I recently stumbled upon something I had written and long forgotten about. It was entitled “Stuff”, dated October 23, 2011. Exactly two years ago today, I was frantically packing up my stuff, my life in Toronto for an opportunity to pursue my dream job abroad as a travel writer. It felt crazy; I was taking a huge leap of faith. Did I really have the balls to do it? Here is the entry:
The plan to finish packing went awry when I opened the bottle of red wine. When I woke up this morning, hungover, The Stuff was still strewn all over the condo as if my closet had projectile barfed. Less than two weeks remain before I relocate to Southeast Asia for a year, maybe longer. The Stuff has to be sorted, packed up, moved and stored, divided amongst friends’ basements.
I landed a dream writing and photography gig for a travel company. Miracle of miracles, I’ll get paid to travel and pursue my passion. First stop Bangkok, then Phnom Penh, then Vientiane…then who knows where.
People assume that because I’m a seasoned solo traveller, that I’m a pro at packing up at a moment’s notice and jetting off, that I deal well with travelling for 24-hours and arriving jetlagged in a sketchy city at an ungodly hour. Truth is, I’ve had many first night meltdowns, more than a few foreign city freak-outs heaving sloppy sobs of self-doubt in dingy hotel rooms: Am I crazy? Can I do this alone?
“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door,” reminds Samwise the Hobbit. He has a point. We are so lucky to live in Canada; it’s an exciting but scary world out there. In preparation for my life abroad, I’ve been shot up with a slew of vaccines for horrible diseases I can’t spell. And you should see the cocktail of worst-case scenario drugs I need to take with me.
Lengthy trips are not new to me. In 2009, with the economy in the dumps, I decided to “retire.” Call it a twenty-something’s quarter-life crisis. By the end of that yearlong round-the-world journey, I was a lean and groovy backpacker. I was tough, could survive on $15 a day.
Instead of buying souvenir patches, the rips and stains on my clothes and the mosquito bites on my legs were a map of my travels. I imagined that other travellers were in awe, perhaps even scared at how efficient I was. One moment cheerful, the next moment prepared to shiv the guy trying to scam me. Crossing into a disputed zone? No problem! 18-hour bus ride? Save me a seat!
There are challenges to living out of a backpack but the foibles are a small price for feeling liberated. How much stuff do you really need? Not much at all, I discovered. As the days went on my pack got lighter; stuff literally was a burden.
Yet even the wicked grow weary. Near the end, I remember the fatigue. I remember how tired I was of washing socks in the sink, how I loathed haggling over the price of a taxi, was sick of wearing the same ratty clothes over and over. I wanted to dive into my own bed again, feel the softness of a familiar pillow, to be surrounded by my own things. I pictured the stack of jeans waiting for me in my closet. Oh, how I wanted my jeans!
I’m unashamed to admit it: I like my stuff. No, I love my stuff.
I love my books. I love my plant (yes, singular), my bicycles (yep, plural), my white towels, my kitchen gadgets. Such nifty things I own! My zester makes me happy. I adore my George Foreman grill.
So, do I really want to give all this up again?
It’s late now. I can’t sleep. I look at the chaos in my rented Toronto condo the size of a shoebox which I pay a ridiculous amount for. Any moment the TV crew from “Hoarders” could burst in for an intervention.
“Do you need five pairs?” the host would say.
“YES!” I’d screech, blocking the door. “DON’T TOUCH MY BOOTS!”
I poke my backpack, groaning at the seams with the stuff I think I can’t live without. An edit or two is required. “Lean and groovy,” I remind myself, not “chunky and nervous.”
From where I sit on my bed, I can see out the window. My view of the city skyline was erased some months ago by another newly built condo. It’s so close that if someone needed baking powder, I could toss it to them. I’d grunt a “hut-hut!” before lobbing it into their capsule of hip urban living. Who are these people? We catch glimpses of each other’s lives, casually observe routines, judge personality and income based on the quality and style patio furniture. I scan for the sight of another soul but most of the windows are dark at this hour.
Loud drunken chatter erupts in the hallway; my neighbors, whom I have never met, have returned from a night of clubbing. I close my eyes. Someone shouts “DUDE!” Giggles. A door slams. I could be in a university dorm.
I open my eyes. Yes, it’s time to go out into the world and stretch my legs again.
October 23, 2013: I’m still a writer & photographer doing what I love. Since departing Toronto in November 2011, I’ve accumulated 97 stamps in my passport and so many miles. I’m currently based in Laos.
I still have my stuff stored in someone’s basement in Toronto.