking for. Others bump into the same wall over and over again because they can’t seem to open up or put their trust issues aside. Artists seek out new environments to spike their creativity. A lot of them still won’t produce what they hoped for because they’re paralyzed by the thought of not being good enough. The list goes on and on.

The point is that we can’t just presume that travelling will make all our problems disappear. We can’t start with a clean slate. This doesn’t mean that we can’t overcome or manage some of the luggage we’re dragging along. Awareness is the first and most important step in the right direction. When we’re conscious of why we’re falling back into certain routines or reacting in a specific manner, we can start to alter our behavior and perception. Having insight in our past can make us more kind for ourselves. We’re not afraid because we’re cowards. We’re afraid because we’ve known a lot of danger in the past. Or we might have been overprotected by our parents. We’re not lonely because others don’t like us. We’re lonely because people have shut the door in our face in the past too many times and have damaged our trust. This makes it hard to put ourselves out there again. We’re not over-controlling because we want to be, we’re that way because we never had any structure or security as a child. Being over-controlling is our way of securing we’re behind the steering wheel this time.

“Sometimes the past should be abandoned, yes. Life is a journey and you can’t carry everything with you. Only the usable baggage.” -Ha Jin

Why would you blame yourself for behaving this way while at one point in your life this was a logical (but not necessarily constructive) reaction to the circumstances? We did what we needed to do to be able to cope and survive. Hopefully you’re not circling in these conditions anymore and you can start on transforming your patterns to more adaptive ones.

Awareness and insight is where you should start! Sometimes it can help to travel abroad to realize what patterns you have been stuck in but I do believe that home is the best starting point. Write down all the behaviors, beliefs and re-occurring thoughts that keep you from living the life you would want. Try to find the origin of these patterns. Go back in time, remember when you first had this thought or feeling. Write down these memories, don’t try to change them. Just let them be. Give yourself space to mourn possible bad experiences. Use situations that upset you, make you sad or angry and analyze them. Is your emotion a logical response to what happened or is this triggering some underlying emotional baggage? Being aware why certain things affect you more than they rationally should, can already take away some of the emotional charge.

Of course awareness won’t be enough for everybody to be able to zip up their baggage and not let it define their travels. In another blogpost I’ll share techniques to manage the heavy load we’re carrying along. Feel free to share your tips and tricks for not letting your past take the upper hand when abroad or in everyday life. Are you aware of re-occurring patterns and how they influence your travel behavior?  I would love to hear all about it!

To end on a lighter note, I would like to take some time to thank Cabin Zero for forcing me to limit my carry-on to the bare essentials. They have sent me one of their amazing backpacks (36 L) in the colour Orange Chill and I can’t wait to officially airport proof it on my next trip. No more lost luggage thanks to the built in tracker system! You can now get a 10% discount when using the promo code UNTRAVELINGTHEMIND. 

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