I always feel like this just before a long road trip. Stealing moments of excitement between hours of endeavour, trying to get everything done before hitting the highway, clearing my mind and opening my heart to welcome the oncoming adventure. But these days it is a little different. No longer do I leave the house in a rush, running for the plane and trailing heavy bags, fretting about my still-to-do list or worrying about domestic things. Something shifted, because of a volcano thousands of miles away.
Last Spring I had the most wonderful piece of bad luck, when an ash cloud from a volcanic eruption in Iceland descended over Europe. As the cloud filled the airspace, airports across the continent shut down one after the other leaving over 600,000 people stranded. I found myself stuck in Geneva with nothing but my passport, credit card, and contents of my handbag. All around me people fussed and worried, shouted and panicked, not knowing how they were going to make it to their next meeting, or get back to the office. But as they stood complaining, I hugged myself with glee at this ‘bad luck’ and hopped on a train to Paris for the most wonderful long weekend of exploring.
Worrying about missed appointments, the laptop left in a hotel room at Heathrow airport, or housekeeping duties at home wouldn’t have made any difference to the fact that I was stuck until the next Wednesday, so I left all those things in Geneva, picked up my handbag, took out my camera and slipped off to discover France’s wonderful capital.
With no schedule, no plans and no worries, I was truly travelling light. I felt inspired by everything I saw. I wandered for miles, took hundreds of photos and did a whole lot of dreaming over sticky crepes in cosy cafes. Even ash clouds have a silver lining.
As I skipped the streets of Paris with a tiny bag and happy heart I realised I didn’t need all those things I usually carried with me. The ‘just in case’ clothes, books and toiletries I always thought I should take – just in case. When it came down to it I realised I had everything I needed with me already.
And isn’t it the same with the suitcases of our souls? Each of us has things that weigh us down and hold us back when adventure beckons, or an opportunity for change presents itself. Perhaps it is people who tread on your dreams. Perhaps it is those niggling doubts that set in about the unknown. Perhaps it is a concern about how you will manage financially. Perhaps it is yourself, and your doubts about what you are capable of. Or maybe it is even fear of success. On this journey through life we pack our suitcases with unhealthy relationships, ties to material things, familial obligations, negative people… and sometimes we climb right in ourselves, and weigh ourselves down. Some of these things are real, and urgent – like sick or ageing parents – but others are self-inflicted, imposed with our permission by others, or perhaps all in our imagination.
Now when I’m packing for a road trip I only take what I really need. And then I unpack, and only repack half of it. And as I unpack the material things, I try to mentally unpack everything in my head that is weighing me down. Fears of the unknown, worries about things that haven’t happened yet, echoes of the voices of the people telling me it’s too far, too dangerous, too much.
By leaving behind the people who restrict you, you can free yourself up for new adventures, new people, new experiences. It lifts your spirit, opens your eyes and nourishes your soul. It leaves room for curiosity, courage and passion in the suitcase of your soul.
These days I travel light.
Beth Nicholls is a new contributor to Gypsy Girl’s Guide who is busy unpacking her bags for another road trip