The bright blue duffel bags had taken up residence in the corner of the bedroom, on the treadmill. Geoffrey’s was getting pleasantly plump. Mine wasn’t. It was hard to ignore, much as I tried. It accused me daily.
“Carole, what are you waiting for,” it seemed to say. “Tick-tock, tick-tock. You’re leaving in a week.”
Sure, I had thrown in some books and music, underwear and socks, pajamas and robe, aspirins and Pepto-Bismol. But that was mostly to pretend I was actually making packing-decisions.
“This one’s not easy,” I whined in its general direction. “Two climates, Ghana and Paris. Four months. Work and play. See what I mean?”
The truth is, though, that I always obsess about packing, even for a four-day beach vacation. You’d think after all the traveling I’ve done, it would be a breeze. It’s not. For that matter, you’d think after all the flying I’ve done, I’d have given up my white-knuckle-armrest-grip during take-off, landing, and turbulence. I haven’t. It’s irrational: I’ve never not-packed something so crucial and so irreplaceable that it was a problem. And I’ve never been in a plane that crashed. But still, I don’t like to pack and I don’t like to fly.
There’s usually one thing, sometimes two, that torments me until the last minute.
Is it silly to pack three black sweaters, I ask myself? But they’re all different, in terms of warmth and dressiness, I answer. But still, three? And what about these sneakers? Can I get away with them in Ghana? Or do I need to dress like a grownup at work?
The sweater, sneakers, or any of a hundred potential tormenters – telescoping orange umbrella, always-useful portable clothesline, pants that are a perfect taupe color and fit almost perfectly – get much more of my attention than they deserve. I say to myself, “Get a grip. You’ve done this so many times and it’s always been okay. Just pack; it doesn’t matter so much. And if you forget something, you can buy it there.”
I know it’s true, but that’s the thing about obsessions: it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve traveled, nor how many times I’ve packed. I procrastinate, I waver, I fixate. I also know that what I’m really doing is channeling my anxiety about the trip itself into something concrete. Easier to focus on the number of black sweaters than whether I want to leave home for so long.
I have made progress, though: I no longer berate myself for my packing two-step. I now pat myself on the back for the fact that neither my allergy to packing nor fear of flying has ever kept me from going.
Eventually, of course, I manage. I throw a whole bunch of stuff in the suitcase (a process my daughter calls “just mighting”), then winnow like crazy. And as soon as we’re in the car on the way to the airport, the anxiety is banished by the excitement. Packing woes are gone. Happy anticipation is growing. Really, all I need are the passports, prescription meds, and spare glasses. Nothing else is so important; everything else is replaceable.
But, just in case: is there some handy-dandy thing you always stick in your suitcase that it would help the rest of us to know about?
Carole Howard is the author of About Face (Glenmere Press) and Deadly Adagio, recently published by Second Wind Publishing. She writes fiction and memoir and lives in Warwick, NY. Carole has been to about 50 countries (so far), including eighteen months spent in Senegal, the setting for Deadly Adagio, while her husband was a Peace Corps Administrator.