“Let’s get serious, do you really want a couch and a couple of dressers to keep you from what could be the best experience of your life?” – Sharaya Mikael to Ally Spotts in Packing Light
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When Allison Vesterfelt put out a call last month for bloggers to review her new book, Packing Light, I knew I had to sign up. As a self-described packrat from a family of same (we have more politely referred to ourselves as collectors), I had not a little curiosity over what “living life with less baggage” might feel like. Frankly, I think I was looking for hints about how to hold on to things both material and emotional less tightly.
I ended up with more.
In a refreshingly down to earth manner that makes readers feel as if they’re chatting with her in a coffee shop, Ally tells how, at the urging of her musician friend Sharaya Mikael, she gave up her comfortable yet routine, missing-something-life as a teacher in Portland, Oregon to embark with Sharaya on a six-month, 50-state road trip, writing and playing music for funds, staying with friends and friends of friends. Because, you see, yet another friend had asked her the question so beloved by life coaches: “What would you do with your life if you didn’t have to worry about money?”
Ally’s response: “I would drive across the country and write a book about it.” A nice but completely unrealistic thought, she adds.
Of precisely such unrealistic thoughts are books sometimes born.
I’ll be honest with you: I was a bit envious at first when I read how Ally was convinced to take the plunge, simply because I was pretty darn sure I’d never have the nerve. Two women alone, with limited funds, reliant at times on the kindness of strangers, not always knowing where or even if they would find a bed for the night, not to mention a meal? Let me get back to you on that.
From the obligatory visit to Mt. Rushmore (something of a letdown) to their first attempt at busking when funds are low and bookings non-existent (at least for several days), the journey is exhausting, exhilarating, frightening and frustrating. Inhibitions and possessions are jettisoned along the way. So is a budding relationship. A devout Christian, at times Ally sees direct examples of God’s provision and confirmation of what she believes she was created to do, while at others she longs to cry out that she is nothing but a fake, wondering how she can possibly go on blogging about the joys of “packing light” when letting go seems only to leave her empty-handed. And as her journey nears its close, she struggles with what to call herself – teacher? Road manager? Publicist? – as well as the eternal question of “What next?”
(If you want to know, and I hope you do, you can find out by entering my giveaway drawing as noted below, or here.)
The sole quibble I had with the book is that I would have liked to see photos, not just of the travelers but some of the places they visited. That’s easily remedied, however, by a visit to the blog Ally kept along the way, which also fills in many of the nitty-gritty details inherent in the journey.
All of us carry baggage of some sort. Some of it is necessary, some not. Learning to tell the difference is another matter. As Ally asks at one point: “Are there some things in life we should never let go of? Is learning to let go as important as learning to hold on? How do we know when to do which?”
Perhaps the most valuable lesson I took from her book was simply the nudge to ask these questions in the first place.
I’ve enjoyed Allison’s voice for over two years now, first in her blog as twenty-something-single Ally Spotts exploring dating and relationships, then, following her marriage to writer Darrell Vesterfelt (whom she met via that very blog), through her work as co-editor of Prodigal magazine. More than 20 years my junior, she’s had much to teach me. I expected the honest, vulnerable and insightful voice of her blog to ring just as true in this book – and I was not disappointed.
Four stars. Lucie says check it out.
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In a charming gesture from a simpler time, on the book’s final page is a copy of an old library check out card complete with “Date” and “Issued To” boxes. As a thank-you for reading, I’d like to take that reminder that this is a story for passing on, and offer a free copy of Packing Light to the winner of a random drawing. To be eligible, just leave a comment below with your name. I look forward to hearing from you!