University of Wisconsin–Madison

50lbs or Less

I don’t consider myself to be defined by me things but when you see all of your outward expression laid out in front of you, it’s a little surreal. How do you decide which parts of your life are important enough to be condensed into 50lbs or less? I, ever the procrastinator who only started packing the day before my flight, found myself faced with this question. As I am coming into 80°F weather in Sydney, summer clothes are a must. But as the season comes to a close in the southern hemisphere, temperatures can reach down to the mid 40’s by July. It was a constant shuffle of various outfits, conveniences, products, etc. up until I physically left for the airport. Even now as I sit on the airplane writing this, I am regretting leaving behind the brown shoes that just would have been perfect with my wardrobe. But what can you do?

19 shirts

6 pairs of shoes

4 pairs of shorts

4 sweaters

3 pairs of pants

3 different sets of chargers

2 jackets

2 boxes of Girl Scout cookies

2 pouches of jerky and trail mix

1 swim suit

1 pair of sunglasses

1 digital camera

1 mystery thriller

1 quart bag of ‘liquids’

1 hairbrush

1 first aid kit

1 passport

&1 extreme case of nerves


With a brand, new suitcase and carryon bag in hand, I headed into MSP: Terminal 1. I guess it’s fitting that I’m breaking in these travel-naïve bags on my own new journey. I checked my 45lbs 7oz suitcase, got my boarding pass, and stepped in line for security. Until now, my family had accompanied me and it was suddenly time to say goodbye. There were no tears, only smiles, promises of weekly skype calls, and jokes of if the sniffer dogs would go after my plethora of snacks. The line went faster than I thought it would, my parents’ eyes on me the whole time. Before I knew it, I was through security and my family beyond my line of sight. I was truly on my own.

Deep breath. I can do this.

I found my gate easily enough and due to several delays and un-delays, it was a short wait before boarding began. My seat was nestled between two strangers and doing what any nervous, single traveler would do I popped in my headphones and hunkered down for the 4-hour flight to LAX.

The engines began to turn and we started taxiing to the runway. The plane made its final turn and we took off. We raced down the runway, the whole plane shaking with a deafening rumble. I felt the wheels leave the tarmac and climb into the air. This was not my first flight and the fear of hurtling through the air at 40,000ft had long since disappeared; my nerves more concerned with starting a life in a new country alone. I was so preoccupied with my phone I almost didn’t notice the nudge to my elbow from the woman beside me. I looked up and she simply pointed out the window to a spectacular sunset over the city. The clouds stained a vivid magenta and my home awash in the dusk light. I continued to watch the horizon until the sun completely set.

The 4 hours flew by, pardon the pun, and we landed in LA. If you’ve never been to LAX, all you need to know is that it is massive and crowded. Little shops and restaurants line the halls between gates, the smell of food making my stomach rumble. I snagged a sandwich on my way and stopped in Starbucks to pick up a pick-me-up. It was here that I met another lone traveler like myself. She noticed my IAP study abroad tag with the Australian flag on my carryon and gave me some ideas on places to see there. She was originally from Sweden but she lived in Sydney for 2 years. We chatted about our travel plans and parted one time friends.

I boarded my final flight to SYD, the seat next to me empty (score!), and waited for the 15-hour trip to start. I started my journey on a Tuesday and by the time I landed in Sydney it would be a Thursday. Hopefully, I can sleep on this plane, write a little, watch some movies, and pass the time easily.

As I sit here I think of how far I’ve come even in this short time.  A nudge for a beautiful sunset out of your window, a conversation in a coffee shop, these fundamental interactions making our lives richer if we only took the time to notice them. It’s moments like these that make me reflect on my place in the world, challenging my views, grounding me in the fact that I am not much more different than anyone else. I know I will carry these times with me for the rest of my life. Luckily, memories don’t have to fit in a suitcase.

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