What’s in Your Backpack?

“The slower we move, the faster we die. Moving is living.” –From the film “Up in the Air”

In 2009 George Clooney starred in a movie called “Up in the Air“. The movie is about Ryan Bingham, a “Human Resources Consultant” whose job it is to travel around the country and fire people for various different companies, who do not want to deal with the emotional ordeal of letting countless people go. He leads an empty life out of a suitcase, until his company does the unexpected: they ground him.

Why am mentioning this movie? What on earth does this have to with our trip? Well, if you simply look at the plot of the movie, then indeed, it doesn’t make much sense. But if you’ve seen the movie, then you might remember a long speech that Ryan Bingham gives during the movie. This moment in the movie is particularly popular amongst the “Minimalist” movement. It’s an ode to the eternal nomad, an argument for traveling light. However, as much as the message it delivers is a pragmatic one, it also contains some selfish elements of disconnectedness.

The latter is NOT what I want to talk about. I would like to focus on the FORMER.

It’s an ode to the eternal nomad, an argument for traveling light.

But first, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page and we all know what the hell I’m talking about. Here’s a YouTube video with the full speech, as well as a transcript of it.

How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel ’em? Now I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. You start with the little things. The things on shelves and in drawers, the knick-knacks, the collectibles. Feel the weight as that adds up. Then you start adding larger stuff, clothes, table-top appliances, lamps, linens, your TV.

The backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. And you go bigger. Your couch, bed, your kitchen table. Stuff it all in there. Your car, get it in there. Your home, whether it’s a studio apartment or a two bedroom house. I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now try to walk. It’s kind of hard, isn’t it? This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis. We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. And make no mistake, moving is living.

Now, I’m gonna set that backpack on fire. What do you want to take out of it? What do you want to take out of it? Photos? Photos are for people who can’t remember. Drink some ginkgo and let the photos burn. In fact, let everything burn and imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing. It’s kind of exhilarating, isn’t it?

Now, this is gonna be a little difficult, so stay with me. You have a new backpack. Only this time, I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office, and then you move into the people that you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, your brothers, your sisters, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend or your girlfriend.

You get them into that backpack. And don’t worry. I’m not gonna ask you to light it on fire. Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake – your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders?

– Up in the Air

The Absence of Useless Sh*t

I’m an avid supporter of traveling light. Whilst I’m not a full-blown minimalist, I do appreciate the absence of useless stuff. Having grown up moving around A LOT and having spent the greater part of my life abroad, I’ve come to learn that useless stuff ties you down. It’s unnecessary weight. It slows you down. And when you need to move quickly, it’s an anchor…whether you like it or not. That is why I’ve always tried to keep objects without any purpose and meaning out of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I also have emotional attachments to certain things. And those I keep, despite their impracticality. But anything else, I really need to ask myself whether it “sparks joy” (as Maria Kondo would say – before you ask, I only watched 2 of her TV episodes and I’m only quoting this because many people can relate to the show). I’ve also tried to do the same with most of my financial commitments, including my businesses.

Anyway, as you may imagine, packing for a trip around the world is an interesting challenge for me. What do I REALLY need? What is TRULY useful? And what will I take along because it helps me achieve a specific objective that I have set for myself. The photo you see here documents everything that I am taking along, with the exception of the clothes that I am wearing. The total weight of this bag is just under 17 kg.

It’s surprising how little you actually need on a daily basis.

I must confess that since taking this photo I’ve thrown out the umbrella as well as the first aid kit. Why? I can buy an umbrella anywhere in the world. I also won’t need it all the time. First aid kits are useful, however if you have a look at their contents, a lot of it is redundant and something you could easily get at any local pharmacy. If I were going on a trek through the jungle, then I might consider it. But I’m not. At least not in the immediate future.

It’s also quite fascinating what you can fit into the right kind of backpack.

Instead I’ve packed an additional piece of technical gear. Actually, gear and gadgets probably make up two thirds of my bag. Sounds excessive? Perhaps. But for MY objective, it’s precisely what I need. You see, one of the objectives I’ve set myself for this year, is that I would like to learn/teach myself how to do some proper video editing.

I know it’s cliché, but I’ve been creating stuff all my life. What better occasion than a trip around the world? I have all the software I need for that. But very often the quality of your video editing is also a function of the quality of the footage you record. And although most modern smartphone cameras have relatively advanced video stabilisation, nothing beats a proper Gimbal. I got myself the excellent Zhiyun Smooth Q2, which is very compact, but it’s still 0.5 kg. So I needed to set some priorities.

So What Am I Taking Along?

Aside from the predictable set of photography-oriented gear, I’ve also had to take into consideration the fact that despite being on a trip around the world, I will still be working throughout the entire time. Although I don’t need to adhere to any classic working hours, I still need to invest some time into managing and developing my current business and of course, I need to pay the 14 freelancers whom we work with on a weekly basis. Running a business that goes beyond just yourself comes with a wholly different set of responsibilities.

So what’s crucial for me? Productivity and connectivity. I sincerely despise working on a laptop, even a MacBook Pro. It’s neither healthy nor particularly productive. I truly harness my full productivity when I have the largest screen you can think of and when I do not need to resort to the epic fail, which the resoundingly shitty butterfly keyboard of the 2016 MacBook is. Give me a mouse and a proper keyboard with comfortable key travel and I’ll rip through work.

This little baby turns any decent desk into an absolutely acceptable workstation.

Now, obviously I won’t be taking a full workstation with me. So I need to deal with the situation differently. A travel-sized keyboard, a mouse and a separate bag (the grey one in the top right corner) with more plugs and cables than you can imagine, form the foundation. But the real game-changer for me is the portable laptop stand. Before getting one of my own I had seen them countless times and I had never quite understood what the benefit of these simple constructs is. Clearly I had been missing out BIG TIME. Putting your laptop on one of these is guaranteed to make you look like an Alien in a coffee shop. But the difference is literally night and day. It essentially converts your laptop into a monitor, at just the right height to make you feel like you’re in a semi-decent office setup.

The piece of hardware which most of you may not have successfully identified on the photo is the solar panel setup from a company called Voltaic. By now I’m sure some of you might be thinking I’m insane. And maybe I am. But like I said, I will need to work during our trip and that means I will need a power source. There is absolutely no guarantee that I will always have the ability to charge my laptop. I also know that we won’t always have sun, but I don’t want to limit myself in terms of going “off the grid” so that’s a risk I’m willing to take.

If I really want to go off-the-grid in New Zealand, then this is what I’ll need to keep things running.

I’m sure some of you have already tested some of these solar chargers and probably came to the conclusion that they’re crap. And that’s specifically why I chose the Voltaic because it’s not just your run-of-the-mill solar charger. They don’t even sell here in Europe at mainstream dealers. There are only 3 resellers in Europe and I had to get this shipped from the Netherlands. This thing is basically currently the go-to device if you want to charge your devices (and most importantly….your laptop!) in remote areas. It’s used by people who work for NGOs in with middle of nowhere and it has rocked their world due to how powerful it is. Hamburg in winter obviously isn’t the best place to test it, but I’m sure I’ll have enough opportunities to put it to good use.

Maybe I’m Crazy…

…but you know what? I don’t care. If this is what I think I’ll need, then that’s what I’ll work with. And if I eventually come to the conclusion that it’s useless or just overkill, then that’s fine as well. I’ll drop the weight, ship it back home to my family and keep going with less weight.

Afterall, as Ryan Bingham (aka George Clooney) said, the slower we move, the faster we die.

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