Monday, June 18, 2007

Emotional baggage

With all my heart, I hate packing a suitcase. Maybe it dates back to when I was eight years old, at summer camp, wondering why my clothes all smelled increasingly disgusting despite regular laundering. When I returned home and unpacked three weeks later, I discovered the sorry remains of an uneaten banana deep in the bottom of my suitcase. Some things leave a scar.

No matter how much I travel, no matter how old and experienced I get, I still hate packing. My mantra has always been: travel light, or suffer. I was the minimalist packer who, like Mr Bean, snapped her toothbrush in half to cut down on weight. I’ve travelled for five weeks off one small knapsack, and only smelled a little bit. But the downside is that I invariably overlook some essential item. When I step out overnight I forget my nightie. At the beach I forget my hat. In the mountains I forget my socks. When I go rafting, I forget my towel. Even if I’m at home and going out for dinner, I forget my house keys. It’s like a rule.

Electronics compound the problem. If the phone made it into the suitcase, the charger didn’t. If the charger did, the adapter plug didn’t. I once lugged my laptop all the way to Seychelles only to discover that it was out of battery and the charger was on my desk at home.

And now I overcompensate by packing too much. Apparently surveys, conducted by crazy people who bother to conduct such surveys, show that women tend to over-pack in order to be prepared for any eventuality from floods to ice age, from slob-fest to a ball at the palace hosted by the Queen herself. And indeed, of late, whenever I travel for work, I notice that my packing is fraught with anxiety of an elderly, feminine kind, prickling with uncertainty about weather and protocol.

It will be hot, so I’d better take some sleeveless shirts, but I’m going onward to a cooler place so I should take a jacket, but that won’t work together, so how about some in between stuff, and I’m a Teva kind of girl but maybe closed shoes will be needed. I only have one pair of jeans, but suppose they get wet? Better take something else, except I don’t have anything else. [Interlude: if time permits, shoot out and buy the first thing that doesn’t really fit; though, usually, time doesn’t permit.] Will I have time to use the laptop? How much of my novel do I expect to get through? Is there a gym? Should I bother taking my sneakers? Will there be a businessy kind of meal?

You know how they pack in the movies—fling open cupboard; snatch suitcase which is mysteriously not dusty and full of old nails; grab handful of unidentifiable cloth and chuck it in while shouting coherently at spouse/lover/family member; slam lid of suitcase, no locks, no tags, no clipping on of the little clips; and stomp out, swinging suitcase to shoulder height? Well, they make that stuff up.

I know a woman who travels almost every month, and who still, every time, is reduced to paralysis at the thought of having to pack; she stands rigidly in one spot while her husband, who is very patient, gently repeats to her: “Remember, the suitcase is not your enemy.” She’s thinking, in her own words: “Should I take my favourite undies because I like them, or the bad ones because I won’t mind if they get lost?”

I hear you, sister.

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