By Amy Thibodeau
Last year I wore the same pair of sandals nearly every day for about five months. They weren’t anything special – just a pair of gold painted faux-leather flats I bought on a work trip last April. But they were comfortable, they looked good with almost everything and they just became an easy choice. Back to shoes in a moment …
Almost exactly six weeks ago, I left my lovely apartment and gainful employment in London, UK to take on a year of travel with my fiancée. I remember the moment we came to the decision that this was something we wanted to do. It was autumn and we were on a train travelling between London and Cardiff doing a fairly regular work-related commute. Feeling dissatisfied and frustrated with a number of details in our lives and tired of complaining, Dan said, “Why don’t we travel for a year – see the world and figure out what we want to do with the rest of our lives?”
Of course I thought that the idea was brilliant and agreed to it immediately, but I had a lot of doubts about that question – “Why not?” To begin with:
Age: I am 32 years old. It’s not ancient and I’m in good health, but isn’t 32 just too old to go traipsing around the world for a year? Most people my age are settled into career, family, home or … something. A year of travel is what 18 year olds do as a way to avoid university. How could I possibly do it at 32?
Responsibility (also known as, what will I do with all my stuff?): For about a month, I had an ongoing and very annoying conversation with myself:
Self 1: “Isn’t it irresponsible to just quit your job to travel? There’s a recession on, you know. What if you never, ever find another job?”
Self 2: “But I’m not happy with what I’m doing right now! Yes, I am very lucky that I earn enough money to put a roof over my head but I don’t know if that’s enough for me.”
Self 1: “What about your apartment? It’s got a big, private garden – in London – do you know how rare that is?”
Self 2: “I love it – it’s probably my favourite place that I’ve ever lived – but should I really make the decision to stay in one place because I love the floor to ceiling windows and the lovely olive tree in the backyard?”
Self 1: “But what about your shoes? All those shoes, and dresses and … you didn’t think of those! What are you going to do with all your stuff?”
And now we get back to the shoes.
When I moved from Canada to the United Kingdom in the autumn of 2008 I took a lot of stuff with me. Not big things like furniture or dishes, but I bought three suitcases and two boxes worth of clothes, shoes, books and all the things I imagined I would miss. I suspect part of the reason I did it was because I was feeling insecure about moving to a different country and I thought that having my things around would make me feel more at ease.
Apart from the books, which were heavy, shoes probably took up the majority of the space in my suitcases. Bright pink pumps, black and white heels, lovely black suede stilettos, platform leather sandals, grey knitted Ugg boots, Chuck Taylor All Stars … I must have taken at least ten pairs with me.
The cities of the United Kingdom are not kind to high heel shoe wearers. There’s a lot of walking to be done between Tube stations and bus stops and even within the underground itself it’s not uncommon to face a fifteen-minute walk from train to exit – and people move fast and expect you to keep up. Don’t even get me started on the cobble stone streets, the effect of all that rain on delicate fabrics, or trying to keep balance while climbing to the upper story of a double-decker bus in two-inch heels …
Although my shoe collection stayed vast (and even grew on occasion), I found that increasingly I had only a few favourite pairs that I wore over and over again. I already mentioned the gold sandals that were on my feet nearly every day between mid-April and mid-September until they finally gave up and fell apart (I considered crazy glue). Suddenly I was making daily shoe decisions based primarily around two considerations: practicality (were they water proof and warm?) and comfort (were they flat?). Despite the shrinking wearablility of my shoe-drobe, I hauled every one of those pairs with me through four moves in just less than two years.
So when the voice in my head said, “What about your shoes?” I spent about ten minutes looking at my 80 litre backpack and trying to work out how many pairs I could bring with me.
Then I came to my senses.
When I pictured myself exploring Mexico, Australia, Japan and South East Asia, I wasn’t admiring my pink pumps. When I dreamed about travel and adventure, the things that matter – the reason I am doing this – are related to wanting to be as completely immersed in the world as possible; I want to learn new languages, meet interesting people and hear their stories, try strange foods, swim in oceans and rivers … It’s hard to do all these things with blisters on your toes.
The more thinking I did about what really matters to me, the more ridiculous it seemed that I had carried those shoes with me for such a long time. And by shoes, of course I am referring to all the baggage that I felt so connected to, that defined my ideas about who I was and what I needed to be happy.
So I gave them, and almost everything I owned, away and it was easier than I thought it would be. Most importantly, I am still the same person without them – only lighter and maybe a little bit happier.
This kind of journey isn’t for everyone; I also know that I am privileged to be in a position to do this. Some people would genuinely prefer to have a home and a family than to trek away into the world for a year; others are not in a financial position to be able to pick up and leave or have inescapable responsibilities, even if they wanted to.
The point, for me at least, is that we all have dreams and most of us also have a nagging voice inside our heads giving a million reasons why we should keep everything exactly as it is. In pairing down my life into one 80-litre backpack, I’ve learned that a willingness to simplify and the flexibility to at least consider change can be powerful.
I haven’t gotten rid of all my shoes. I still have black sandals, trainers and my All Stars – and those three pairs take me everywhere I want to go.