preparing to cross an ocean

Can I get away with just one carry-on? This is the first question I asked myself as I finally began to prepare for an extended stay overseas that begins next week. Extended as in 3 months. Extended as including traversing various terrains, climates, situations all requiring slightly different clothing, accoutrements and gadgetry. But the sheer hassle of international travel and my bad luck with checked luggage pushes me to consider this option. Which, as predicted, was quickly dismissed not only for its non-viability but also for the inevitable moments of “Oh [insert appropriate expletive and/or harsh sounding word of choice]!” up realizing I had forgotten something essential and the potential gentle jeering from my dear friends who are already singing a chorus of “One bag, are you crazy?” They are, of course, right. (Right?)

One correction before I go on: it would be inaccurate to say that I am just now preparing for this sojourn. Indeed I began planning the logistics well in advance: confirming housing and research contacts and making a plan for what it is that I would do while spending this time away from either homebase in the States. And in actuality, the nuggets of this idea took root a few years before as relationships began to be cultivated and the realization that, save my initial four years on this lovely earth, I had not yet lived outside of these contiguous states. This was an epiphany born of more than mere wanderlust (which is really never mere at all); this was more so a long-occurring, deep-seated curiosity that had not made the leap from the wishlist to the cart for checkout.

So what does one take? What are the essentials? How does on prepare to live and walk along the same streetsonce traveled by Darwin, Yeats, and Woolf? Extra socks and comfy shoes? I’ve perused repeatedly several websites the offer advice on how to pack as well as what to pack. A couple of favorites:

Packing for a year abroad (via Academichic)

Packing smart and traveling light (via Rick Steves) — perhaps not for the extended stay, but definitely good advice (if somewhat paranoid) for the shorter trips.

But these are mainly helpful in thinking through what I’ll need to wear or have access to on a regular basis — which reminds me that I’ve run out of contact lens cleaning solution. And shampoo. Why is there always such nervousness about hair care and travel? Nevermind, I just answered my own question — I am laughing as I recall a recent trip to New Orleans whereupon landing I experienced a state of awkward hair frizz unlike any I had been victim of til then. So traumatized was I that when a colleague from a different institution whom I don’t know too well inquired politely, rhetorically, “How’s it going?”, I responded without filter and with reckless abandon, “I’m in search of hair product! I’ll be better when I find some.” Oh my… (And, in case you’re interested, after some consultation with myself and my occasional travel companion, I’ve opted to take basic toiletries with the plan to replenish items I don’t already own while on terra noveau as another aspect of visiting like a local.)

Where does one pack sense of familiarity? Comfort? How does one make space in a suitcase, backpack, or laptop bag for peace of mind and easy access to people, places, and things. No, this is not pending homesickness – a concept with which I have never been familiar, much to the chagrin, I suspect, of my parents. These are, in fact, the indicators of rootedness in a context, communities, and networks that have been formed and nurtured over time. In seven years one is bound to put down roots, and those roots become intertwined with one’s sense of self, work, and purpose, even with one’s way of being. Sure I’ve been “away” on sabbatical, but I’ve had the great luxury of being able to enter and leave the Apple as the occasion demanded — for meetings, for fieldwork, doctors appointments, and of course to commune with friends.

For the next few months, however, there will be an ocean between us. Such a phrasing is unintentionally sentimental, yet the sentiment feels oddly correct for the occasion. An uneasy acceptance of impending events, measured excitement, cautious enthusiasm — all euphemisms for feeling anxious. (Has someone written Zen and the art of traveling abroadThe Sabbatical Edition yet?) My anxieties rest primarily on the hope that I’m not leave people flat-footed, specifically those for whom I feel a sense of responsibility — students, my research teams, the young people with whom we work. And thus with responsibility exists… well, no sense in repeating myself.

This post may have gone on longer, but the throbbing pain pulsating throughout my left arm as a result of vaccinations (in prep for a few side excursions that are on the agenda) is begging me to stop. So I will.

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