How do you like to pack for a trip?
I pack in a methodical and focused way – and my husband typically makes fun of me for it. I have to try on every outfit and plan which shoes will go with what. I make checklists on my phone and gather the items on the list on my bed and fold them into nice piles before putting them inside my suitcase. Upon writing this I realize I may be a little OCD when it comes to packing – but I’m always prepared. If the evenings are cool or the air conditioning blasts in the hotel room, I always have a sweater. If the humidity peaks beyond weather predictions, I simply take off a layer. Blisters from my shoes? Not a problem; I’ve packed back up runners and sandals.
What all this equates to is one heavy load when I travel.
On my honeymoon seven years ago, my husband grumbled as he hauled my two large suitcases, just for me, up and down the stairs to the subway in London, England. He really does love me. Since then, after having three children, packing is still a conundrum. Now my excess bags contain children’s books, toys, and diapers. I’ve learned the hard way to always pack more than enough diapers.
Two months ago I headed to Chicago to speak at a conference and I thought I’d be a little risky. Banking on the fact that most hotel rooms have hairdryers, I left mine at home. I also chose to bring only open toed shoes. A rebel, I know! The trip was a success, except for a few evenings where my sandaled feet got wet in the rain.
Recently I traveled to Toronto for work and, since I was only staying one night, I felt bold enough to step up my packing game. It was scary at first, but I decided to limit myself to my large shoulder bag – no suitcase. I happened to have small plastic make-up containers where I squirted moisturizer and foundation. I packed travel size toothpaste and a mini hairspray bottle, all under 100 ml. It felt like a fun challenge to pack light and I was so proud when everything fit, despite weighing about twenty-five pounds. Being a pro at carrying my similarly weighted two-year-old, I figured I could handle the shoulder bag.
The load did give me a crank in the neck, but the reward of packing light was an amazing carefree feeling, one I had never experienced before while traveling. Checking in at the airport was a breeze; I visited the ticketing machine and then headed right to security. When it was time to get off the plane, I didn’t have to wait at the baggage carrousel. I just left the building.
In anticipation for another business trip in two weeks, I am again challenging myself with packing. This time I will be in Amsterdam for ten days, traveling by planes and trains and automobiles – oh my! I have not been to Europe since my honeymoon seven years ago, but this time I won’t have my strong husband to lift my bags. I’m already preparing for the trip, buying travel sized bathroom necessities and mentally compiling and then narrowing down my wardrobe.
I’ve always worried, “What if I need something?” Yet, I think of my friend Sarah who hiked the Camino de Santiago last summer with only a backpack worth of belongings. Her trip took 24 days and at the end of it she reflected, “The first thing I thought when I got back home is, ‘I have way too much stuff, I don’t need this much stuff.’” Her trip was physically demanding, but in the end a spiritual journey as well. Sarah’s revelation has been nagging me, both with packing and in life.
Not only am I a heavy packer when it comes to luggage, but also emotions, memories and hurt. With each and every item I am planning for my Amsterdam trip, I’m also consciously thinking about my life, wondering what emotional baggage is worth carrying around with me and what are the things I’d like to leave behind. As I envision my next trip I see myself jumping onto trains at the last instant before they speed away, hiking all over the city visiting museums and historic sites, and presenting at the conference without aching muscles from toting heavy bags.
As I think about my life, I hope for the same sort of freedom. I don’t want to be so burdened by painful events or the hurtful words of the ghosts from my past that I miss out on living, miss out on the multitude of amazing experiences available each and every day. It is within my power what I choose to lug around with me. This is a sobering realization – yet the desire to live a carefree life, just like traveling light, is too tempting to continue on in the same way I always have.
Packing is a good analogy for life. Are we carefree and light, or do we take on burdens, adding them to our load? For me, I’m choosing to pack less shoes and back-up clothing, along with letting go of many of the other kinds of baggage that weighs me down. It sound’s cliché, but we have one life to live so why not make it the trip of a lifetime?