On my first tour of the United States, I borrowed my father’s silver sedan for the month-long trip. I thought there was no way I could fit everything I needed for the month into a sedan. So I bought a Sears Ex-Cargo topper off Craigslist. My dad and I attached the hulking monster to the roof with bungee cords and clips. I filled it with more clothes and sundry items than I could’ve used in a year. I brought an SWR California Blonde amp, a mic stand, a mic, a huge suitcase full of merchandise, a sleeping bag with two pillows, my 10 pound laptop, and all my childhood hopes of rock stardom. The car overflowed with all my expectations and unnecessary gear. I am sure I would’ve gotten better gas mileage had I trimmed things down, but gas was well under $2 a gallon and I was 23.
I figured out very quickly that I had overpacked. I made myself highly conspicuous to police officers, although I didn’t get pulled over. Oregon plates and a packed car will warrant many double takes while driving through Northern Arizona. (I’ve been pulled over twice by the same police officer on the stretch of Interstate 40 just west of Flagstaff. Both times I was pulled over for non-offenses. Both times the officer wanted to search my car for drugs. Both times I was traveling with friends with dreadlocks.) I would pack full size bottles of shampoo and Dr. Bronners, only to learn that I wouldn’t be afforded that many showers.
While living on the road, simple things can become difficult. Every shower is different and there is a steep learning curve to their use. The H and C knobs on the shower faucet might be switched and you’re shivering in an ice cold stream just waiting for it to become warm. A hotel is a luxury for a solo troubadour, I slept in the sedan in two different Waffle House parking lots, choosing that location because of the fact that the lights are blazing 24 hours a day. If something got sketchy, there would be a sympathetic line cook awake and ready for action. Plus, easy access to breakfast in the morning.
So, as I drove from Eugene to Portland on that first tour, my final stop before home base, I had some realizations that I still hold dear. I don’t need a 35-gallon car topper full of fashion options. I only need what I can wear over a period of 2-4 days. I don’t need two pillows, most people have an extra. Traveling with full-size bottles of all my bath products can grow wearisome, every store sells soap in case you run out. The important things don’t fit in your luggage, they fit in your heart and your mind. I keep this lesson close to heart in the American holiday season of excess and consumption. The best gift is doing what you love with people you love. Gratitude costs nothing and is the lightest item in your suitcase.