The Art of Packing

“You know they have stores there?” I heard from the other side of my bedroom, as an unnamed critic watched me pack for a recent trip. “We’re not going to the remote wilderness, we’re going to Las Vegas.”

“But what if it rains?” I countered. “What if we go to a fancy dinner?”

“Stores, remember?”

“And what if I’m cold? I’ll need a sweater, but if it’s cold the night we go to a fancy dinner I can’t wear that sweater, so I’ll need my jacket.”

As it turns out, I returned from the four-day trip with two shirts and a dress I never wore, and one pair of pants I could have done without. The sweater never left the suitcase, either. Blame my overloading on the fact that we decided to check in a bag; a move that affords us a lot more space than just a carry-on.

To be honest, I haven’t the slightest clue how people get away with taking a trip with only a carry-on bag, overnight, maybe. But by the time I get my clothes in there, plus a toiletry bag, hair tools, shoes – how is it possible to fit everything you need to live and look presentable for four days on vacation, into a tiny bag? It’s mystifying to me.

It should be taken into account that not everything in my toiletry bag is mine, either – a lot of it is used by the critic on the other side of the room. Yes, it contains various hair products he doesn’t need and several lotions he doesn’t understand, but it also contains toothpaste, mouthwash, floss, shampoo, body wash, ibuprofen, Tums, a small mirror, and countless other items for which he would have to interrupt this vacation and find a drug store, if his prudent wife didn’t have them in her toiletry bag.

The skill of fitting everything you need into a suitcase is a fine art. I don’t travel regularly, but I do usually have to pack for at least a few over-nighters and, if I’m lucky, the occasional days-long vacation. All in all I’m feeling pretty confident about my packing skills at this stage of my life, especially in comparison to years ago when I would just pack everything I could conceivably need. I have yet to master it, though; because I also succumb to self-deception.

For instance, I almost always pack a bathing suit, in case I go to the pool. Now you have to bear in mind that I have a pool at my house, and I have been in said pool a total of one time in the six years we’ve had it. So why I think I’m going to leave home and suddenly develop an affinity to wade in chlorinated water, is beyond me, but I do it every time.

Another overly-optimistic practice I tend toward is packing gym clothes, hoping to squeeze in a half hour on the treadmill between sightseeing and eating. (Spoiler alert: it’s always more eating than sightseeing.) Knowing I’ve brought them along makes me feel in control, a woman who knows how to balance indulgence with the recommended weekly cardio. But the truth is, I have never once made use of a hotel gym, in my life.

When it comes to packing, I envy men. I’ve never seen my husband stress over shoes, suffer through frustrating mix-and-match sessions, or worry about the availability of a blow-dryer. I’ve watched him pack in 10 minutes for a week-long trip to another country.

After our last trip, I gave some thought to the many ways people prepare for journeys. It occurred to me that there are different kinds of packers. The everything-but-the-kitchen-sink packers can’t help themselves. They want to be prepared for every eventuality. What if it snows? What if my allergies flare up? What if I’m invited to the queen’s ball? Their suitcases become movable closets.

Minimalists, on the other hand, can survive for weeks on one pair of shoes, two bottoms and three tops. Makeup is optional, and they scoff at people who drag the ton of vanity items me. They’re space-maximizers with a penchant for versatile clothing and a butcher’s feel for cutting the fat. Efficient.

I’m envious of those packers. I am closer to the former than the latter, I’m afraid, though I fancy myself somewhere in the middle of two extremes.

I’m not worried about this, though. The great thing about striving to become a better packer is that it requires practice. And you get that only by traveling more.

Not a bad deal, if you ask me.