Kate McKenzie

Excess Baggage

I was in a mad panic the day I left.  All of a sudden, I realized I was leaving and there was no more time left.  No more time to prepare, no more time to plan, only time to just make it happen.  I threw stuff in my backpack, desperately trying to make a mental note that all the things I had thought of including over the last couple of months had made it into my bag.  The floor was littered with items -absolute chaos!

I’m a terrible packer, I always have been.  My dad tried to help me curb this bad habit early on by telling me that I could only pack what I could carry.  Little did he know that my stubbornness and sheer determination would mean that rather than carrying less, I would develop Sherpa skills so that I could expertly balance as many bags as was physically possible on my body, hanging them off of each arm, slinging one across my back and even resorting to gripping my purse in my teeth!

My friend Bre, in a true act of love even picked up a notepad that said “What to Pack” and had nice little boxes to check off to help me pack less.  It’s infamous message at the bottom would haunt me “Pack less and bring more money.”  It scared me!  I had never grown up with a whole bunch of extra money.  For most of my life, money has not been expendable.  The idea that all my problems could be solved that way didn’t seem possible.  So instead, I resorted to my girl-scout mantra – Always Be Prepared!  I would declare my bag, the Mary Poppins bag and amazingly produce just the right thing at the any moment from my bag as I had somehow thought I might need it.

So how was I, the world’s worst packer supposed to pack for seven months of travelling?  People much better at packing than I would tell me, “after a week, it’s all the same.”  I knew it was true, logically I could buy it, but in actuality I couldn’t quell the continual questions… what if I wasn’t prepared?  What if I forgot something?  What if I didn’t have the right item at the right moment?

As I stuffed the last item into my bag only 2 hours before I was supposed to leave, my brother and Leor grabbed my bags and hoisted them onto their backs to carry them out to the car that would whisk me away to the Calgary International Airport.  It wasn’t until I went to cross the line of no return into customs, that I realized how heavy my bag really was.

I got to Colombia and almost immediately knew that I had over-packed.  There were things I already knew I would never use!  I met a guy named Wardell, one of those travelling sages.  He was about to leave and went to go grab his bag from his room and dumped it next to where I was relaxing in a hammock.  I looked over in shock.  He had a small duffle bag and the smallest backpack I have ever seen!

When he came back I asked him incredulously how he could possibly have travelled for three months with so little. “Do you want to see what I have in here?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. “Yes!” I exclaimed eager to see how these travel gurus worked their magic.

He proceeded to unload all the contents of his bag onto the floor and walk me through it finally delivering a statement that would knock me back. “It’s really psychological, it comes down to realizing you can’t be prepared.”

Wow.  This was what I had been fighting my whole life.  I’ve continually thought that I could somehow be prepared.  Somehow I would be able to know what curveballs life would throw my way before they happened.  Yet it was this very belief that was now holding me back.

I responded by telling Wardell a story that my parents had told me many years ago. When I was in kindergarden I had come home one night very stressed and told my parents that I needed to study very hard.  My parents seeing their young five year old so overwhelmed asked with concern what was happening the next day that I was so worried about.  I told them, very seriously and earnestly that I needed to study for an exam.  They asked me what the exam was about.  I replied saying “It’s an eye exam.”

This story summed me up to the tee.  Even as a young child I thought I could prepare for the impossible.  I wanted to be good at things and excel before I had ever learned them.  I thought that I could somehow avoid the nasty side of public displays of learning if only I was prepared enough and had researched enough in advance.

Letting go of “stuff” is hard.  I realized that having stuff with me in my bag had made me feel comfortable, it was my form of the security blanket that young children carry around with them to ward off the monsters at night.  So the choice to send home a box full of “stuff” from my bag was difficult.  I mentally thought, what would Wardell get rid of?  It was a conscience choice to decide that I was good enough even if I wasn’t wearing the right thing, or even if I didn’t know the right information or even if I wasn’t prepared.  That had been the point all along, hadn’t it?  Didn’t I set out on this journey to learn, even if it would be more public learning than I had ever experienced before in my life?

So I slowly packed things into a bag that would be given away to someone in need in Colombia and another bag to be shipped back to Canada.  I was giving up my excess baggage, choosing to be unprepared, choosing to trust myself that everything I needed I already had, and choosing to allow others to teach me what I needed to learn.  It’s still a big bag so I may be learning this lesson for a while yet to come but I hope it has some staying power.

6 thoughts on “Excess Baggage

  1. I hate packing, as you know, and I hate unpacking even more. I was lucky enough to take advantage of Brea’s notepad more than once. Anyway, I find that this idea of giving away things to get new things that suit you more in every specific context is the real ultimate experience of cultural exchange. I can’t wait for you to share all this with us.


  2. So no bricks in your bag this time! Sounds like you’re learning some things that can help you relax into your journey now and in the future.Mom

  3. I love this article- I can so relate on so many levels! Thanks for sharing. Isn’t it true that when we admit we can’t be ready for everything it frees us. What we can be sure of is that we have been building our life “toolbox” and that is what can carry us through- it’s really the only truly portable thing.
    I know your toolbox is stocked full- tons of resources in there to carry you through this adventure. From the sounds of things you are adding tons more to it too! Lots of love friend. Thanks for all the honesty and being so brave to share the real stuff.

    • Thanks Bre! i love your analogy of the toolbox. Wouldn’t it be great if we could actually see it because I think too often we forget that we’ve already built that capacity.

  4. You just have to trust in yourself mrs. mackenzie i always know that if you can make due with what you have. Just make the best of the situation and enjoy yourself. Remember I and all of the grade 8’s are supporting you. Never give up.
    good luck and have fun

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