I love to travel. In fact, get ready for some travel posts after I get back from my honeymoon at the end of June, because that’s happening. Having been a traveler – and also a person whose family moved frequently – pretty much my whole life, I’ve gotten the whole ‘packing light’ thing down to an art form, and I’m here to share that knowledge, because I know a lot of you sorely need it.
How do I know? Because I’ve seen you, you poor things. I see you in the airport, struggling to heave a suitcase you could sleep in onto the scale. I see those over-sized-luggage fees racking up, and I know that’s money you could be spending on museum admission or foreign alcohol, but no, you’re using it to pay for the privilege of lugging fifteen pairs of shoes, five coats, and a satchel of makeup across Spain for three weeks.
Girl. You do NOT need all that stuff. I can hear you arguing already, though: “But what if I DO need it???” There are two reasons people overpack, and those reasons are a lack of knowledge about what they’ll need, and a lack of trust in their own abilities.
Let me elaborate on that first one. It makes perfect sense to pack a bunch of ‘just in case’ stuff for a trip, but if you’re getting into extra-fee territory with your luggage, it’s time to stop and think. ‘Having everything you need’ is not the only concern here, Fledglings. You also don’t want to waste money on baggage, you also don’t want to throw your back out hauling all that stuff into and out of hotels/hostels, and you also don’t want to have so much stuff in tow that you risk losing a bag and then really hating yourself because you couldn’t keep track of everything. Also, you’re on vacation! All that stuff is literally going to be sitting in your hotel room all day while you go have fun. Sure, you’ll know it’s there, but will you be using it? No, you’re just clutching onto it thinking AT LEAST I HAVE IT! Deep breaths, Fledglings. It’s gonna be okay.
To cut down on your baggage, and therefore stress, you need to do some research. Talk to well-traveled friends, read some articles about traveling to that area, and check the usual weather for your destination. Think through your itinerary and what you’ll be doing – indoor stuff or outdoor stuff? Casual or fancy stuff? Once you know what you’ll be doing and in what conditions you’ll be doing it, it will be easier to pack only things that are appropriate for the trip. You wouldn’t bring a long coat to a summer beach holiday, nor would you bring a big sun hat on a ski trip. Only bring things that make sense for where/when you’re going – odds are that’s all you’re going to need.
So now that you know what you’ll need, do you feel less anxious about what *might* happen on your trip? If yes, great job! Pack only what you’ll need and hop that plane! If not, let’s discuss further.
“Don’t feed your fears by telling yourself they’re prophecies.”
A lot of people I know get nervous when they travel. They’re not at home, they don’t have ready access to all the things they usually have access to, and that bit of uncertainty can grow into a big scary anxiety-monster if it’s not checked with some knowledge and preparedness. Trying to soothe your anxiety by declaring, ‘I’ll just pack everything I might need ever and that way I’ll NEVER get caught without something!’ is really just giving you more anxiety, because what you’re basically telling yourself is, ‘Things are going to go horribly on this trip and I’m going to be lost and unprepared when that inevitable disaster strikes.’ Is that realistic? No, it’s really not. The most likely ‘disaster’ you’re going to have is either a late flight, or forgetting something you meant to bring. If you’re traveling domestically, the US has pretty much the same stuff for sale in every town. I’m fairly certain you can buy a new loofah and some shower gel if you forget yours. Same with clothing – you had to drop $10 on a cheap hoodie because it was cooler than you expected? Big deal! Get one that looks cool and call it a souvenir! Don’t feed your fears by telling yourself they’re prophecies. How much fun are you going to have on a trip that you’ve convinced yourself is going to turn into a disaster movie? None, because you’ll be worried and stressed out the whole time, in addition to sore from hauling around all your anxiety-luggage, both literal and figurative. You don’t deserve that. You deserve to enjoy the hell out of that trip.
Knowledge drives out fear, so if you’re worried that some Lifetime-movie disaster is going to unfold when you go on this trip, get some knowledge in your head to counteract that fear – and I do NOT mean you should read disaster and plane-crash stories on the internet. You’re just feeding the fear by doing that. I mean that, again, you should talk to people who have traveled where you’re going. Did they have a great time? Did anything weird happen to them? Are they still alive after that mishap occurred and you’re not talking to the ghost of your friend who died when she missed her connecting flight? Good! This is how we become less fearful, by learning what’s reasonable to expect and how we should respond, not by trying to pack our entire 1,000 square-foot apartment into our luggage set in case our home country falls into civil unrest while we’re gone. If you live in the US, it’s pretty unlikely that’s going to happen.
If you’re still anxious about traveling, or if your anxiety is keeping you from doing the kind of travel you want to do, don’t be afraid to find a doctor who can help you out. There are loads of therapy techniques and even some medications that, if they’re appropriate for you and doctor-approved, can help you be able to calm down those panicked voices. I’ve been in therapy on and off for years for my anxiety, and the main thing I’ve learned is that to manage anxiety, we can’t avoid the things that make us anxious. We go talk to a professional, we arm ourselves with good coping skills that don’t reinforce our fears, and then we go do those very things we fear, within limits and with supportive people around. Why, you ask? Because when we do those things, we see that they won’t kill us. We see that if things go wrong, we can handle it. We see that the anxiety in our heads is something we can manage, not something that manages us out of having fun experiences that we want to have.
This was the emotional take on packing, and I talked about this because I know there’s a lot of emotion and fear running around in our heads, and not being at home is when a lot of those brain-things come out to play. It’s important to introduce those elephants in the room and make sure we all know they’re there, so that I can set you up for success in next week’s post. I’m going to give practical packing tips for people who want to travel, but who can’t seem to keep their luggage manageable and fee-free. I promise, you can look good while traveling and not feel like you’re on Naked and Afraid, without having to pay for (and carry!) a 150-pound suitcase.
Your homework for the week is to ruminate on why you pack too much, and think about how you would feel if you packed less. My guess is that you’ll find you fall into one of the two categories I mentioned above: you don’t know what to bring, or you’re anxious about not having something. Let me know in the comments where you’re at, and I’ll give some good pointers to get you through it so you can have fun on your trip.