In a few hours, I will be getting on a plane bound for Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. For six weeks, I will be living in Copacabana with a 76-year-old woman named Jô and taking classes at the Instituto Brasil-Estados Unidos in Portuguese language and Brazilian culture — subjects that I am truly passionate about.

It started when I was 14. We took a family trip to Belize and I remember deciding then that what I wanted to do with my life wasn’t a specific job or a career, it was a place. I fell in love with Latin America — the landscape, the people and the culture. I want to work and travel there as much as possible after graduation, so I can’t imagine a better way to spend my summer. I’m starting to feel all the excitement!

Now that I have my plane tickets, vaccines and visas, there’s really only one thing left on my to-do list — packing. Until now, I’ve done an excellent job of putting off the daunting task, but the procrastination must end. My bags, clothes and books are a massive heap on my floor, but with the help of some special reasoning and my characteristic spreadsheets, I know I can get the necessary belongings to fit into my allotted baggage space, hopefully without leaving anything too important behind.

I’m a notoriously heavy packer, but I’m not unreasonable. My general rule of thumb is, if I can carry it by myself, I can take it. If I’m not able to maintain the sustained mobility of my bags and my person, independent of outside assistance, then I am bringing too much junk.

However, the prepaid 50 pound suitcase, medium-sized carry on, and small personal item that each passenger is allowed is not all that I am bringing with me. As I look at all of the stuff that I’ve decided to pack, I’m reminded of the more pedestrian definition of the term “baggage.” Urban Dictionary defines “baggage” as, “An issue regarding a person’s past that can affect their current disposition: addictions, debt, diseases, bad habits, past relationships.” Typically used in reference to the “damage” somebody brings into a new relationship, “baggage” in this sense of the word usually carries a negative connotation.

I freely admit to being a coffee addict, being a little weighed down by student loans and too often dwelling outside of the present. I know that being alone in a new place will bring up insecurities about making friends. I know that my previous experiences with people will inform many of my initial perceptions. I know there may be moments of weakness when I wish certain people were there beside me. Just like every other human being, I have baggage.

But in my opinion, a little extra baggage, literal or figurative, doesn’t have to be a bad thing. A journey is a beautiful escape that is also simultaneously and unavoidably colored by our past. I don’t regret anything that I ever learned from, especially if it also made me smile.

I’m bringing a lot with me, but it’s only a problem if I let it weigh me down.  This trip is for me. I want to return trilingual. I want to gain more confidence and maybe even some new sense of clarity. I’m excited for a fresh start in a new place but I’m running toward something incredible instead of running away from anything here at home.

Unlike my three tightly packed, allotted bags, emotional baggage is not something I have to carry alone. I’m grateful to all the people who have helped me get to this point and for all the people who will be there for me when I get where I’m going. I’m gathering up all my baggage, and then it’s off to Brazil.

Allison Hillsbery is a rising sophomore in the McDonough School of Business. Ready for Rio appears every other Monday at

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