It is hard to believe that Susan Miller is in her fifties. Her lifestyle and spirit of adventure keeps her young.
She has been travelling since she was 18 and has never returned “home” to live. She is an expert in travelling light and moving all her 5 kilos of worldly belongings from one new home to another, and she only buys one-way tickets! But how does she do it?
She is heading to Africa in a month’s time, so I decided to catch her before she leaves and find out a little more. Her bag is already packed! She says that leading up to any trip she accustoms herself to living with the bare essentials kept in one small shoulder bag. She often heads for the most obscure and unlikely destinations, and stays long enough to make a contribution, but without getting too comfortable and settled. She likes living on the edge and testing her ingenuity at adapting and surviving in challenging locations.
What she packs in her bag is really what she needs for the journey, plus a few items which she considers essential or difficult to find in some parts of the world. Clothes take up a lot of space, so she limits herself to 1 of everything. She wears her trousers, shirt, jersey and shoes and packs another smart shirt and dress. These along with her underwear are all rolled tightly around more delicate items as protection.
A sarong is essential as it has countless uses: to sit on, as a cover for your body or head, as a towel, a makeshift bag and ofcourse an extra item of clothing.
She takes two clothes pegs to hang up the sarong as a screen for privacy as well as some unwaxed silk dental floss which she says is so strong that it can be used in multiple situations… along with the pegs and sarong to make a tent for example!! Pegs for securing all manner of things and floss for tying are two essentials, along with black electrical tape which she says can be difficult to find but which is incredibly useful for emergency repairs: cabling, bags, clothes and even shoes. It is both resistant and semi-waterproof.
Her philosophy is simple:
Why take changes of clothes when most of the destinations she heads to sell t-shirts for a dollar.
Buying things from locals is a good way to support the community and get to know people. Dressing like everyone else means that you don’t stand out as a foreign newcomer. Footwear is heavy and bulky, so she wears her only pair of shoes and if necessary buys another once she gets there. She doesn’t travel with a phone, but buys a basic model for about 10 dollars in the first week. This is going to be the first time she takes a mini laptop with her. She seems reluctant at carrying something so fragile, concerned that it might break and she’d be stuck with a cumbersome piece of plastic! She has packed a notebook and pen as a way of recording information just in case. A Leatherman mini-multi-purpose tool was one of her favourite travel companions, but unfortunately it was confiscated at a border control. Having a small pocket knife is incredibly handy– provided that it is legal to carry around within a country, however you can’t carry them in your hand luggage.
As far toiletries go, she packs them neatly into a compact zipped bag.
Her sole possessions count as hand luggage, so she has to be careful about more than 100ml of liquids, creams and pastes. She agrees that little packs of multi-purpose soap leaves could be a good solution, however she sees these products as luxury extras which won’t last long so it is better not to feel dependent upon any of them. She knows that once she arrives at her destination she will do what the locals do, this applies to any basic medical treatment she might need. She packs tweezers, toothbrush and paste as well as a small bundle of cotton buds which are seemingly scarce in many parts of the world. She carries a needle and thread too, but remarks that in many third world countries it is quite normal to buy items in small quantities…even one needle and a small length of thread to suit the purpose. Perhaps as travellers we should remember that we don’t need to be prepared for all situations if we are going to any inhabited place! If the locals get by there, then so can we!
Apart from her passport she takes a limited amount of cash (200 dollars) just to help her get started. I asked her if she had any emergency measures and she smiled and pointed to her gold tooth! Gold is valued the world over and she used to travel with small lightweight gold chains which she could sell if she needed to. She also carries a number of unisex necklaces in a pouch, gifts from friends ready to be handed out as spontaneously to people she comes across on her travels. In fact she has made a pact with herself that any item that she is given is surplus, so she if she decides to keep something she needs to throw/give away the item it has now replaced.
It has often been said that “Our necessities are few, but our wants are endless” and travelling can be a way of re-evaluating exactly what those necessities are. Having to carry the things that you are so attached to around day in day out, may make you feel differently about their appeal. To leave some of your old self behind and start experiencing life from a whole different standpoint is far more rewarding and informative in the longterm. Whether it is what you use to clean your teeth to how to dress in the morning, Susan is an inspiration to us all to be brave and ruthless whilst packing. We may not be able to match her 5kgs, but most of us could halve the weight of our psychological and physical “baggage” by taking her travelling light philosophy on-board instead!