I admit it now, a full 3 months into my trip around the world: I don’t actually need the headlamp I packed with all the pride of a novice outdoorswoman. And I’m still not sure what I thought I’d be affixing to my backpack with the2 carabiners now in my possession, but I have yet to flick their clips – I’ve got no dangle.
Then there’s my hair drier – tucked safely into a corner of my pack (yes, once you start living out of a backpack, you too will realize they possess dark and mysterious corners), which may have been an indispensible part of my primping routine at home, but really has no role in frizz-taming once temperatures reach the mid-90s Fahrenhight, and humidity lurks at jungle highs.
Containing your world into one 65-liter backpack really shows a gal what’s important – a true lesson in non-attachment. Is carrying 2 pairs of pants excessive? If I don’t wear them both ALL the time, heck yes. What about my favorite Wilco t-shirt, with armpit stains that could stop traffic and a smell that no laundry has been able to eradicate – do I keep it because, well, it’s my favorite Wilco t-shirt? Sigh. It’s in a trashcan in Vietnam.
Happily, along with the well-ingrained point that we don’t really need all that much in this traveling life to be complete and happy comes the glorious counterpoint: what you DO need, while tiny, may leave you positively ecstatic.
That’s right. I’m talking about moisture-wicking undies.
A longtime friend of travelers, moisture-wicking underwear and bras roll up small, dry fast when hand-washed or sweaty (I’m looking at you, Southeast Asia) and are seriously cute (they really are, I swear!) and comfy, to boot. I bought 5 pairs of bottoms and 2 bras.
“That’s creepy,” said Ayaz when I called him post-REI shopping spree back in Septemer.
“Moisture-wicking underwear may be many things, Ayaz,” I replied stiffly. “But they are NOT creepy.” They are, it would turn out, among my greatest, most practical loves.
And the other things making me ecstatic? My black plastic Timex Ironman watch, a pre-trip gift from my friend Jenn which I literally cannot live without because its digital face has been the only reason I’ve known the day of the week since October 1. There’s also the Ziploc freezer bag: so packable, so able to organize, so much cheaper than buying official packing sacks.
Then there’s the obvious items – the mosquito repellent, the NorthFace travel pants with secret zipper pocket, and the sleep sack which finally came to be worth it’s weight in gold at a fleabag hotel in the Mekong Delta whose low points included free condoms in the bathroom and an errant hair (of the short and curly variety) in the clearly unwashed bedsheets.
During the last 13 post-college years of my life, filled as it was with shopping sprees at Anthroplogie sales racks and the like, I hardly imagined my wardrobe would be contained in 2 Ziploc freezer bags, or that I (the self-proclaimed Queen of Frizzy Hair Maintenance) could have a bath and body routine involving merely body wash, a razor, shampoo, conditioner and hair gel. And if I had known that buying a tiny tube of moisturizer while in a Cambodian supermarket to add to my possessions would feel like diving headfirst into luxury, I wouldn’t have believed I could be happy in this new life.
And the truth is, since October, I’ve been in a state of mostly perpetual bliss. All my needs are more than well-met, I’ve just learned to winnow them down to what I actually need, for a change. And that’s a lesson that feels pretty darn good to learn.