Three Years in Three Suitcases: Packing for New Zealand

LuggageBuenos Aires, Argentina

My mother just confirmed that she is coming to visit me for a week in February.  Her timing could not be more perfect: she arrives exactly 20 days before I leave for New Zealand.  At first I was reluctant to have a guest so close to my departure date, but then I welcomed the idea of something other than my own neuroses nagging me for a while.  Plus, a week living like a tourist in Buenos Aires is a wonderful going away present.  But more than anything, I’m excited that my mom will be here to help me pack.

I am terrible at packing, which is somewhat humiliating given the number of times that I have traveled and moved.  My mother, on the other hand, is the Mary Poppins of packing.  When it comes to deciding what to bring, she is a disaster.  But when it comes to fitting all of the wrong things into a suitcase, she is a magician.  (I think her secret involves a combination of airtight Ziploc bags and sitting on the luggage, but I can’t be sure.) This talent will certainly come in handy when I try to shove three years of my life into two suitcases and a carry-on.

Truthfully, other than a ridiculous amount of shoes, I don’t have that much stuff.  I haven’t exactly been backpacking for the last three years but I haven’t had a permanent address either (unless you count my parents’ house in Michigan).  Since arriving in Buenos Aires, I have lived in eight different apartments, always renting a furnished room in someone else’s home.  I never had to invest in furniture or electro-domestic appliances.   Any consumer impulse I may have has been reined in by my limited space.  My last bedroom didn’t even have a closet. (Though it did have one of those clothes racks that you find backstage at a fashion show.)  This means that I have more discretionary funds for traveling, but it also means that I can’t bring back many souvenirs.

The last time I moved, I was horrified by the fact that I could barely fit the contents of my room into my roommate’s SUV.  Subsequently, I conducted a massive possessions purge, donating bags of old clothes and already read books to charity.  At some point, I convinced myself that I would make a scrapbook of my “trip” to Argentina.  That was back when I still thought that, like a boomerang, I would someday soon return to my point of origin.  So, I held on to ticket stubs from concerts, recitals, planes, trains, and automobiles, brochures from hostels, and maps from cities.  In one day, I threw almost all of it away.  Then, I read every single one of the holiday cards, letters, and postcards sent to me by friends and family.  I considered mailing them back to their owners, as they documented their lives and times more than my own.  But I got rid of them instead. I have regretted it ever since. (Note: some things are worth hanging on to, even if you only look at them once every few years.  Especially virtually weightless pieces of paper containing the private thoughts, events, and insights of loved ones.)

I’ve never considered myself to be materialistic.  When you’re a nomad, it’s easier to travel light.  But I like pretty things and posterity, and sometimes it saddens me that I don’t have more to show for the past three years. Of course, it’s better to experience life than to accumulate stuff, to constantly make new memories rather than live vicariously through mementos.  But one day, I will have my own house (I hope), and nothing to fill it with. My tastes will likely have changed by then, but I would like to be able to pay homage to the person that I once was, and trace the path that led me home.

When I shared this sentiment with my mother, she offered to let me store treasures from my travels at their house.  “All your other crap is still here.  What difference does it make?” But I could picture myself ten years from now, excavating my parents’ basement and coming across an old, dust-covered box. Gently lifting the lid, I would peak inside with excitement and anticipation, and discover serving pieces painted with toucans purchased in Guatemala and a bright blue pillowcase embroidered with an Incan monkey from Peru.  I didn’t want to collect trinkets that I would never use, which is all I can afford right now anyway.

I will have to leave a lot of things behind when I move to New Zealand (or my mother will have to bring an empty suitcase). It pains me to think about it, but how much baggage can one person carry? Besides, the most important things that I will take with me are those that are intangible: relationships, lessons, stories, and experiences.  My time in Argentina has changed me in ways as yet immeasurable and unimaginable.  It has a left an indelible impression, visible in the way that I talk, dress, think, speak, and interact.  What really matters can’t be taken away.  Not even by the Transportation Security Administration.

1 Response to “Three Years in Three Suitcases: Packing for New Zealand”

  1. 1 doinmythingamy January 9, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    That’s so cool you live abroad. A lot of my friends arr just moving to Argentina, well three of them. I guess in a way im scared I will be left behind, if I go travel and live somewhere else, if you know what I mean. I’ve been to New Zealand though, on the north part, it’s sooo beautiful. Have fun there!

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