Before I embarked on my semester studying abroad in France, I felt overwhelmed by the number of things I had to do to get ready for my trip. I made checklists weeks before to make sure I was prepared in all regards. I made sure I had all my important documents in order, I created a budget, I even tried to familiarize myself with all the streets and areas of the town I was staying in. I felt pretty secure with most of my preparation, all with the exception of packing. Packing, which felt like pretty much the most integral part of being prepared. I was only bringing one large suitcase which would have to sustain every aspect of my lifestyle from January to the end of May. Maybe for many people, this doesn’t sound like a hard task at all, but unfortunately, I have never even been close to labeling myself a “light packer.” I couldn’t decide what to cut out when it came to categories such as clothes, athletic gear, skincare products, warm clothing, school supplies, supplements, books. Everything seemed essential on my packing list, but I knew if I wanted to pack within the perimeters of my suitcase in mind something had to go. So I decided clothes would have to be the category to be compromised. I packed around 8 shirts in total, two pairs of jeans, one dress, two jackets, and some workout clothes. I felt somewhat excited to be carrying fewer things, I felt lighter and more intentional.
When I arrived in France, I thought I would feel limited in the clothes I was choosing from, but that didn’t seem to be the case. If anything, it felt easier and more freeing. It wasn’t just clothes that were minimalized in my little studio apartment -- it was practically everything. There were very few items that I didn’t use every day, but every one of my items was utilized at least once a week. I was living simply, something my high-maintenance self had never thought I could achieve. When push came to shove, it was apparent I just didn’t need that much “stuff.” This new mindset made traveling around so much easier as well. I can not count the amount of times I took cheap flights that only permitted the size of a backpack as your piece of luggage. At one hostel, a man working the front desk said he was impressed by how “light of a packer” I am (these words have never been said to me in my 21 years of life).
Upon my return home, I was overwhelmed by the amount of stuff I had left behind. I had all these items I had lived without for four months, and yet I didn’t miss them at all. So many of my things were utterly nonessential. This realization allowed me to live simply, not just because I chose to while studying abroad, but because it felt like a more purposeful and sustainable life. It may seem trivial to stress the importance of limiting one’s clothes or traveling lighter, but it really means more than just physically carrying a lighter load on your back. It’s about living with only what one needs and challenging oneself to be intentional in our choices.
Parker Ornellas is a CEA Alumni Ambassador who studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France, during the Spring 2019 semester. She is currently a student at Cal Poly - San Luis Obispo.
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