By Sonya Dubinina


I’ve seen Up in The Air way too many times. I’ve analyzed the hell out of it and feel like Ryan is my recluse brother and Alex is my secretive sister. Natalie is my petulant child. But she’ll be alright, we all know it.

If you haven’t seen this film, do it! If you have, you may remember Ryan’s “Empty backpack” speech. I despise that speech because it’s so misguided, and I am curious to know what the hell happened to Ryan in his childhood that he’s so anti-relationship. Here’s that speech for reference:

“How much does your life weigh? Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life… you start with the little things. The shelves, the drawers, the knickknacks, then you start adding larger stuff. Clothes, tabletop appliances, lamps, your TV… the backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. You go bigger. Your couch, your car, your home… I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now 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 you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your brothers, your sisters, your children, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend, your girlfriend. You get them into that backpack, feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.”

So now I ask you:

How much does your life weigh?

Imagine for a second that you’re allotted just one suitcase…

I, like Ryan Bingham, do want you to fill it with all the stuff in your life.

Lets start with the essentials: your passport with all the visas, your iPod with all the music and audiobooks, your camera with all the memory, your laptop.

Now, you’re leaving your country for an unknown length of time. What are you putting in that suitcase? What are you rolling through all those airports? What are you checking in? Hiking boots? That book you really want to re-read? All of your dancing shoes? The short skirts and dresses? All the perfume you’re sure they don’t sell overseas? Will you need three pairs of jeans or five? Running shoes? Perhaps a hair dryer?

Here’s what you do: pile up everything you think you need and then throw out half.

Believe me, the pair of jeans you’re wearing will do just fine. One. I know. You don’t need high heels because of all the cobblestone and get this, they sell shoes overseas! Unless you’re going to a remote place, you will be able to buy nice shoes if you so desire. It’s called globalization, we’ve all been getting used to it for a while now. Do wear some comfortable footwear. Even if you’re 20. Especially if you’re 20. A sweater or two, a windbreaker. An interview outfit if you’re going to look for work. Your favorite stuffed animal and a picture of grandma. But for Christ’s sake, do not pack appliances! They don’t work properly with converters most of the time and you’re wasting invaluable space. Also, they have umbrellas everywhere.

Now for the big stuff.

Are you traveling alone or with a partner? Are you pre-friending via the internet as a part of your relocation plan or just winging it when in town. Are you couch-surfing? Are you staying in a hostel? Make no mistake, you will get confused and lonely!

Call your parents, e-mail your friends, update your statuses, keep people in the loop. Don’t disappear just because you’ve moved, don’t give people the excuse to stop caring about you. And do make new acquaintances. The sooner you surround yourself with like-minded others, the better. Trust me, it’s a lot less stressful to look for the right metro stop (or for the metro itself) with a wingman/woman. You may have certain sensibilities they don’t, they might just have an eye and an ear for strange sounding/looking street names. Which is all of them.

I believe it to be an essential part of the expat experience to be able to vent to somebody in an equally bewildering situation. Your friends back home will sympathize but likely not have as good a clue about your troubles. Cry as convincingly as you might. Better yet, find somebody who’s been in your situation a year-two-three ago. Don’t be afraid to ask for their wisdom. Most people are happy to share.  Whatever you do, don’t go at it alone. Make friends, form a community, surround yourself with supporters.

Your relationships are important.  Cultivate the healthy ones, discard with the superfluous and unhealthy. Make the compromises, negotiate away, argue if you need to. Forget the goddamn backpack! You are not a shark! You are a normally functioning mammal with needs exceeding those of basic survival. Hell, who needs basic survival if it’s for a lonely dull existence?


Sonya found plenty of castles and a long snowy winter in Prague last year. Frankly, she just didn’t care to reminisce about being snowed in and animal skin-clad for 7 months out of the year, and so here she is – a lizard in the sun, the rising sun of Japan that is. She is now spending her days in Tokyo confused and often lost, mesmerized, and bewildered. 


One thought on “How much does your life weigh?

  1. Pingback: 13 Awesome Links to Make Your Friday Better | Foreign Holidays

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