My Love-Hate Relationship with Packing for a Trip

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Again. Top of my list of things to do this week is pack a suitcase. I do this often enough that it should not be difficult, but it really is never easy. Despite the fact that I pride myself on being organized and a meticulous planner, I still always feel a little doubt that I remembered everything or made the proper choices. Despite never showing up at the airport with an overweight bag or to the hotel missing a toothbrush, I still check and double check each time I pack. Add in the actual physical aspect of dragging out the suitcase along with the bending and lifting and digging through closets and drawers, packing can be a true pain. That pretty much summarizes the hate part. The love part is knowing I am doing something to make this trip just a little smoother and problem free and feeling good about that accomplishment.

It begins with the schedule. Once I know a trip is on the calendar and how many days it will be, I begin my mental planning. Will it be out of the country or close to home? Will I be going along or will just my husband be traveling? Will it be mostly meetings requiring only dress type business clothes or will more casual clothes be needed? Will it be for one night, one week, or even more than a month? What is the weather like at the destination? Will it be by air or by car? What type of room accommodations are booked? So many factors to consider before I can even pack that first pair of socks.

Once I have properly researched the destination, taking into consideration any travel warnings if the trip is overseas and any special customs or immigration requirements (believe me, you do not want to arrive in the customs line in Australia with dried fruit candy from the plane), I move on to researching the mode of transportation. By air, I read the checked baggage and carry on restrictions for the carrier and the destination. These are not always the same and rules can change at any time. The number of flight segments, length of time between connections, and overall travel time is a factor. Upon arrival, the size of vehicle can be an issue if there will be more than one person traveling together because that rental has only so much trunk space to be shared.  This process can sometimes be complicated and take several hours, but usually it is a quick part of the trip preparation.

Lists come next. I am a big list person. Lists of things to do. Lists of questions to get answers to if there are still details about the trip I need to know. Lists of what to pack. From prepaid calling cards in case communication by the expected means fails to that extra pair of underwear I tuck away in the carry-on bag, it is all on the list. From hand wipes for the plane to an extra plastic bag for the return trip liquids, I try to consider anything that contributes to safety, health and comfort. I prefer the trips when I get to tag along. Not only so we do not have to be apart or so I can visit someplace new, but so I can be there to do all the little things I just do to make life a little easier. When I cannot, I admit I can be a little anal in my attempts to be sure my husband has everything he is likely to need and some of the things it could be difficult to attain if the unexpected happened.

Several days prior to departure, I pull out the luggage and also pull out my stock of travel toiletries. I have learned to stay stocked on small sized shampoos, deodorants, shaving gel, and more. I keep tiny bottles for a few aspirin and allergy pills. Tiny packs of tissues, mints and mini candy bars, and even laundry sheets for longer trips fill the floor of the closet in our guest bedroom. I have learned that each trip is just a little different than the one before so I attempt to keep a small variety of sizes and items on hand to make packing easier and appropriate for the needs each time. Next, I pack the single clear plastic bag of tiny liquids necessary for the carry-on bag. If it is a short trip and only carry-on luggage is the plan, this can be extremely difficult. Cramming shampoo, face cleanser, deodorant, shaving gel, hair gel, body wash, toothpaste, mouthwash, and nasal spray all in one quart sized bag is a challenge. It is not easy to find those little travel size products in the brands we prefer or the variety/scent. And so many are fat little stubby bottles. Hint to you manufacturers, the skinny bottles are much easier to pack. Yes, most hotels provide at least some of these items – but their fruity or flowery scents are not always ideal. If the trip is across the world, it means your travel will extend from one day to the next. Better pack some lip balm and a travel pillow at least. Plus you need more magazines or books. Trust me, once you have been on a trip that takes over twenty-four hours, you realize just how many things you wish you could have at your fingertips on the flight. If possible, for a long journey, I try to pack a simple change of clothes—socks, underwear, shirt, and light weight sweats. Wearing the same clothes for a full day of air travel is bad enough; having to wear them the next day if you get stuck at the airport or your luggage is lost, is unimaginable. 

My husband handles all the electronics and business paperwork he plans to take along and selects his clothes, and the final step of packing is trying to delicately pack the long sleeved shirts, slacks and ties so they will arrive wrinkle free. It seems more often than not, my original choice of suitcase will end up being the wrong one. I always try to use the smallest that will handle the load. With weight restrictions and just the hassle of something bigger and heavier, the smaller is usually the better. But that is a challenge, too.  I usually pack and start over at least once. And if I am going along, there is no doubt I will end up having to pull out and slim down my items several times. I always think I am being conservative when I pull out my clothes and personal products, but they always seem to take more room than I have allotted. I have not mastered the mix and match, wear it more than once style of packing recommended in magazine articles. Seems easier said than done. And since I usually manage to get a spot on my shirt, I certainly cannot count on wearing anything twice.

This is a general rundown of the work involved. The clothes, the toiletries, the emergency “go to” items are covered, but that is only part of the story. It may sound silly, but as I fold the shirts and the underwear preparing to say goodbye to my husband for yet another trip, I also pack a little of my heart. I know he does not need me to do all this. He certainly packed before I came along. While I believe I have made his trips better with my planning and preparation, I know that most trips would have gone just fine without my input. Still, I do it because I love him. I love being his partner in life, even when he is away. And packing is something I can do to be a part of those trips that leave me behind. Like this one. This time he is traveling to Brazil. He will be gone only a week, thankfully, but it is still so very far away. I still hope and pray that he does not get sick or need me and I will be unable to get to him quickly.  I hope and pray nothing happens and I need him. Separation is not something I fear, but when the distance is great, it does leave me with some uneasiness.

So, as I put the socks, the underwear and the tie together that he has chosen to wear with each shirt and pair of pants and pack them so it is easy to unpack, I think of it saving him just a little time and frustration after a long and tiring flight. As I pack my notes with the phone number for the best hospital in the area and the US Consulate’s office information, I am reassured that I have done what I can to get him assistance quickly if he needs it. As I pack the pain relievers or the cold pills, I hope that if he needs one of these things, it will bring him relief much faster than if he had to take the time to hunt down a drug store in a strange place. As I pack a mini candy bar and gum, I anticipate that if he decides he would like a quick treat, he will know he has it. And as I mark off every last item on each of my lists, I pray that he will be safe—that the hotel room will be comfortable so he can rest, that his flights will be on time and problem free , that his work will go well, that the internet connection and speed is good so we can talk cheap, and that if he faces any delays, it will not be more than the one day I have allowed for by packing that extra set of clothing (something he would never do). I guess I am packing my love and my support. It is not easy to show when you are so far away from each other, so I hope when he opens the suitcase or the carry-on bag and finds just what he needs or hoped would be there, that he will think of me and remember that I have taken the time to do what I can to make life on the road just a little easier.

This week, I again will pack the last dress shirt, then zip up the bag and hope for the best. And when that bag is loaded onto the plane to another country, it will not contain just clothing and personal goods. In that bag will be my thoughts, my efforts, and little pieces of me tucked away with all the necessities. In that bag will be the only thing I can do to participate in the success of this latest trip, along with a little note of love and best wishes. And when that bag returns, full of smelly dirty clothes and mostly used toiletries, I will welcome the job of unpacking again, knowing he has returned home safely and that my job was well done. And I will hope the need to pack that next suitcase will not come along too soon.


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