For the next four months, I am blessed to be able to study abroad in Europe and boy oh boy, are the feels too real. And for anyone who has done an abroad program already, those feelings of excitement, anticipation, and giddiness the coming weeks before is my current state. However, just like not being able to find your size in that cute dress ruins a good shopping day or burning your tongue on hot tea ruins your consumption of food for the next week, something always finds a way to ruin my anticipation: packing.
I get anxious, panicky, and stressed when it's time to fill my suitcase. I have to pack around 1-3 weeks before just so I do not rip a tree out of its roots with my bare hands due to the high stress. Packing ruins that giddy state of mind before a trip for me so I meticulously plan. I make diagrams of the different compartments of my suitcase and backpack. I organize each article of clothing by type and quantity. I try on every single outfit I can think of. I pack and re-pack then re-pack again (and then one more time for safe measure because I know I can fit one more sweater if I just move a couple things around). Let’s just say that my closet takes a beating and it is not a pretty sight.
So if you are a Young Catholic Woman open to accepting tips from an overly exaggerated packer on what NOT to pack, here ya go:
1. Forget some of those plans: Surprise—I love itineraries. If someone is going to just make the decisions for me on where to go and what to see, then I am stress-free and content. Seeing the sights, the touristy attractions, etc. are worth it. But life is not going to end if I decide to not hit up the Leaning Tower of Pisa like the itinerary says. If we ask God to lead us to the sights our soul needs, to the people that will fill us with pure joy of the spirit, or even to the gelato shop our tummy craves, then God will provide the means, the strength, and the path. That side street, that little town outside the bustling tourist city, or that coffee shop with no tables but just a bar may just be the places (and coffee) that become the memories you will cherish most. Do not pack too many particular and strict plans. Forget some of your plans and let God do the rest.
2. Do not pack your worries: Some of my biggest fears are something happening to a loved one while I am away; my passport, ID, or luggage being stolen; or getting pick pocketed. Once that kind of thing happens, there is not much I can do and that terrifies me. But if I am going to be traveling in constant worry, how do I expect to have any fun? It is hard, but you have to accept the fact that there is not much to do when bad circumstances arise. Accepting is one of the most difficult actions we as humans face, but it is necessary. We will never move on if we never accept. What did Jesus say to the disciples if they were not accepted in a town? Shake the dust from your feet and move on. Our family members back home would not want us to be fearful and worried and neither does God. Taking your worries anywhere actually leads nowhere.
3. Trash those heavyweight emotions: No one… I repeat: no one likes to travel with a grumpy, super hyper, bitter, or fearful person. That over indulgence in emotions is not healthy, not prudent, and not conducive to the enjoyment everyone else may be experiencing in a new place. We are created as a body of Christ. We are not each a pinkie toe (that’s a lot of toes) or a single cell, but as a body that involves different functions that simultaneously and properly work together for the whole’s benefit. We are made for community, for union, for friendship, and focusing on yourself and the intense emotions you are feeling lead to bad communication and an even worse time for everyone else. Sometimes we have to compromise, and sometimes our plan does not go the way we want, but our relationship with our brothers and sisters matters more. Keep it light and keep it joyful. You may never have these opportunities again.
4. Leave it all behind: Ok…not literally (unless you’re going for the poverty lifestyle, then YOU GO GIRL!). Leave behind the things you cannot change, the past you cannot seem to forget, or the people who are only detrimental to your mind, body, and soul. Although traveling is not the end all-be all for happiness, it does ease the pain. It clears your mind of ignorance and your understanding of life and people grows immensely. Remember that you do not need to travel to leave it all behind or to unpack all the hurt. Jesus Christ is all you need. It sounds cheesy but it is true. Jesus is not this packable item. He is all around, everywhere, world-wide; you just need to remind yourself of his presence.
All in all, as we embark on adventures around the globe, here is the ultimate advice that you should always pack: God provides. Always.