For long-term travel, some people will tell you there is a definite packing list.
My advice is: you can never really predict what you’ll need.
The suit in the suitcase
When I left the Philippines at the end of March 2019, I was heading to Taipei partly to teach a workshop at the National Taiwan Normal University teacher development program, and partly to see a city I’d never been except on airport layovers.
I had to pack work clothes. A suit, from a tailor in Bangkok who assured me he would adjust them to a new weight if I needed, any time. At that time, I had already gotten used to not wearing a watch on my wrist, but the suit still felt like I belonged in it.
And so I taught at NTNU. It was a productive time. The colleagues at NTNU and from around schools in Taiwan who attended the workshop were earnest about making an impact in their students’ learning and lives.
The suit is still in my suitcase. I’ve used it a few more times in a few more cities since. It lives in the suitcase most of the time, the creases becoming more pronounced each time I air the jacket.
You don’t need wear a suit to clean your head. And, it’s messy work that requires freedom to move easily.
So the suit rests in the suitcase, a skin shed, a specific costume waiting for an occasion. Most days, I forget it’s there.
Life becomes very simple when you are traveling for an internal purpose. I have 6 t-shirts, all the same plain, V-neck design in different colors. I have 4 pairs of shorts. Every week, there’s a day to go to the laundry and drop off half of the clothes that were worn that week, and they’re clean the next day.
There’s not much need to buy anything more.
My advice is, you don’t need much.
You can get what you didn’t bring with you
In Taiwan I learned that what you see often depends on where you’re standing as you look at it. One of my favourite days in Taipei was spent at the National Fine Arts Museum in the Zhongshan district. The exhibits included one called “Practitioner, Heaven, and Earth – A Retrospective of YU Peng” and included watercolor paintings, oil paintings, prints, calligraphies, ink paintings, and ceramic works. His ink paintings were remarkable, often placing a person in contexts that were ambiguous and for which they seemed unprepared.
Much like the last 360 days have been for me.
I spent the afternoon at the TFAM learning to see flexibly, viewing Peng’s art first from one spot, and then moving to find a new vantage point, to see if there was another way I might see. It was an interesting exercise.
Ten months after the day with YU Peng, I would recall that day as it bloomed inside with new meaning. In February 2020, someone writes to me and says,
I read your book. It must have been the worst thing in your life to reach that point.
All it takes is just taking one step to the side.
Someone else’s opinion is not something that I want to spend energy trying to change. Opinions are surface expressions of mental models, and I know from spending a year discarding and reforming mental models that mental models are not things someone can tell you to change. Personal change requires a personal desire to change how to see and how to think.
So I think to myself, It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.
I’ve learned to let go of superficial things like tailored suits. The things people own or don’t own do not define the self.
I’ve learned to be grateful for the simple things I have, like clean shirts and while I write, I do so in bare feet.
Mostly, I know exactly what I don’t want, and I know exactly what I need to be well and to stay that way.
My advice is, the most important things are the lightest to carry.
Now, I bring them with me everywhere I go.