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The ‘80s are known for a great many revolutionary concepts and ideas, but to me, the ‘80s freed me from my greatest burden – packing. Before my epiphany, I truly felt packing suitcases for a trip of any length was a disastrous horror. Most people and thus travel with too much unnecessary weight. My dream became, quite simply, a way to gain control over an unfortunate obsession.
Who has not gaped at photographs of the rich and famous in travel mode – surrounded by their sycophants and veritable towers of suitcases – all matched. The giant Lego blocks holding those people’s possessions dwarf their bodies, flunkies, and entourage. As a result, we tend to think with genuine horror of our own bland, almost matched luggage painted, tagged, and labeled with anything enabling us to identify its burial on the turntable, and hatred wells up in our throat. Duct tape, I believe, was invented for those who insist on adding yet one more piece of uselessness to their bulging containers of fashion being dragged from stopping place to stopping place.
Travel possession envy is an old story that I believe started when the rich and famous began travelling by carriage, ship, and, eventually ,airplane. The photographs just rub our noses in our own shortcomings as travelers.
For years, my families and their friends were possessed by the MSLD virus. Mixed Stuffed Luggage Disease. The more possessions jammed into suitcases, cases, and kits, the more one was able to relate to the moirés of the Upper Crust.
I was not immune from the MSL virus until 1986. Until then, I was prepared for any emergency during my extensive travels. For years, my mother, grandmothers, and I saved tattered undies for trips. We called them the pope’s holy pants. There is a wholly unconscionable pun in that last phrase, you know. We would wear them one last time during vacations, then discard them.
Let me not forget a soft down pillow, an extra blanket, two spare towels and washcloths, hair dryer and other hair care tools. Tooth care was not forgotten, in extra large sizes. It included every appropriate container in extra large sizes. Clothing included daily changes of outerwear, evening attire, and incase clothes for contingencies of weather, climate, and critical relatives. Nature watching supplies were a telescope, binoculars, special hats, boots, and extra sneakers. Did I forget the reading materials? Several large notebooks for needed for journaling every evening, and a dozen writing implements were part of that package.
Extra film? Large and small tripods? Two cameras in case one broke? Several pairs of extra shoes, plus an obligatory set of high heels? All were stashed in bulging trunks.
Oh, yes! Food! Snacks of any kind, sandwiches just in case, spices, aluminum foil for leftovers in restaurants, a thermos, extra cutlery.
Did I forget the morning and evening headgear?
Shopping, planning, and packing took weeks.
A trip of more than two days involved at least one matched set of three large suitcases, plus a pocketbook large enough to be a backpack. No wonder we needed a station wagon for road trips.
Souvenirs were large, heavy, ungainly, and impossible to pack. I fondly remember one family member who carried a ten-pound bag ofFloridaoranges during a week-long motor trip. The buried fruit actually rotted because we couldn’t find under our luggage in the back of the car.
When the trip was over, I came home to spend seven days unpacking, laundering, and storing.
In 1986, my friend, Mary, retired after teaching kindergarten for thirty-five years. She and I discussed taking a self-guided, three week walking trip ofAlaska. Both of us were chronic MSL victims, and we spent weeks discussing how we could manage all our luggage on planes, trains, boats, vans, buses, hikes, and dog sleds. Yes! Summer dog sleds used inAlaska. The sleds have wheels fastened to them.
We decided we simply could not manage such stress and decided to cancel the trip.
Broken-hearted, I cried myself to sleep that night. At about two in the morning, I suddenly awoke. I thought, NONONONONONO. We are going! We need to change our lifestyle. To hell with famous travelers!
I called Mary up then and there. She also had cried herself to sleep. I told her I had an idea. “We shall each take one carry-on and one back pack. ”
She shouted at me, “But we can’t …”
“Hush, girlfriend, and listen! My legs are so short in an airplane seat they dangle with just toes touching the floor. The filled back pack fits under the seat in front of me, and I can pull it out so it acts like a footstool for me.”
“Mary! Do you do or do you don’t want to go toAlaska?”
There was a pause and a sniff. Then, with great force, “I will listen, Liz!
“Then get a pencil and paper, and do NOT interrupt, girlfriend.”
She dropped the phone, came back in a few seconds, and shouted, “Ready, girlfriend!” I began, wrote frantically as I laid out our plan of action. “We will each take one longish, black skirt, a long-sleeved tan shirt, and a shawl capable of being folded lengthwise for eating out every night. We will take five days worth of underwear. It gets washed out when we shower at night, and we’ll use shampoo as our detergent. When we wring the underwear and socks out in a towel, they will be almost dry. Then they are hung out to dry on the clothes rack, ready for the next day.”
Mary screamed in delight. “You go, girlie. Go-Go-Go!”
“There will be few extra clothes. We will have two each of jeans, and long-sleeved blouses with roll up sleeves , a long sleeved t-shirt from LL Bean, a cardigan, two pairs of socks. ONE, count it, ONE bra.”
Mary roared approval.
I continued, “To keep warm, we will buy one combo rain jacket with a zip out lining. Layers, if we need them, will include one pair of black or navy flannel pj’s, two sizes larger than what we usually wear. If the weather turns cold, the pj pants go over the jeans. Footwear consists of one pair of sneakers, one pair of LL Bean walking sandals, and leather folding slippers. We carry child-sized toiletries. Replacements will be bought as needed.”
“Camera supplies will be limited to one camera each, one tripod, and ten rolls of film. We can always purchase extras. One set of journaling material,” I stopped and then giggled, “and our hubbies are going to have to buy each of us a miniature set of binoculars.”
Mary giggled, too.
“If we need anything, we can buy it in Alaska. God invented VISA for international use. But except for souvenir t-shirts, all the katchkes get left behind.”
“And here comes the word on souvenirs,” I hissed. “If it doesn’t easily fit into our luggage, we mail it home. It means no large rocks, plants, and other natural matter.”
I paused for breath.
Mary said, “I’m calling the airline right now.”
“Me, too. Let’s check with each other when we get the reservations.”
It was the trip of a lifetime. We stuck to our principles, and spent less than hour unpacking when we got home.
I was cured of the MSL virus, as was Mary. From the perceptions gained in 1986 my future travel thus was shaped. From whale watching in Cape Cod to Africa to Australia to China to remote parts of Canada, most of the fifty states, and four cross country trips as well – I now happily live in a carry-on world.
In 1986 I was a participant on a three-week Africatrip. My husband was the chief tour guide. Packing was no exception. However, when my husband saw my usual carry-on and back pack standing ready at the door, he took umbrage and insisted I take a normal suitcase. Gleefully, I thought back about five years earlier of his first leadership trip to the Galapagos. His luggage then was a cardboard box tied with strong twine.
Imagine his reaction when we arrived inNairobi, and he found I had merely transferred the carry-on into a larger suitcase. This marriage was doomed.
One caveat: During this week’s holiday excursion to Disney World with family, an exception occurred. I packed as usual. Then, the day before we were to board, I made an intriguing discovery. As part of our travel package, Disney would take care of my luggage, in both directions. The only catch was that flight carry-ons are not included in that procedure. Disney only picks up and delivers luggage from the hold. The bags are delivered to one’s hotel room. They are picked up from there at the end, and delivered OFF the turntable at home base.
Delightedly, I paid $25. each way to United Airways for the carry-on.
I am worth the money.
Unpacking was accomplished in less than my usual ten minutes.