If you travel a lot via airplane, you know how important space is. My trips involve a lot of fly-in, teach for two days, fly-out schedules and space is precious. I won’t check bags because I want them to have a chance at arriving at the same time I do.
One of the joys of travel is seeing or observing new or different things. Last week, as I sat in the window seat
of my hotel room (a rare treat for me), I had a view of a freeway interchange. Watching traffic made me aware that very few people drove cars that weren’t white, black, or gray. About a 40-to-1 ratio in that town.
Then I noticed a hawk being mobbed by smaller birds. It’s pretty common during nesting season, but less so in the fall. The hawk may have been an owl, it was not close enough for me to see and it was dusk. (More reason to think it was an owl.)
I pulled out my journal and realized how disappointed product sponsors would be with me. I travel with a minimum amount of clothing, shoes, makeup, and art supplies. I used to travel with a lot more. “Just in case,” I thought. But it became more trouble than it was worth to take a journal, a watercolor kit, some different pens, some glue (just in case I wanted to paste something in the journal), and scissors (the kind that get past the TSA aren’t worth bringing anyway.) I began to pare down.
Pare way down. I carry a small (5″ x 8″) journal and a very fine ballpoint pen (Pilot Hi-Tec C, .25mm from JetPens) with black ink. And a glue pen. That’s it. I’m traveling. If I make a mistake, I live with it, decorate it, write about it or ignore it. So far, I have not died from making mistakes in my journal. Yet.
For a while, I tried taking just one sheet with me. But that was unsatisfying. It was either too big or too small, or I didn’t have anything “special enough” to write or draw. With journaling, the point is personal meaning, so I began to carry whatever journal I was working in. But that was all the space I could give up, so the extra fine pen stood in for everything else.
I draw salt and pepper shakers while I’m waiting for my food, or the design on my fork. On the flight, I watch what is going on outside the plane (I’m fascinated by agricultural patterns) or snatches of conversations I’ve overheard.
Keeping a commonplace journal, which I love doing, is satisfying and perfect for travel. The glue pen (Kuretake, chisel tip, also from JetPens) helps, as I collect odd things when I travel–found pieces of paper, designs, postcards. Kuretake glue is permanent if you use it wet, but transient if you let it dry, then stick paper on it.
Dealing with less takes more up-front effort, but it is worth it. I plan my outfits, take an extra top in case I spill something on myself, and simple jewelry that coordinates with both outfits. I splurge and take two pairs of earrings and my travel talisman necklace (which I don’t wear while teaching) so I’ll return home safely. Two pairs of shoes. Just enough cosmetics (mostly sample size) to get by. The bulk and weight comes from a laptop, a real book, and the teaching supplies I don’t ship ahead and food I bring to stabilize my blood sugar.
Traveling with less is a relief. Not much to keep track of, and easy to hoist into the overhead or under the seat in front of me. Less is less, but sometimes that’s a relief.
There are two more posts in this less-is-less series. One is about moving and shedding and the other is about editing long articles, cutting away what isn’t necessary. Watch this space.
—Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing.