What does it mean to leave your country for six months? It means you’re packing three seasons into two suitcases and a carry-on. You’ve collected piles of information about the country where you’ll be living and have a marked up map sitting on your desk. You have a comprehensive list of everything you could possibly do while you’re there, but the list isn’t actually comprehensive and you couldn’t possibly do it all while you’re there; it would take even a veteran traveler, a Rambo meets Anthony Bourdain figure, well over six months to make it through half the items. Besides, you have school. This isn’t some Around the World in Eighty Days mad-dash to a finish line, it’s a much more delicate balance between traveling and living in one of the world’s most popular travel destinations: London, England. A city you’ve spent your entire life seeing on postcards and in the pages of your history book is going to be your home for the next six months. It’s surreal. You are going to have a claim to the city that stretches beyond that of tourist. You are going to live there, however briefly, and that makes all the difference.
Transient visitors only ever get a fleeting glance at the city before they have to embark on the next leg of the highlight tour; but you’ll be there long enough to see the impermanence in a city known for standing the test of time. You’ll feel the lull and swell of tourists passing through and see the coat-clad mannequins in storefront windows change into breezy spring dresses. You get to experience the city as it lives, but first you have to get there and that means packing. That means you now own an entire stack of books about London, people who have been to London, and people who wrote while they were in/around London. And you’re not sure how many to take with you on the plane. How many books can you read in seven hours? How many books can you read in seven hours if those books happen to be incredibly detailed critiques of the works of William Shakespeare? There’s a long list of things you need to bring and things you need to do before you leave. That means your dentist gives you six tubes of toothpaste and 12 pods of dental floss at your pre-departure appointment. You may never have to buy dental floss again, which is a good thing, because after staring at the mountain of dental floss your dentist considers necessary for world traveling, you are mildly concerned both that it isn’t available abroad and that your dentist may have recently bought up what once was the world’s supply.
It isn’t easy packing up six months of your life while remaining in compliance with the TSA. You don’t only have to think about what you’re going to pack, but where you are going to pack it because there are things you can’t put in a carryon. You can only bring so much liquid which means only so much toothpaste and shampoo and water. What, exactly, is considered a weapon? It’s a question you need to consider now as you pack your carryon. Can you pack your pots and pans or the sharp hair pin you use to flip your hair up in a messy bun? What kind of food can you take to a different country? You are primarily concerned with peanut butter because you heard it wasn’t widely available in Europe and you don’t feel six months is a reasonable period of time to live without peanut butter. There are myths and misconceptions surrounding what you can take on an international flight. People tell you different things which means your eyes are glued to screen where you have regulations for customs and the airline pulled up. You scramble through the house looking for the measuring tape you know you have stashed away somewhere to make sure the backpacking pack you’re taking as a carryon can be cinched down to meet the strict size restrictions. Packing six months of your life into two suitcases and a carryon isn’t easy. In fact, it’s kind of a mess but at some point you decide it’ll all be okay even if you forget to pack something as pivotal as a hairbrush. You’re getting on a plane and by the time you get off you’re going to be in another country. It’s a knife’s edge between exhilarating and terrifying to abandon the familiar, but the discovery of the unfamiliar is what makes travel worthwhile.