Being away from home means working out what you need to hold yourself together.
When I was a kid, I was sitting in the back of my parent’s car, heading for a weekend away. I realised, when we were about halfway there, that I’d forgotten Bronwyn. I screamed out loud.
Bronwyn was (well, is) a small brown bear who used to have a pretend heartbeat, who smells weirdly like pickled onion crisps and who I have loved with a high percentage of my heart since I was very small. She came places with me. I told her things. I cuddled her every night and from the moment she arrived in my life, she had Top Spot at bedtime (to my left, next to the wall, where she was less likely to fall out in the night. I really thought about her feelings a lot).
And, on that short trip when I was — looking back — inappropriately old to be reacting like that…I realised I’d left her behind. I made so much noise we’re lucky my Dad didn’t swerve off the road and give this anecdote a way darker ending. I had put waaaaaaaay too much of myself into the well-being of that small bear, and only calmed down when my Mum promised she would phone our neighbour and ask her to pop in and check Bronwyn was ok. Did I mention I’m an only child?
The Bronwyn anecdote is clearly a sign that my life was way too cushy and someone should have had a wee word with me at some point. But it’s also a good predictor of the comfort and support I still get from inanimate objects. I anthropomorphise everything from small animals to plants, and get hugely invested in their well-being to the extent that once kissed my fridge ‘because it sounded like she was feeling poorly.’
And, although I still do most of my talking to inanimate objects in private, as I’ve got older I’ve realised two important things:
- Other people do this too! Not only that: LOADS of people do this too. It’s almost a prerequisite to being my pal, because if you don’t, there’s a fair chance I won’t understand 75% of what you’re saying.
- It’s actually an important part of how I stay happy.
It’s this second point which has had an impact on how I pack and prepare for travelling. Bronwyn is now a bit too delicate to come on the road with me (and I’m a 38 year old mother, I guess), but there are other objects which I’ve sunk some of my happiness into which can help create a home wherever I am.
The current leg of our journey involved packing three months of Stuff into one suitcase. In lots of ways packing for two weeks and three months are just about the same thing, but it was still overwhelming working what to take in order to keep me and a 3 year old happy in a far away place. It meant I had to really work out which were the minimal things I needed to disappear into comfort if I needed to. Turns out, that list is…
- a scarf that smells like me, and is big enough to be a blanket, soft enough to be a pillow, light enough to dry quickly but also be my shawl, a throw on an unfamiliar sofa, my scarf, my headwrap and a handy tear-drying device when the child needs it. Or, to be honest, when I decide to watch The Notebook on the plane for lols.
- my e-reader. Although physical books are one of the bestest things in the world, I’m too indecisive to pick which ones to take and stay vaguely in my baggage allowance. My Nook has books that I’m excited about reading, and ones which I know off by heart which I can fall into like a pile of pillows at the end of a long day.
- a toy. Yeah…I still love a soft toy, but now I get to pretend that it’s my son’s choice, and not because the thought of leaving behind Stow the Lion (my travelling companion of the last few years) makes me want to cry. When I’ve been on the road by myself, often pretending to be a grown-up throughout the day for work, there’s something which makes my brain click back into gear if I get to fall asleep cuddling a soft pal which smells like home and doesn’t care about spreadsheets.
Which means there’s a lot of stuff left behind. And, I’m learning after years of overpacking, that’s ok too. Developing the ability to not feel guilty for daydreaming of home when you’re having a wild adventure is still a work in progress for me, but I’m trying to reframe my thinking. I’m so very lucky and so very privileged to have things I want to go back for. There are some badasses I know who can flick a match onto the remains of each chapter of their lives, and walk away with a satchel of clothes and a smirk.
I’m more the kind who will fill a satchel full of clothes, and then have another bag with memorabilia and then an extra suitcase with snacks and still be looking back at all my stuff and worrying that I might need that cushion when I’m backpacking in India.
But even the most badass of badass travelling types I’ve met on the way have things which let them sink down into themselves. Some have their home comfort permanently inked on, some have a crumpled photo in a wallet and some have a talisman strapped to their bag which they’d save before their passport in a fire.
Learning what I needed to take, and what I needed to leave, is just one more tiny step on the journey to working out how I work when my favourite cushion is 6,000 miles away.