Happiness Overseas is Three Bags, a Guitar, and One Wife

I’m closing in on what for me is an important goal…a three-bag lifestyle.

My wife Suzan and I are writers, which means we can work from anywhere on the planet with an internet connection. And for the past 15 years we’ve been doing just that…we’ve lived in seven communities in four different countries while writing for International Living about the places expats choose to live and the lives those expats lead.

As you might imagine, that means moving around a lot. We’re not complete vagabonds…we live in the places we write about. That’s really the only way to tell what expat life in those places is really like.

But we do tend to move a lot and not stay in one place for long. It comes with the territory.

When we first moved abroad, that wasn’t really our intention. Like many expats, we thought the first place we moved was going to be the place we’d spend the rest of our lives. But as they say, life is what happens while you’re busy making plans, and we soon made our second move. Then our third. Then our fourth…and so on.

And along the way we’ve changed our relationship to the stuff in our lives. The heavy stuff. The bulky stuff. The stuff that’s a challenge to move.

Don’t get me wrong…we still have stuff. But as the years have gone by and the moves have piled up, we’ve changed our attitudes about exactly what and how much of this stuff we really need to drag around with us from place to place to be happy.

And the answer right now is…not much.

We’ve been enough places and lived in enough different situations to come to the conclusion that a pan is a pan, a chair is a chair, a sheet is a sheet, and a dresser is a dresser. If we live somewhere and don’t have exactly the same pans and chairs and sheets and dressers that we’re used to, it doesn’t make much of an impact on our quality of life anymore.

Consequently, although we still own lots of that bulky stuff, we’ve parked it. It’s not necessary to the lives we’re living right now.

So what is necessary to my life right now? What is the stuff that I do need to drag from place to place with me to be happy? What have my physical requirements for a comfortable life come down to?

Well, as I said, I’m closing in on the three-bag lifestyle.

Bag one: A regulation airline carryon-size bag with all the clothes, toiletries, personal gadgets, and documentation necessary to live and work anywhere for any length of time, which I’ve discovered over the years isn’t all that much.

Bag two: A regulation airline checkable suitcase with what I call “extras.” Things that are nice to have but if they get left behind or stored or lost in transit for a while will not stop me from living my life.

Bag three: There is one thing in my life besides my wife that is absolutely necessary for me to be happy and can’t be left behind for any length of time, and that’s my guitar. I’m not a very good player, but that makes no difference to me…I need it, period.

That’s it. Everything else is either icing on the cake or an anchor tied to my you-know-what.

Of course, the times when we travel and my three bags are all I take are rare. Every move we’ve ever made seems to involve shifting some extra stuff from one parking place to another. We’re humans after all, and we have a tendency to nest. But the bulk of that stuff has steadily gone down over the years, and lately it hasn’t occupied much more than a couple additional checked airline bags. And someday, that stuff may not need to be shifted anymore either.

So I’m closing in on this three-bag lifestyle, which to some folks seems pretty minimal. But I know people who happily get by on less. I know people who get by on one bag. I admire them, but my lifestyle is what it is, and I’m still too much of a materialist to lose anything else in my current kit.

Even as I say that, it occurs to me that we all come into the world with absolutely nothing…not even the amount of stuff that can fit in three bags. Not even clothes on our backs. And when we leave this world, we take absolutely nothing with us, no matter how many bags of stuff we accumulate over the course of our lives. Every bit of it eventually gets parked somewhere and left behind when we move on.

So I’m feeling pretty rich and self-indulgent with these three bags right now. As Suzan and I move through this world, these bags hold everything I need to be comfortable and happy yet don’t slow us down or block the view.

Which is just the way I like it.

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