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Travel Notes: On Leaving (2014)

March 15, 2019
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Every story has to start somewhere. Mine starts with a suitcase. It’s big and red. It has its own little story but let me continue with leaving as I see it.

Leaving is never easy. You can say it’s fun, enjoyable and pinky, but let me tell you something. I’ve packed my bags more than I can count. I’ve traveled roads, oceans, skies. I’ve lived an expat life and went back “home” over and over again trying to fit in among those who still remembered me. I’ve dealt with a sorrow of saying good bye and a joy of saying hello so many times that it became trivial. Nobody waved at me at bus stations or airport halls anymore. Taxis were taking me, all alone, toward the departure – I prefer it that way. The goodbyes were said casually, at home, by the gates. I tolerated them pretending that it was not a big deal. Although it always is. 

Back to my huge dark red suitcase that is keeping my whole life inside as of now. Usually the packing starts beforehand. First, it’s clothes. There is always too much of them and their comfort is much more important than the beauty. Now that I am striving for the minimalist lifestyle more and more, I’m cutting down on this department. God help me, being a woman and all.

The first bag was black. It didn’t have any wheels, and it fit many things even though back then my life was much simpler in the “stuff” department. I was a 16-year-old teenager from a small Russian-Muslim town whose dream suddenly became true – going to the USA as an exchange student. It was the first time for many things: leaving home, parents, town, country. The most treasured thing in that black suitcase was Koran that I put under my pillow for protection from I wasn’t sure what. It just felt safer this way.

Since then many things changed – me, the bags. Backpacks, medium carry-ons, huge red suitcases (always red, hmm), fancy ones and cheap ones, with four wheels and with all kinds of straps. I loved packing them up. It made me look at my possessions with a different eye. Part of them changed, but over time some of the things have been traveling from one bag into the other. Osho Zen Taro cards, for example that always got me through dark times. Now these cards traveled into another traveler’s bag.

My Kindle has also been travelling with me for the last four years. It has all the books I would like to read in this life. And each book has a mark of a place where it was read. “Love Story” was in the bus on the way back from Nalchik to Moscow next to a girl who didn’t utter a word throughout our 20-hour long trip. “Conversation with God” was on the nightbus from Turkey to Georgia. That New Yorker issue with Gay Talese’s article was on the plane from Florida, Key West back to Lincoln, Nebraska which I used to call my home for two years. Clarissa Pinkola Estes “Women who run with the wolves” was on the way from Bangalore to Rishikesh, India…

Some things lose their relevance and stop traveling with me. I become less sentimental and more practical, less consumerist and more minimalist. I envy men with their small carry-ons. Guys, how do you do that? You seem to fit yourselves into the tiny bags where even my jeans would feel claustrophobic. I also partially envy those who dress so smart for the airports. I never do.

I don’t do many things. I don’t call my family or friends during my trips to pass the time. I don’t shop or window shop in the duty-free zone. I don’t put on make-up (I rarely do it anyway).

I do watch people, though. It’s fascinating to see how different and similar we all are. I can eye for hours a couple of women from Saudi Arabia in burkas trying to guess what they are talking about and who the mother of the countless kids around them is. So, yeah, airports are great places to watch people since it’s the only thing you can do sometimes when your flight, let’s say, is delayed for 14 hours. 

People I meet on the way – I remember their faces but don’t remember most of the names. Some of them are adventurers, they are easy to talk to and laugh with. You might not even ask them where they are going or where they are from. You might share a cup of tea in the road café or a glass of cognac on the way to Prague, which will be enough.

Some of them are seeking for romance (that’s actually not the word I would use but oh well). They might want to force that romance upon you, or ask for it in a polite manner. Either way, you will have to deal with it, ‘coz there is no way of running, not when you are on the bus full of strangers, anyway. I remember some images very clearly, although most of their names and faces slipped the memory like everything else that lost its value.

My suitcase is still red. My backpack is still black. And I am still managing to fit almost my whole world into them. The most valuable things I keep inside of me, they are safe and sound, and it’s a great feeling.