Baggage claim


[words by Narina Exelby]

Someone – I don’t remember who – once said you can tell a lot about a woman by what she carries in her handbag. I don’t have one. But over the past year I’ve lived on the road, carrying my world in a kitbag. It’s taught me a lot about how obsessive and excessive we humans can be. I’ve realised how much importance we place on stuff, and how stuff can weigh us down. Emotionally and physically. This past year has been an exercise in letting go – of things, of feelings, of expectations – and it’s liberating to be set free. But there are some things I will always carry with me. Here’s what you’ll find in my bag:

1/ If I were to travel with only one item in my bag, it’d be a sarong. I usually have at least three, which are used for everything from curtains to towels, sheets, umbrellas and dresses. This one’s creased because because for the past two weeks it’s been wrapped around the gear stick of our rented (old) Feroza to fill in the gaps and stop hot air from blasting into the vehicle.

2/ I don’t like carrying a handbag and avoid it at all costs. But in case I have to use one, I keep this leather sling bag, which I bought in Marrakech, stashed in the bottom of my kitbag.

3/ This tin was a gift from my mum. It contains my first-aid kit, which I was going to store in a plastic container. Mom suggested I put it into an old tin instead, so we went to her favourite antique shop and after some rummaging, found this one. It means a lot to me: “South African Souvenir Assorted Sweets” it says, ironically right next to a photograph of Victoria Falls. My dad grew up in Zimbabwe, and he and Mom went to Vic Falls on honeymoon. On the back, it credits some of the images to Rhodesian Railways, where Dad worked a year or so as a stoker.

4/ I don’t wear a watch. I don’t like the feeling of having one my wrist, and I don’t like the idea of being bound by time. But this one was given to me a few years ago by someone very special, and I’ve always loved its design. I wear it when I fly, so that I can count down the hours until I land.

5/ Such a clever design, this elastic washing line. It’s travelled everywhere with me for the past 13 years.

6/ My family and friends called me Nuns; it’s a name I’ve carried for the past 35-odd years, since my brother, Roan, first babbled his version of “Narina”. So when my sister came across this tin, she bought it for me. This handy li’l tin stores all my small cables, earphones and pen-drives, and I think of Shale and Roan every time I see it.

7/ I bought my Swiss Army Knife in Switzerland – near Lucerne, I think – about 11 years ago. I’ve used the corkscrew most, and all the other bits have seized. If you know how to loosen them up, please let me know.

8/ Motto from my Girl Guide days: be prepared. And so I always have this torch in my bag or, if it’s really dark, next to my pillow.

9/ Mark gave me this notebook when I landed in Madrid last year. We’d fallen in love, and it was the first time we’d seen each other since the only time we’d met, more than 12 years before. That day was the beautiful turning point of a love story that perhaps I’ll tell one day.

10/ When my mum saw this little doll of an African mama at the South Africa/Zimbabwe border post, she remembered a piece I’d written for this blog about the babushka doll I bought in Moscow. Call me sentimental, but I carry this mama everywhere with me – a reminder of the people I love, of the beautiful place I come from, and that I was born to fly.

Please click here for more posts in our “Baggage Claim” series.


  • vicky says:

    I loved this – so interesting what we carry around the globe with us. I remember another ‘expose’ piece on what people kept in their car cubby holes (glove boxes). I think the most useful thing is, as you say, a sarong. It’s like MacGyver, only woven.

  • islandmomma says:

    Lovely post. Made me smile. Many years back, when social media was new I belonged to a group where the women members decided to do this, take a photo of their bag’s contents. I didn’t do it because I rarely use them either (I have one stashed away for “special” occasions, just big/small enough to take my camera!). Now I don’t feel so alone!

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