No one knows the exact number of times a hermit crab may change shells during its lifetime. A growth spurt inspires the move one month; a washed up, uninhabited shell proves temptation for a transition several months later. Next time, maybe the crustacean merely gives in to restlessness.
And though we often parallel a traveler to a crab, transforming his protective shell into our sturdy nylon backpack, we are different from these house-hunters. It is not so much what we carry on our back that distinguishes us, but the things inside its secret pockets and smushed at its bottom, which bring us comfort and support.
These are the things that I now unpack and place around our first home.They – I – may not always be here; but when I do seek out a new roof, a few special items will come with me. These are the things that hint a traveler dwells within the walls:
- Tourism posters and maps are the main decorations; even when framed, these geographical designs fail to hide the thumb prints, creases and tears of documents carted for miles with much-used respect.
- And only the somewhat rooted traveler puts up a frame. For those inhabitants with a short-term lease, the decorations are tacked to walls and marred by the sticky-tack stains of a hundred previous hangings. Their very scars suggest sudden movement.
- A scribbled list on a fridge or a notebook, pen nearby to scratch bold ‘X’s across hand-drawn check boxes: Bucket List for (insert current location).
- And maybe somewhere else on the fridge, fuzzy postmarks on well-aired postcards – mostly from the friends you’ve met abroad, but one or two with a message on back, unsent, its addressee waiting for a message that will never arrive.
- Books. Lots of books, familiar orange Penguin stripes and less-obvious faded covers, swapped from hostel shelves.
- Or maybe, depending on the owner’s predilection for the Kindle and overweight luggage, just a few books. But these, too, are dirty and soiled.
- Perhaps some are extra large coffee table books, purchased in the days before digital cameras. They rest across equally out-dated photo albums, patiently willing a guest to ask “And didn’t you spend time in (insert country)?”
- Maybe a displayed collection of cheap souvenirs: magnets, key chains, shot glasses. Things that are easy to carry and read like an extended itinerary of past destinations.
- In the kitchen, a space crammed with assorted cookbooks and unfamiliar spices – the kind you can’t purchase at the grocery store, but must seek out at Asian markets and online sites. “Oh, this (insert herb)? I found this at that little African stall downtown”
- In the medicine cabinet, a collection of foreign pharmaceutical goods with indecipherable labels in other languages. If they have labels at all. Tiger Balm, that bottomless pot of cure-everything-ointment, within easy reach at the front.
- Pinches of Adriatic Sea sand, or the handful of Pacific Ocean shells somewhere in the bathroom. A pain to dust around, but you know the memories associated with them don’t belong in a garbage can.
- That quick-dry towel, covered in salt water stains, or the moldy old hanging toiletries bag probably does belong in the rubbish; but you’re so used to using them, why waste money on new ones?
- The furniture and white ware in the house is a mix of newly-purchased goods, Salvation Army bargains and friendly donations. Up-cycling isn’t hipster, it’s cost effective – $5 saved is $5 for your next holiday. And didn’t you always say you you’d return from your last trip with a traveler’s detachment from material possessions?
- Not that this stops you from counting coins into the piggy bank or washed-out pasta sauce jar. A visible savings bank is visual motivation to keep dreaming of distant shores.
- Shoes lined up near the front door, indicating the acceptance of bare feet inside. Whether from earlier cultural experiences or simple attachment to the appendages that carried you, toes are welcome to wiggle free in your home.
- Much to the chagrin of friends and family, you can’t ever have a normal dinner party; the menu always comes with a theme, the meal always begins with “Oh, this is just something we tried in (insert family-owned restaurant in random place)".
Originally published on Too Mutch For Words.