In the Bag

By Jody Hanson

Downsizing for travel

“How many bags do you have to check?”


Then, with boarding pass in hand, I saunter off with my wheeled carry-on and a diaper bag that slides neatly over the handle.

When I tell people that all my worldly possessions fit into one suitcase, a carry-on, and a bag that was designed for babies, the reactions vary. Some are openly envious. Others are quietly relieved that they didn’t catch whatever virus it was that made me barking mad. Eccentric? Quite likely. Neurotic? Quite possibly. Certifiable? Not quite, but getting close.

Initial downsize

When the financial crisis hit in 2008 I decided to liquidate and head out to teach English in exotic places. I often say that my Ph.D is cute, but it is my education degree with a major in English that has been my meal ticket.

Reducing the contents of a two-bedroom terrace house in Sydney to the initial two suitcases in December 2008 was a process. And an insightful lesson into the difference between “need” and “want.” I was headed for Casablanca and packed what I thought were important items, like the hand-woven blanket from Mali. It stayed in Morocco, but I took some hand-spun aloe-vera cushion covers and a throw. The grey and red fit into the apartment I rented in Santiago so well that they stayed there.

My next life evolution was in November 2010. I took the plunge and evolved into being a freelance writer and editor. Basically, producing dull reports and correcting functionally illiterate documents is what pays the bills. And like an increasing number of people, give me a desk and an Internet connection and I can work anywhere.

Second cull

By the time I got to Buenos Aires I realised I was dragging around a lot of things that I didn’t really need. So I culled back to one suitcase and gave the remainder to Solidad. She is a cartonira, someone who goes through the garbage every night to collect cardboard, plastic and glass to sell to recycle places. I’d got to know her as the corner of our street was part of her patch. With this latest downsize I no longer need a luggage trolley when I land.


One annoyance when wandering the world is that tourist visas for most countries – or at least those you would want to spend time in – expire in 90 days. And as anyone who has seen the visa-replenishing movie will attest, it begins to grate. It is in the back of your mind that “the date” is coming up. So even if it is relatively painless – like crossing into the Spanish territory in Morocco or taking a day-trip to Uruguay from Argentina – I came to dread it. I had temporary residency in Chile so I didn’t have to leave. But the time and bureaucracy involved made going to Mendoza for the weekend look good.

So the logical extension – and part of eternally following the summer – is to pack and move on to the next country. That said, if I found the “perfect” place I would make an exception.

My sort of plan for 2013 – subject to change on a whim, of course —is to use Phnom Penh as a base. If/when I have the money I’ll do a side trips to Sri Lanka and The Maldives. Madrid is the destination of choice for May to the end of August. A short stop in Canada and then on to the Caribbean for six weeks to do the trips I didn’t have time to do when I was there last July. Then somewhere warm in South America, perhaps? One thing for sure is that it doesn’t take long to pack.

The most difficult aspect of my lifestyle is answering the question “Where do you live?” because no matter where I am the answer is “Here.” And I always get strange looks.

About the author:

Jody Hanson is an insufferable travel junkie who currently lives in Cambodia. To date she has visited 107 countries, lived in eight and holds passports in three. Her – some would say irresponsible – retirement plan is to keep going until she drops. At that time she wants a Muslim burial: wash the body, wrap it in a white sheet and plant it by sundown. In the meantime, Hanson continues to have more than her share of adventures and misadventures, both of which she embraces equally.

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7 thoughts on “In the Bag

  1. Liz Nichols

    Oh Jody what an amazing life you lead…I am thinking of heading off solo travelling at 57 years old?? Ive checked out Work Away and House sitting. Just doing my homework at the moment and trying to learn Italian..which Im finding difficullt as compared to Australians Italians sem to run their words together..My daughter has seen 57 countries.I have been to Europe, Hawaii. USA Cruised the Med but I want to see it all. I got very sick in Venice. Thinking I was eating healthy apparently I should not eat salads prepared with dirty water..stick to cooked food..I look forward to hearing about your 2013 trip. Id like to visit Italy again..hike thru the vineyards, cooking schools live like a local..Keep up the pace cheers Liz

    1. Jody Hanson

      Well Liz, just go for it. Once you get overseas things just sort of fall into place and things happen.

      Yes, there are frustrations and hissy-fits, but the good of travel far out weighs the bad. Let me know where you are and perhaps we can hook up.


  2. Just One Boomer (Suzanne)

    How does it feel to be downsized to the point you have? In the last few years, we moved from a 6 bedroom house with attic and basement storage to a 3 bedroom apartment. Packing and divesting ourselves of “stuff” was physically and mentally exhausting sometimes — but not emotionally exhausting. Are there any items you find that you have to purchase and repurchase for your various abodes? A good pillow?

    1. Jody Hanson

      Hey Suzanne, if you can go from six bedrooms to three you are off to a good start. And like exercise, the more you do it the easier it gets.

      As for a good pillow, mine is memory foam and goes with me.


  3. Diane Marie Popowich

    I did much of the same thing. The downsize part and figuring out what was a want and what was a need/ I went to guatemala and helped build a school out of trash. THAT trip changed my perspective on life. Some og the people of Guatemala don’t have much in the way of material things but they are very rich! I am building a school there in my mom’s honor later this year. check out

    It is amazing when you go “against the norm” and live the life you dream about!! I applaud you for living yours!!!

    Diane Marie “Lady Di”

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