Packing light is quite admirable. However, it’s something I’ve never been good at and, at this point in my life, I have completely removed it from my mind as one of my goals for the future – i.e. it is NOT on my “bucket list.” So, if you are reading this in order to glean some tips on using a smaller suitcase the next time you travel, you can now stop reading. If you were hoping I could help you avoid excess luggage fees the next time you fly, I’m sorry to disappoint you, but you will have to look elsewhere.
Ever since I was a little girl, going on vacation with my parents and siblings, I have stuffed every last possession I could into whatever suitcase space was allotted to me, with the objective of being prepared for every eventuality, no matter how remote the possibility.
When my children were young, I had a perfect excuse to over-pack. After all, how could I know how many explosive diapers or projectile vomiting we might experience? If we feed any ducks, what if one or more kids fall into the duck pond? Obviously, if my kids dirtied their clothes, there was a good chance I’d also be in need of a change. In addition, I was never sure how many bathing suits each child might need or if I needed to bring our own towels. You just never know.
On the other hand, the time my year-old son insisted on sipping some of my Coke through a straw, I was totally unprepared for his reaction to experiencing carbonation for the first time. It was mid-winter, we were an hour away from home, and I had no emergency clothing for either of us.
Of course, when traveling with children, it’s always important to have many snacks on hand, just in case we are stranded in a snowstorm or the car breaks down hours away from any food source. And there was never any one snack that would satisfy everyone in the family. Trips to the beach also involved packing every type of sand toy imaginable – after all, we wouldn’t want to discourage creativity by not providing the proper tools for building the Taj Mahal or the Hoover Dam in the sand!!
As my boys got older, their clothes got much larger and therefore it was more difficult to pack for every eventuality – but I certainly tried. When they went to sleep-away camp, I always made sure to pack everything on the list we were sent – and then some. One summer, one of my sons returned home after camp with almost every article of clothing I’d sent in the same position in his camp trunk, packed just as it was at the beginning. Obviously never worn. Now there’s someone who could travel light!
Being kosher, there have always been many serious food issues to consider. Of course, wherever we went, we always checked in advance as to the availability of kosher food. So, sometimes we had to pack all or most of the food we’d need for our trip. Other times, we took food “just in case,” because restaurants close, stores can run out of things, and sometimes you just get to the store or restaurant after it’s closed for the night (or some holiday), etc.
And, now we get to the real issue with packing – ME! Once my sons were on their own, I only had to pack for myself. In some ways, I guess it was easier, but it is still, to this day, a source of major anxiety for me to pack for any trip, whether it’s two days or two months.
I am prepared for my readers to laugh at me as you read some of the following eventualities I have tried to cover in the past. I wish I could say I no longer worry about any of these things, but at least I no longer worry about ALL of them:
- What if I get there and find everyone is more dressed up/ less dressed up than I am?
- What if my hem falls down or I catch my skirt on a sharp edge? Should I bring a sewing kit or an extra outfit, or both?
- What if I get to our cousin’s wedding in Toronto and I start getting dressed and discover either my dress shrank or I gained weight?
- What if I finish my 500 page book before Shabbat is over and I have nothing else to read? What if I get sick over Shabbat and stay in bed all day? Should I bring an extra book, or maybe some magazines, in case I don’t feel well enough to read a book?
- What I get a stomachache? I’d better bring all my tried and true remedies, since I don’t know what kind of stomachache it might be. And I’d better bring an extra-loose outfit, since if I do get a stomachache, I’ll need to be dressed very comfortably.
Years ago, I figured out I could save room and weight in my suitcase by buying my toiletries at a pharmacy near my destination. Now, thanks to modern technology, I can ordering these items ahead from Amazon. But then I worry about the most crucial toiletries arriving on time and the nearest pharmacy not selling the brand I’m NOT allergic to.
After my suitcase is packed, it’s time to pack my personal items and/or carry-on bags. If we’re traveling by car, no worries – I just keep filling up tote bags and shopping bags with anything I might possibly need and shove them somewhere into the car. On my way out the door, I might notice an extra bag of pretzels or such and throw them in as well, even if I have to sit in the car with my legs being squashed by all these “necessities.” However, if I’m flying, I have to carefully consider each item being placed in my regulation sized carry-on. First, I have to put all my essential liquids in small containers in that annoying quart-sized bag. Then I have to pack enough books and magazines and electronics to keep myself busy on the plane, in case I can’t sleep. I also need to be prepared with everything I can think of to make myself comfortable, in case I do want to sleep. And what about food? What if I don’t like the airline food (and honestly, who does)? What if I sleep through the meal but wake up hungry later? What if I get a craving for chocolate? What if I get airsick or get an upset stomach – what food should I bring that will make me feel better? It’s actually amazing to think I have never missed my flight!!
Frequently, as I unpack at my destination, I look at one or more of the items in my suitcase and ask myself (silently, so my husband can’t hear) “Why in the world did I think I’d need THAT?” On the other hand, I might also search through my suitcase for something else and ask myself, “How could I not have brought a sweater or an umbrella or warmer pajamas, or any number of other things?”
Sometimes, I tell myself I am really crazy – that I am not going to the moon and that there are things I could do without for a few days or few weeks. But why should I be uncomfortable? I like my creature comforts and besides, there are no prizes for martyrs or for the person who goes away for three weeks with two sets of underwear.
Finally, in my defense, I’d like to point out that when I’m traveling with friends or family, I’m the one everyone else goes to for the safety pin or the bug spray or an extra pair of socks, etc. etc. etc. But when my husband is making fun of me as I pack, he doesn’t seem to recall that I’m the one who brought along an extra phone charger or an emergency supply of antihistamines. So really, I guess I would say that although you wouldn’t want to be me, you might want to travel with me!!
Abby Hochhauser is a mother to 3 sons, mother-in-law to 3 daughters-in-law, and grandmother to 9 adorable grandchildren. A former computer programmer and technical writer, Abby and her husband followed their children from Edison, NJ to settle in Israel in 2014. Abby loves her book club, volunteering at her grandchildren’s school, and reading to kids.