When I was thirteen, my parents planned an amazing trip: three weeks in Thailand and Cambodia. Instead of celebrating Christmas with a tree and presents, would spend it hiking in the rainforest and visiting centuries-old temples. They proudly unveiled the Christmas gifts my brother and I would receive early: a large backpack each, with a zip-on day pack, and a snazzy new digital camera. I admired my burgundy backpack and the alligator-print case my matte-black camera was in, and then I paused, wondering how on earth I’d be able to pack for three weeks in a backpack.
In hindsight, this is the trip that taught me the value of packing and dressing simply, though the lesson didn’t stick at the time. At 13, I was in 8th grade and looks were starting to matter to me. I didn’t want to wear the same things over and over, and I’ve always had an aversion to people wearing running shoes when they aren’t actually working out. My mom sweetened the deal by getting me brand-new green Tevas, but I was still worried.
Eventually I got my backpack packed. It held a few books, three changes of clothes, sport sunglasses, a water bottle, and my sandals. I had to keep it light because I’d be carrying it everywhere; plus, I had some friends for whom I wanted to get souvenirs. The night before we left, my parents (who had warned us there wouldn’t be any other presents this Christmas because we were doing this big trip) surprised us with another gift: A Microsoft Zune mp3 player (raise your hand if you’ve ever seen one of those!), which they had asked my music-guru friend to load with music for us. They had planned to give them to us on Christmas morning in Thailand, but thought we’d prefer to have them for the long plane ride.
We went on the trip, and it was fantastic (minus a bout of food poisoning on Koh Samui. That was a bummer). Some things I remember:
- Bungie-jumping in the jungle
- Going on safari and seeing gibbons, a pit viper, and elephants
- An improbable statue of Donald Duck in a temple’s sculpture garden
- The owners of a hostel we stayed at arranging a beautiful cake for my brother’s birthday
- A bizarrely omnipresent recording of Thai children singing English Christmas carols wherever we went
- My brother sitting on the battery of a tuk-tuk so we could all cram into a single one
- Two words: sai mai. Mmmmmm
Some things I don’t:
- Lugging around a heavy suitcase (because we didn’t!)
- People judging me for wearing the same few clothes over and over (because no one knew and no one cared!)
- Being too laden down or worried about my stuff to fully enjoy myself (during the day, I either carried my little day pack or simply put cash and ID into my tiny camera case—what a relief!)
Our trip to Southeast Asia was amazing, and packing light made it so much easier to immerse ourselves in the culture, instead of being worried about impressing strangers or keeping our stuff safe. So next time you go somewhere, challenge yourself. Take only the bare essentials, choose clothing that can be easily washed and reworn, and breathe easy as you soak up the sights…instead of huffing and puffing under the weight of everything you own.