Whether you pack from atop the laundry pile at the last minute, or begin shopping and list-making months in advance, the final “click” of a closed and ready-to-depart suitcase is a thrilling sound. It means it’s time to go, and going is great.
As an openly confessed travel-aholic, I love almost every aspect of traveling. I’m on a constant quest to go farther and longer on each voyage. But whether its two weeks in Rio or four days in San Antonio, all trips have at least one thing in common: you must pack.
First is the luggage question. Size, expense, style, flexibility and durability all come into play. For overseas trips, I used to use the biggest thing I could find. For several years I carried a floral brocade case that stood fully waist high. And while I could always fit everything into it, I often could not carry it. Then came a trip to France that included daily rain and temperatures much colder than I had planned. I packed a dozen summer dresses, including a dazzling black beaded affair, with shoes to match. You can easily imagine the trip I expected to be having. Alas, I trudged all over Paris, day after day, in my clunky black Doc Marten shoes and black jeans. When I returned, I discovered that fully half of my suitcase was undisturbed. I drug that heavy beaded dress all over France, along with all that other stuff, that was not worn even once!
Resolved to make a change, I watched Rick Steves’ packing tips. He’s got great ideas, but six weeks in Europe with just a backpack? I’m not there yet.
I have learned to believe the weather reports and pack not for the trip I’m dreaming of having but for the trip I will actually be on. I study the itinerary or list of things I hope to do, then try to make suitable choices. I still pack a glamorous little black dress, but now I take a simple nylon sheath that weighs nothing and dress it up with a piece of jewelry bought along the way. I have learned to wash out a few garments in the hotel bathroom or schedule a quiet morning for laundry. And if you want to discover the “real” people who live in a tourist-heavy area, a few hours in the coin-laundromat will take you right to the heart of a culture and community.
From Rick I did learn to anticipate the grocery store experience in other countries. I don’t need a giant supply of toiletries in advance, and it is fun to see how other people solve the same human problems we all have. Now my travel kit has Colgate from Italy, sunscreen from Spain, and hand lotion from Greece.
I’ve also learned that it is okay to pack things that you don’t intend to bring back with you. On one of our student trips we had the amazing good fortune to participate in an archaeological dig on the Appian Way south of Rome. We knew it would be as muddy as it was wonderful, so we all brought tennis shoes and work clothes that we didn’t plan to bring home. After the dig, I cleaned the mud off my shoes and pants as much as possible, and left them in the room for the maid. I knew that several people on the cleaning staff were immigrants from desperate regions of Africa. I thought they might know someone who could still make use of a pair of lightly used shoes, and so a convenience for my students and I perhaps ended up helping someone else.
So I plan, shop, and make lists for big trips. I savor the prospect and imagine the experience a dozen times in advance. Pulling out the suitcases excites my little dogs as well as the family. Laundry, folding, arranging, rejecting and rearranging; it all comes down to one thing: Anticipation.
Time to go.