By MARILYN SHAPIRO
I have friends who have the art of packing down to a science. When you travel as frequently as some of the people that I know, it is no surprise when you see them rock up to the airport carrying something like a suitcase with charger. Not only that, but no matter where they go or how long they stay, they manage to fit everything into a shove-into-the-overhead bin carry-on. Part of their strategy is resourcefulness, and part is just bad experience: his luggage was lost twice on the way to their destination, and they vowed never to be in that situation again.
I, the proverbial schlepper, can’t even go to the supermarket with less than a trunkful. Shopping lists and coupons. Shopping bags. Ice packs. Light jacket (Why do supermarkets have to keep their stores so cold?). Raincoat. Water bottle. Library books to drop off on the way home. The trunk is filled before I even back out of the driveway.
My purse alone could keep me going for a week. I am absolutely addicted to those click baits on the Internet that list everything one should carry at all times. Along with the regulars—keys, wallet, cell phone, sunglasses, regular glasses for driving, hand sanitizer, lip gloss—I come fully prepared for minor emergencies. I also have: A charger and headphones in case my phone battery dies. A small pad of paper and a pencil in case my writing muse hits. A tweezers and a nail file for quick fixes. A traveling toothbrush and floss. And a whistle that I purchased in Colorado to help scare away bears and to signal rescuers in case I am lost in the woods. I bring it on cruises in case I get stuck on a floating door like Rose in the “Titanic.” In Florida, it helps me feel safer when I am alone in a parking lot.
What To Leave Behind?
So packing for a trip—whether it be a weekend in a family member’s home or eight weeks in a rental—usually results in a stuffed suitcase. You’ve probably heard the rule to “lay out everything you want to bring, and then only pack half the amount?” Somehow my suitcase only gets heavier the closer the deadline for our departure approaches.
I wonder how my grandparents handled their trips from Eastern Europe at the beginning of the 20th century. Did they carry a steamer trunk or was everything in a huge satchel? My father’s father carried brass Shabbat candlesticks and prayer books. From my research, I learned that clothes took second place to food for the journey on the boat. Fearing that kosher food wouldn’t be available, immigrants carried loaves of black bread and huge chunks of salami to sustain them until they arrived at Ellis Island. I can only imagine the odor in steerage of unwashed bodies, unwashed clothes, and smelly deli.
When I traveled to Peru and Ecuador, I schlepped a suitcase that weighed slightly under the 50-pound limit. Not only did I over pack, but also I spent too much time pawing through my suitcase looking for a pair of hiking socks or seeking the dressy top that I needed for dinner. I vowed never to travel like that again. In all subsequent trips I’ve managed to reduce the weight and the stress caused by over packing.
Of course, this strategy only works to a point. At four o’clock in the afternoon before our recent flight out west, the zipper on my 15-year-old suitcase broke. We had to make an emergency trip to replace it with another the same size, but the new one has cool 360-degree wheels, which has made the unexpected purchase a little sweeter.
Larry, my husband, invariably weighs his bag and mine at the airline’s check-in, getting some perverse satisfaction knowing that mine outweighs his by at least five pounds.
Which brings me to my Sherpa role. For those unfamiliar with all the books written about treks up Mount Everest, Sherpas originally referred to a tribe in Nepal. According to Wikipedia, along with their role as humane and courageous mountain guides, they often carried necessary equipment for the foreign trekkers and mountain climbers.
Larry serves as the Sherpa when it comes to the paperwork needed for the trip. But I carry the responsibility for the first-aid kit, the electric toothbrush, lotions and potions, the guidebooks, the contact information, and the extra batteries. Thanks to modern technology, some of the bulk has been reduced through cell phones and electronic readers. However, I often remind Larry that the extra pounds in my luggage are a direct result of my Sherpa role.
I have learned some strategies for packing over the years. First of all, I have a master packing list that covers every climate, state, and country. The list is printed out two weeks before we leave, and I check off items as they get piled onto the guest bed. With the additional use of packing blocks—the various sized zipped bags that fit neatly together—I have also been able to separate out clothes based on needs: dressy clothes in one bag; warmer outfits for when the temperature drops; my bathing suit, cover-up, and flip-flops in a small bag to grab as needed. Larry and I have also become huge fans of quick dry options and that has resulted in fewer items of clothing and less time in coin-operated laundries.
Will It All Fit?
As I write this, Larry and I are between two trips. After spending a long weekend in San Francisco with our son Adam, we flew to Colorado and spent another five weeks in a rented condo a mile away from our daughter’s family home in the Rockies. We just flew back to Florida for a week, giving us just enough time to turn around and we now head for a 17-day trip to Norway and Iceland. Fortunately, the weather in Colorado is similar to that of these two European countries, so packing will be simple. I will leave half of the stuff I brought to the Rockies home and repack only the clothes that I actually wore on the trip. Running shoes, exercise clothes, dressy tops, the heavy fleece, but the jeans stay behind. Instead, I will fill my bag with lots of layers that don’t show dirt and dry quickly. Who knows? Maybe it can all fit in a carry-on. And that will make Larry, me, and all the baggage handlers very happy.
Marilyn Shapiro, formerly of Clifton Park, is now a resident of Kissimmee, Fla. A compilation of articles printed in The Jewish World, There Goes My Heart, is available. Marilyn Shapiro’s blog is theregoesmyheart.me.