How To Fit Your Life In One Suitcase And Travel Without The Heaviness Of Psychological Baggage

Painting by Pal Fried

Painting by Pal Fried

If your life were packed into a suitcase and you were only allowed to bring 30kilos, what would you put in it?


“Your check-in baggage allowance is only 30 kilograms,” said my airline’s e-mailafter I booked my ticket. I am moving to Denmark to be with my boyfriend, so to me that sentence was synonymous to, “You can only bring 30 kilograms worth of your entire life. Say goodbye forever to the rest.”


I snorted. 30 kilos is a lot, isn’t it? I realized how stupid my assumption waswhen the frantic packing began a week before my flight.


Being able to partake in the culture of both the Philippines and Denmark has been an adventure, so far, and one of the most challenging aspects of this journey has been deciding what I could bring and should bring with me.


I have to traverse 6,000 miles and leave behind virtually everything I’ve EVER known with an enormous, if not certain, possibility of never coming back ‘home’ (or at least for a long, long while). I’m sure a lot of you reading now can relate to some extent.


Once I move past the goodbyes and the last-minute stuffing-my-face with favorite local food, I am faced with the daunting task of deciding which fragments of my twenty-five years of existence I must keep. I can’t bring my parents, I can’t bring friends, I can’t bring my dogs, and I certainly can’t bring my house, or my old schools, or my regular bar, or my entire collection of Nancy Drew books I’ve read since I was ten.


Painting by Alexander Dolgikh

Painting by Alexander Dolgikh

And so, these are some of the things I chose to put in my luggage: (1) My best clothes and jewelry – my vanity, my pride, my grandfather’s going-away gift, the only connection I really had with my mother, (2) my laptop – my mind and capabilities, a reward after my first salary, (3) two surfboards and bikinis – my health, friendships, finding-my-way-back-to-myself, the inner peace we so long to discover, (4) Filipino food – my culture and country to share with my new family, (5) journal with my boyfriend’s and friends’ letters tucked between pages – a humbling reminder of the road going here.


Shit, how can that all weigh so much? I had a backpack for my valuables, and three suitcases for my clothes, paraphernalia, and food, most of which I could just buy in Denmark. But these are not things I want, these are things I need. Documents so I can stay in Denmark and the Schengen area, papers so I can get married, clothes, money, medication – necessities. Basic needs, but notall exactly what I want to relocate with me.


Don’t you wish 30kg meant anything you wanted so as long as they were within that allowance? Wouldn’t that be easier? Better?


(1) My fat 10-year-old dog – tiny flashbacks of my childhood, adolescence, adulthood, (2) my baby half-brother’s laugh, (3) dad’s I love you’s, (4) the sunshine, (5) all books.


If so, how would that be for someone else? Perhaps someone older, a poor to middle-class parent leaving his family and country behind in exchange for a green card or visa, seemingly without a choice, in hopes of giving them a better life? Maybe he’ll see them again once every 5-10 years. Maybe he can, one day, bring them to a new world altogether. But imagine the hours he has to work to make that happen. Imagine the lonely nights, the isolation, the racism,the physical toll, the emptiness of a foreign house as he tries to maybe make that happen? What will he take?

Painting by Alex Alemany

Painting by Alex Alemany


(1) Family photo albums, (2) hugs from his wife and children, (3) the prayers of his frail, sick mother in a hospital bed they can’t yet afford to occupy, (4) trust in his wife to keep their marriage strong, (5) hope.


Would that be it? It’s easy for me to say stupid, cheesy shit as an average, slightly more fortunate girl. Despite how difficult and painful my decisions feel to me, what is it like for other people in similar circumstances who also have to move away? For instance, what about refugees? As I contemplate which shoes and sweaters and memories to bring, and which ones to leave or give away, do they even get to make that choice? What would they choose to take with them?


(1) A lost limb, (2) an entire street of neighbors and friends, (3) their dead father’s body, (4) one bag for an entire family of six to hastily shove in material proof of their combined years of existence and hard work, (5) survival.


Would that be it? Will their possessions even need more than three bags and a backpack to fit? Or will their life stories, their tragedies, outweigh 30kg? Will they bring their memories, their hardships and scars with them? Or will they leave them behind?


Are three suitcases enough to pack in my experiences?

Will I be charged extra if I stuff in everyone’s goodbyes?

How many kilos does heartbreak weigh? Homesickness? Anxiety? Love? Loss?


How heavy is the psychological baggage we carry?

Sade Andria Zabala is a twenty-four year old Filipina surfer sometimes living in Denmark. She is the author of poetry books War Songs and Coffee and Cigarettes. Her work has appeared on places such as Literary Orphans, The Thought Catalog, The Rising Phoenix Review, Hooligan Magazine, Germ Magazine, and more. In her spare time she likes to eat words and drink sunlight.

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