2011.08.31 Packing my suitcase is not a piece of cake

Written by David Green.

By COLLEEN LEDDY

We don’t really get much mail at our house anymore. Recording our names on do not mail lists stemmed some of the tide, although credit card offers still arrive unwanted. 

But then Rosie spent the summer here, and besides Caroline, a flood of mail followed her. She and Taylor were responsible nomads and filed change of address cards at the post office. They even contacted everyone they do business with—including at least three magazine publishers.

Magazines are addressed so far in advance and Rosie didn’t have much warning on her future address, so an issue of each of their subscriptions arrived after her departure. 

I was relaying customer numbers from the magazines’ labels in an e-mail to her Monday night, when I decided to crack open one of them. An article titled, “How Not to Pack” caught my eye. According to my husband, the man who gets by packing only a pair of underwear and socks for a weekend trip, I have a serious packing problem.

It only feels serious when he isn’t along on journeys to help me schlep my stuff. Most of the time, when we travel by car, I don’t see what difference it makes if I pack five pairs of shoes for a weekend of at least five different shoe-wearing activities. 

And, socks and underwear? They’re so little—why not pack twice as many as the number of days you’ll be gone? OK, mine are not so little, not my underwear and not my size 11 foot coverings. But, relatively speaking? When you can stuff them in your shoes to save space? What’s the big deal? Especially if it rains every day and your socks get wet. What’s wrong with wanting dry feet?

I give a lot of thought to what gets loaded in my suitcase, so you can see why a headline like “How Not to Pack” might grab my immediate attention—even when I’ve just decided to make some kind of dessert because it seems like it’s been so long since we’ve had something good and delicious to eat (although, for me, it’s only been since Saturday night when I bought two dessert bars at the food co-op’s café and ate most of them before arriving home).

We’ve been eating stuff like brown rice and green beans and tomatoes and swiss chard and it’s just not filling me up. I tried the macrobiotic trick of ending a meal with raisins and even a dried apricot, but that just feels like someone’s being cruel. Kind of like how my kids probably felt when the Easter Bunny left the almond stuffed prunes in their baskets.

So, even though it’s Monday night and I belong down at the Observer, I’ve pulled out the ingredients for some kind of cake involving walnuts, almonds, cinnamon, nutmeg, blueberries, yogurt and oatmeal. And, then somehow, I end up at the greatest source of distraction known to attention surfeit adults, typing an e-mail to Rosie and falling upon “How Not to Pack,” by Peter Jon Lindberg, a travel writer with a propensity to overpack.

What a wonderful article! Which, I say even though I don’t have a third of the problem this guy does. But it’s just so nice to see my inclination to overpack articulated in black and white, eloquently, accurately—and hilariously. Here’s an excerpt:

“I’d like to say I was different in youth, carefree and light on my feet. But I was a terrible backpacker, too...For a Eurail trip in college I basically stuffed my entire dorm room into three...giant Eagle Creek duffel bags. None of the bags had wheels; for all my failures I was determined to stick to the spirit of backpacking, which seemed to be about Suspending One’s Belongings From One’s Person. And so...I secured all three bags to my body, front, rear, and side, until I resembled a lopsided bomb-squad technician, or a human battering ram. The simple act of entering a train compartment was like giving birth to myself.”

Later he writes, “Having options makes me happy.” And I think, “My gosh! That’s it! ‘Options!‘ ‘Options’ validated!” Because that is my whole point when I pack way more than I’ll need for a trip. It’s not just being prepared for every eventuality—I like having things to choose from. I bring some stuff knowing full well I might not wear it.

Before a recent overnight trip, David prodded me to fill just a small backpack. I balked, telling him that wasn’t enough.

“I know...you have to be prepared for rain...snow...fog,” he said.

Ha! Fog! What to wear for fog?! I’ll have to work on that.

By the way, the cake is delicious—and I’m really packing it in.

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