Do you ever think about the things you leave behind when you travel? Yesterday, for no apparent reason other than needing something to ponder while waiting for the metro, I started adding up the things I've abandoned in various corners of the globe. When it was all said and done, I had a list that constituted enough personal effects to build an entirely new life. The Shedding of the Things happens for any number of reasons while traveling: the clothes you wear over and over again finally wear out, heavy items become just too much work to lug around, certain climate or country specific belongings don't serve a purpose in your next destination. Extended stays especially give you an opportunity to accumulate a lot more than you brought. At some point you just have to say goodbye.
Sadly, books are usually one of the first things to go. They're just too heavy to drag around once they've been read. Luckily, you can almost always find them a good home; used bookstores, hostel libraries and roommates who love to read are happy to take a load off your back. Anything with an electric plug is also easily left behind. I gave up a hair dryer and hair straightener to an apartment in Paris because their French plugs and voltage requirements are not compatible with what we use in the U.S. I also left a bath towel, a couple pairs of shoes, clothing, and an assortment of soaps and makeup products. My most infamous parting occurred on an overnight train from Rome to Nice. It was December, 2001, and I had just spent the last four months studying abroad. Heading to Nice for the flight back to Minnesota I found myself neither willing nor able to keep on carrying my worn out possessions. I simply couldn't bear to look at them any longer, so I rapidly started shedding anything I could get my hands on in my overstuffed backpack. To this day I wonder what someone must have thought when they discovered a navy blue hooded university sweatshirt, a pair of beat up flip-flops and a handful of other daily necessities left for dead on the top bunk.
Of course, travelers don't just leave clothes and books and beauty products behind. As two phone calls from Paris reminded me yesterday, we also leave a piece of ourselves. While my friends and I shared news and talked about the people and places we know, I started to think that in some small way I still have a life in France. Part of me is still in Paris - still in all the places I've lived - existing in the relationships I maintain, and in the memories and thoughts of others. In return, I've kept a part of them with me as well. It was a reassuring thought, knowing that I still have ties to the city I love so much. For a moment, I could almost imagine I had never left.