When I set out in January, I packed light as a means to traveling light. While these might appear to be the same thing, there is a noticeable difference. Packing light is the physical embodiment of minimalism, but it is simply a game of kilograms and a little ingenuity. It enables you to move fast and without hassle, but it’s only a component of traveling light. To travel light is to live the philosophy of minimalism in each waking moment.
Make no mistake: you can still travel heavy with light bags. You can weigh the mind down with the need to see some attraction or pressure yourself to “make the most” of some location with a breakneck itinerary. You take pictures to prove you were there. The result is a tenuous sense of satisfaction and a beaten down body.
To travel light is to abandon the belief that you will have a firm grasp on the road ahead. Physical minimalism challenges us to abandon our attachments to objects; the minimalism of travel pushes us to do the same with experience. Instead of the determined yet unfulfilling future, you opt for buoyancy: you let yourself ride the top of the adventure like a wave. If you sink too far into it, you can be thrown into darkness and drown. In practice, traveling light is somewhat of a paradox. To be buoyant, a traveler embraces a degree of structured chaos and wandering. There is a distinct location - a city, a village, the wilderness - and a blurry sense of the surroundings, but traveling light is a little like feeling around the dark. Instead of just seeing what’s in front of you, you feel your way through obstacles. Seeing might be believing, but in the case of travel, sometimes it’s not really living.
While there were many moments in my adventures after India that give hints at how I tried to travel light, I always come back to an afternoon in Saigon, Vietnam. Marcy was determined to visit the Reunification Palace; Asha and I were ambivalent but came along for the ride. Along the way, we got a little misdirected, but eventually found our way only to find out we had come a few hours before it opened. We decided to kill time at a coffee shop and then get lunch before visiting the palace.
On our way to get some pho, it began to pour. Not just a few drops falling lazily, but a steady torrent that meant business. By the time we reached the pho place, we were drenched to the bone. While we chowed down, the ceiling in one corner began to leak like a running faucet. Amused, the three of us and the other patrons looked on as the restaurant staff tried to minimize the damage. Outside, the rain pounded even more aggressively as if God had found a higher setting. It was in this moment that I decided that I wasn’t really interested in the palace anymore: it was evident that the adventure was in the present, in the rain, not in the past that the Reunification Palace strove to preserve.
Asha and I began our walk back to the hostel and then spontaneously broke out into a jog. Only moments into our unsuccessful dodging of the falling rain, Asha’s contacts began to revolt: she could no longer see more than a few feet in front of her as the lenses slid under her eyelids. I began to lead Asha, her hand in mine, through the empty streets. Onlookers gaped underneath small overhangs and in crowded coffee shops. Some puddles we avoided, others felt the impact of our feet as we pushed the water aside. Along the way, we garnered some curious looks, finger points, laughter and smiles.
If I had actually gone inside the Reunification Palace, I would not have remembered it. The pure bliss of running through the rain is what would have stuck with me long after my clothes dried. Perhaps by deciding to walk away from the palace, I was choosing to let my memory fill up with more of moments like running through the streets of Saigon. While my clothes were heavy from the pounding of the rain, I had traveled through the storm with a light heart. I was buoyant, invincible, infinite.