Today we left Leeds – a step that has proved surprisingly difficult.
Surprising, I think, because I have always thought of myself as someone who isn’t too bothered by material possessions. I generally own one pair of shoes which I wear into the ground (literally), I couldn’t care less what car I drive as long as it gets me to work and back, I use the cheapest phone money can buy, and my clothing reflects a natural scruffiness which I long since gave up trying to fight. What matters to me is my family, my wife, experiences. Not things.
Which probably explains my surprise at finding how much stuff I actually have, and how fiddly it has been to disentangle myself from the attachments of everyday life.
On reflection, I suppose it should have been obvious that you cannot reach the age of 39, have a family and a wife and a home and a job and not gain a great number of attachments. A home needs a house, a job needs a car, kids have school (and a pet!), and there’s bills and insurance and mortgages, bank accounts and registrations, lawns and hedges and 10’ trampolines… all of which roll happily along on the assumption that their owners are not going to disappear off around the World for the best part of a year. So the fact that we are disappearing off around the World for the best part of a year has meant disentangling ourselves from all those things.
Over the last month, as we arrange all the necessary letting and selling, storing and donating, dumping and packing, painting and cleaning, and mending, painting and mowing, I have been gauging how successful I have been at disentangling myself from all our material possessions by watching my key ring.
First to go were my 3 work keys, then our house and garage keys, then one of our two car keys. Now all I have remaining is one car key. And after we drive to the airport on Tuesday, my Mum will kindly sell it (the car not the key) and my Lego Gandalf key ring will be all that remains. Then I guess I’ll also have to give that up, too, as there’s not much point to a key ring with no keys.
One of my lasting memories from last time Janet and I went travelling was how liberating it was to have everything I needed in one backpack. In a few minutes, I could be packed up and ready to move on and explore somewhere new, or arrive somewhere and be settled in in no more time than it took to string a hammock. It felt wonderful to prove how much of the stuff I normally surrounded myself with just wasn’t necessary.
Of course, it’s a lot easier to carry everything you need when you’re in a hot country where you can wear sandals every day and never need more than one layer of clothing.
And there’s a certain amount of illusion to the backpacking life. Pure luck and historical inertia gives us the exchange rates that make us relatively rich in other countries, even when just starting out in life. And this money allows us to hire the stuff we need at a moments notice: roofs over our heads, transport, prepared food. It’s just we don’t carry the stuff around.
And I guess youth also helped. Back in the UK, I rented my room in a house, I had no car, I’d just finished university, and, of course, Janet and I only had one rucksack each to carry, not three extra small ones and their attendant children.
So perhaps it’s no surprise after all that it’s proven tricky to get going. But it’s almost done. There’s just that one key left in my pocket (and Gandalf, of course), and in a few days I won’t even have that. It’ll be just us, our rucksacks and the open road (well, Heathrow Terminal One).