Nearly all of Chris' possessions and most of his paperwork and money had been stolen, and there was little sympathy from Algeria's officialdom. The most positive measure they could suggest was hitching back to Algiers to try and sort things out and so avoid being arrested and jailed. Instead Chris sat around the camp-site being upbeat and charming and playing the clarinet. 'Something will happen,' he told me over beers. 'Really, without all that stuff to worry about I've just got more freedom.' This seemed insanely positive. A few days later he swept out of Tamanrasset in the front seat of a Mercedes saloon, owned by his new friend, the Malian Ambassador, who was returning home from Algiers, driving across the desert in his new car. Travelling under the diplomatic umbrella Chris was unlikely to have any problems checking out of Algiers even without the all-important exchange certificate. Nor did he anticipate problems getting across any of the borders without paperwork. And once in Bamako he could get everything sorted out. Though, as we said goodbye, he did wonder if he need be too worried about getting all his paperwork renewed. And he certainly wasn't going to bother replacing clothes and sleeping bags and the rest of his things. He still had his clarinet, and if he was carrying little else, then he was freer and more open to 'something happening.'
In the attic of a small cottage in the heart of the Black Forest, where I lived for part of one freezing winter there may still be the guitar, woollen shirt-jacket, odd books, some of my own poems in a notebook and a good pair of walking boots. All were left there when I had my own 'house burning down' life changing moment, with my father's unexpected death. Perhaps I meant to go back to Emmendingen at some point and pick up my stuff. I never did. Actually, the opposite happened – nearly everything that I remembered from my childhood was sold in one extended circus-tented auction; rather than saving things from the sale I added lots from my own possessions. Another guitar – the one I’d carried across the Sahara and across West Africa - tens of books, a stuffed deer head. It was like watching ones house burn down and actually throwing stuff that one had back into the flames.
But more, Sophie, a writer by profession didn't record her trip; that's braver than trusting one might lose ones journals."Oddly enough my walks,' she says, 'the big one to Chesil Beach, the West Highland Way, the Cotswold Way, are the one time I don't take notes. I take a diary but often find I don't write it. Somehow I want the time to be for me and just be doing it, not looking at myself doing it.'
- Owning stuff is full of paradox. Solving the dichotomy between needing stuff and not wanting to be owned by stuff might just be one of the great human challenges.
- Freedom from too-many possessions is the privilege of the very poor (in financial terms) and the very rich (in financial terms). A San bushman with little more than a bow, arrows, ostrich egg water bottle travels as light as a maverick millionaire who has enough money to buy or hire what is needed when it's needed, and so can travel with almost nothing more than a credit card.
- The rest of us are somewhere in the middle. My experience of travelling for eight months with transhumant/nomadic Berbers is that they accumulated stuff just like the rest of us; They had the camels to carry stuff, and the complicated social lives that needed complicated stuff, and just enough comparative wealth to accumulate and horde stuff when on the move, or to leave trunks of stuff in storage with family members around the mountains.
- In my experience there are few situations sprung on one where one can't borrow, or buy cheaply, or improvise or just do without whatever bit of kit is needed.
- To own one really good pair of shoes or boots or even sandals is completely different from owning many pairs of footwear. When travelling one's relationship with the one pair of shoes/boots on one's feet is unique; that pair are key to comfort, peace of mine, perhaps a source of pride (any book about long walks quite obviously goes on and on about the walker's boots), and a touchstone for simplicity; one gets up in the morning and one puts on one's shoes and one walks; no choice, no worrying if they're fashionable. The same applies to coats, trousers, shirts and pretty much everything you own.
- Here's another paradox one has to puzzle out. Is it better to get rid of an item that is still useful, or that one might need some day, or that holds good memories as a literal souvenir to save having to store it, or carry it or think about it? Or should one keep it in case it's useful, or might bring joy, at some point in the future. The former means accumulating things. The latter means you might have to re-buy something you once had, and then have to decide whether to keep or let go the replacement once you've used it.
- Travelling light has become something of an internet meme. People set themselves challenges to travel for months carrying only hand-luggage, or less. (And airlines add to the attractions of no-luggage travel with their charges and fines and draconian and unfathomable rules on size and weight). And of course it's possible. And often rewarding. But it does depend on what kind of travelling one's thinking of doing, and having a certain amount of money. Ultra-light travel often depends on there being ample services – clothes washing, internet, roofs, heated rooms, transport, indoor entertainment, food – available for hire at your destination.
- Ultra-light travel does depend to on a certain casualness when it comes to dress and kit for doing anything other than being a tourist. Jeans, sneakers and sweatshirts are fine pretty much anywhere in the world but sometimes you need something smart or roughly the right clothes for riding a horse, hiking, kayaking or whatever. Either one hires the right kit and clothing or one extemporises or one does without.
- Doing without something is the lightest travel of all. There's a tendency to pack for trips – and for life – to meet all possible situations. But that means carrying an infinite amount of stuff to meet an infinite number of possible scenarios. One can't carry nor own everything one might ever need, for a trip or for life. So..
If you can't take everything, then why take anything?