One of the things that came most quickly to my attention on commencing the commute, is that if I want to commute successfully, I needed to hone the art of travelling light.
In my younger teenage commuting days, my main concern was what did I not need, and I remain impressed at the dedication of those who carried cellos, double basses and such like for the whole journey. Where could we share a text book? Whose turn was it to bring a German dictionary? What level of wrath would I incur without particular items at my disposal?
What happened to me in the last 10 years? Perhaps my driving license and car ownership got in the way…but now it’s been back to trains.
On my initial venture into the commuter life and new career, I wasn’t quite sure what I would require and took the kitchen sink with me; notebook, all my identification, everything I’d printed off in reference to the job, iPad, lunch, water bottle, umbrella, packet of plasters, a torch….essentially everything I could possibly need. Not only were my legs reeling from the shock of exercise, my shoulders were aching from the weight.
By Tuesday I had discovered that I would be needing (and I do mean needing) tea, coffee and a mug. I took in an entire tea caddy full of Yorkshire Tea after partaking of a cup of PG Tips on my first day (not the same). Wrapping my mug in a tea towel to avoid breakages was useful as I then used that as a tiny makeshift picnic blanket (barely room for one!) in St James’ Park at lunchtime. However I was now more savvy. I’d emptied anything unnecessary out of the packet in which it came and shoved it in my bag. It was harder to find what I wanted, but so much lighter.
Since those heady (or do I mean heavy) first days and in the interests of my shoulders, I have become a dedicated checker of the weather. Did the MET office app say it’s going to rain? No? Out comes the umbrella. *note to self: check destination not current location…
Sadly for me, it is not actually necessary to take a book, a notepad and an iPad, much as I would like to. But an iPad which does all three is heavy.
Perhaps the dilemma could be solved by weighing all the items individually on the kitchen scales and developing a complex marking system based on usefulness, weight and likelihood of use? Much like a risk assessment this is probably unwieldy, unnecessary, and bears little resemblance to what will actually happen.
I have instead gone with a rationing system, whereby I do not take an iPad every day, and instead listen to music or read on other days.
I had a further taste of this problem on a trip to Berlin. We were going by train and needed to be able to comfortably transport our belongings, and not need a separate carriage for luggage.
I do not travel light.
For 7 days I fully anticipated taking at least 9 tops, a few pairs of trousers, a couple of dresses, a hoodie, a swimming costume… This was before shoes (trainers, flip flops x3 and a pair of heels) or anything else. You may then imagine my aghast response to a friend who suggested I take 4 tops and 2 pairs of trousers. How could I possibly know what I wanted to wear so far in advance? If I might need something, I take it.
This is somewhat symptomatic of society. We like to have choices and options; we want to be able to change our minds. Marriage is divorce-able, abortion is a birth control, assisted dying was subject to a serious debate. We want to have choices, make our own choices and not be limited by anyone else’s ideals. Does that mean we are happier in having more choice?
Actually, probably not. I’m as content taking 3 outfits for 3 days and wearing them as I am when I have a whole wardrobe to choose from. I’ve enjoyed books I’ve ‘had’ to read because I’ve had nothing else to do. I’ve loved some of the things I’ve had to do purely because someone else wanted to.
Pretty much invariably, those items I packed first are the things I wear; I never need the pile of additional things I take. My safety net of choice is more a hindrance than a help.
I’m about to downsize, and it’s a challenge to me to get rid of those choices. Travelling forward I’m going to be travelling lighter. I’m working on being ok with not having options.