In My Own Write: Baggage Check
Why do so many of us get anxious when there’s an empty suitcase to fill?
Two suitcases Photo: Courtesy
The only baggage you can bring / Is all that you can’t leave behind – from ‘Walk
On,’ a song by U2
As I checked in for my two-week trip to the UK last month and watched my luggage
roll out of sight on the airline’s conveyer belt, I reflected on how fortunate
it was that the only thing that got weighed was the suitcase’s physical
contents, and not the emotional baggage that had accompanied it.
there’s no doubt: Packing to go away might sound like a purely practical
business; but in my experience – and that of many people I have talked to – it
is an exercise characterized by considerable anxiety.
What is it about
filling a small oblong container with essentials that causes such dismay? Well
for starters, there’s the word “essentials,” defined as those items you really
need. But once you venture out of your familiar surroundings to another country
and another clime, how can you know what the essentials are, beyond obvious
things like passport, toothbrush, underwear, and the like? The other side of
adventure and lure of the unknown is fear of misadventure, and of the unknown
CONSIDERING THE contents of my closet amid a heatwave here in
Israel, I found myself overwhelmed by the prospect of juggling clothes for two
diametrically opposing British weather scenarios – cold and nasty, or really hot
and sunny – each of which, given global warming added to the well-known vagaries
of the British climate, was possible during my trip.
If that wasn’t
enough, rain too was virtually guaranteed during what, by mid-month, was already
being called “the wettest June in 100 years.”
Was my brother trying to be
helpful when he told me over the phone: “The only thing I can say for certain is
that it won’t snow”? “Don’t bet on it,” I replied, only half-jokingly.
glumly recalled the June morning many decades ago when I was still living and
working in London. I had left for work in a surprisingly bitter cold wearing a
scarf and gloves – gloves in June! – to emerge from my Oxford Street office into
an unpleasantly warm and humid afternoon in which the parked cars on the street
were all covered by a fine yellow dust.
Next morning’s newspapers gave
the explanation: The yellow dust had blown over from the Gobi desert.
packing for a holiday in England defeats me, it may well be lingering shock from
DO I subscribe to the idea that one should travel as
lightly as possible? Definitely. But, sadly, my mind and my emotions propel me
in opposite directions – which of course is why I find packing a
Mentally, I know that the unexpected can arise despite my best
efforts, and that taking a minimum of clothes and other stuff is the way to
travel easily and pleasantly, especially if I am going to be living largely out
of a suitcase.
But emotionally, I am leaving behind my home, my comfort
zone, where my closets and drawers are filled with everything I need, there at
hand should I require them, the very knowledge that they are there giving
When I am away, my suitcase becomes my home.
How to pack
all contingencies, all multiple demands, into that one small space? And suppose
I need this or that item, and it isn’t in there? Shock and horror! Not really.
Or only the idea of it, while I am fretting over the packing. Once I actually
set out on the journey, I know I will be in a place where I can buy anything
I’ve forgotten, if I feel I really need it. And I have done so, more than
Interestingly, however, this knowledge doesn’t make my packing any
easier – a sure indication that psychological factors deeper than reality and
experience are at work.
It’s essentially about losing control, that’s the
nub of it. And to those of you out there who, like me, strain to make sure they
are prepared for every single, possible eventuality: We’d do well to forget it
and internalize the truth that having real control over our lives is an
illusion, so we might as well chill out and take things – including packing a
suitcase – a bit more lightly.
WHAT CLOTHES to take on a trip forms a big
part of many women’s packing anxiety – men’s attire is so much less complicated!
One tip I read that sounded eminently sensible was to avoid outfits and footwear
in different bright colors and stick to basic shades like navy or black, beige
or grey, where everything can be mixed and matched. If that sounds boring,
colored scarves and jewelry will change the look without adding bulk to the
Something I’ve found useful is to note down in a little book
clothes combinations that worked well last time I went away. It cuts down on the
agony of deciding what to pack next time – well, in theory, anyway.
PEOPLE get older, they become more prone to feelings of insecurity and may find
it harder to control the emotional – and consequently physical – side of
packing, resulting in mounds of stuff they will likely not use while they are
My husband, Sheldon, is quite aware that he often packs “clothes I
know I won’t need. I don’t wear them here, and I most probably won’t wear them
there, either. Their presence in my suitcase is annoying at the same time as
To deal with the increased insecurity that aging often
brings, I wonder whether regular small forays out of one’s comfort zone – trying
new foods, activities, ways of doing things, etc. – might well act as a
confidence-booster, much as exercise strengthens weakened muscles.
talk about you? I asked my 26-year-old daughter Avital, eager to prove that the
apple does sometimes fall far from the tree.
“Go ahead,” she said, in her
She has always been a last-minute packer, taking the whole
problematic business as lightly as I would put a pack of tissues into my purse
prior to leaving home in the morning.
“For me, there’s nothing painful
about packing,” she says.
“Most of the time I’m going to civilization,
where I can buy something I need if I’ve forgotten it. I just make sure I have
my passport and important stuff like that.”
Far from the tree? This apple
has landed at the opposite end of the next field.
“When I’m going out of
my routine,” she says, “I relax. I feel I’m on holiday, and just take everything
as it comes.”
CIRCUMSTANCE forced a friend of mine – a fashion-conscious,
well-dressed woman – into a new realization about holiday stuff she had thought
she couldn’t do without.
“After a flight from England to Israel, my
suitcase didn’t turn up, and I walked out of the airport with a few basic items
the airline had given me. I felt amazingly liberated, and had a sense of freedom
walking out with just that little bag in my hand.
“Do you know,” she
laughed, “I was quite sorry to see my suitcase again – this massive bag of
It’s yet another example of how less is often
“You’d be surprised at how little you actually need when you’re
pushed to the wall,” another friend commented.
IN THE end, packing to go
away may be seen as a metaphor for life changes of any sort, which can be so
frightening because each one signifies a step out of the comfortable and
familiar into the new and uncertain.
Some people embrace change, more of
us shrink from it. Yet without the courage to risk change, we change
nevertheless, becoming a little drier and more static with each day.
know that well; and next time I’m facing a trip and the usual jitteriness about
– heaven forbid! – finding myself without something I’ll need once I arrive, I
will start packing with the premise that I am certain to find I’ve forgotten
something – and equally sure that I can 1. get a replacement; 2. improvise; or
3. do without.
MY HUSBAND and I are talking about going to India next
year. Better start packing now.