Baggage

I’m trying to learn how to travel light.

It’s an ongoing quest, this push toward bare essentials. I fantasize about perfectly organized, lightweight suitcases; about wearing everything I bring and longing for nothing. The reality is a little messier: just one more black T-shirt, one more pair of shoes, the perpetual agony about whether to pack workout gear, the tension between bringing the clothes I know and love and wear every day and bringing the more experimental, “special,” clothes (hello, funky silver pants, blue dress!) that I feel I should wear but never quite do.

I pack for weeks in my head before any significant trip. It’s a coping mechanism to deal with travel stress; I know this. If I focus on acquiring travel-sized toothpaste; that go-with-everything lightweight black wrap; a party clutch that will hold my phone, a couple of chargers, business cards and room key; then I don’t have to think about the leaving, the people, the money spent, the social interactions, whether I’ll make an ass of myself at a conference session or on the dance floor. If I can just get that magical packing part down, then everything else will fall into place and the pre-trip deadlines will meet themselves and I’ll even sleep the night before I leave.

Oh, I’m adorable.

I’m getting better — I managed to get everything for my recent weeklong trip to California and the BlogHer14 conference into a single carry-on (plus a fairly hefty “purse”). And this is because, instead of packing for weeks in my head, I finally caved to my demons and made a proper list: toiletries, jewelry, tech, documents, a list of outfits for each occasion, lingerie and sleepwear, reading materials, shoes. Always the shoes. I used fancy headings and columns and checklist bullets, and my stress levels decreased almost immediately. That’s one of the best things I ever learned from life-hacking guru David Allen, author of Getting Things Done (read it; it’s life-changing): things are on our minds because (a) we don’t know what we want, (b) we don’t know what to do next, or (c) because we know these things but we haven’t created some kind of trustworthy system — i.e., a list — for remembering them:

“Until those thoughts have been clarified and those decisions made, and the resulting data has been stored in a system that you absolutely know you will think about as often as you need to, your brain can’t give up the job. You can fool everyone else, but you can’t fool your own mind. … Even if you’ve already decided on the next step you’ll take to resolve the problem, your mind can’t let go until and unless you write yourself a reminder in a place that knows you will, without fail, look. It will keep pressuring you about that untaken next step, usually when you can do anything about it, which will just add to your stress.”

Amen. So, the list. The day before the trip, I gathered every item on it, threw it on my bed (my voice dictation software keeps typing in “threw it on my dad,” which I find inexplicably funny, but no mind), rolled up everything into tubes and stuck it in my carry-on. And then I threw in a few more things, until the suitcase was full.

The upshot? Middling. The photo at the top shows everything I took with me to California. The pile on the right is all the stuff I actually wore. The pile on the left contains things like the silver pants and the blue dress and the extra black T-shirt — mostly, stuff that wasn’t on the list.

I get that life is too short to strive for packing perfection. I get that packing is not a zero-sum game. (And, yes, it is understood that if one can blog about one’s special silver pants from the safety of one’s own home then packing is a first-world problem.) I get that sometimes you need to bring a bathing suit or a warm jacket that you will never wear but that you might need. I get that maybe the hotel will have a gym and you’ll be really happy you brought your sneakers, but that mostly you won’t. I get that sometimes you don’t know exactly what a trip, a city, an occasion, will call for and that it is always good to have a party dress and shoes you can hike in — and that life is too short to dance in shoes that hurt. I get that I might want to wear the same thing three days in a row, or I might wear the same thing at this conference that I wore at the last conference and that I’ll just have to hope that it’s true that nobody really cares, or even notices. I get that you may leave your favourite jacket on a train, and that you can always, in a pinch, buy more underwear.

What I’m learning, though, is that at least half the weight of my baggage is emotional, and that maybe I can learn how to leave that stuff behind.

As an editor, sometimes I get so caught up in the cutting, in honing down stories and paragraphs to their barest essentials, as though efficiency is writing’s only or best virtue. But of course it’s the flourishes — those extra, well-placed quirks or digressions — that, ultimately, add personality, make the piece. And the same, perhaps, is true for baggage: you know, less is more, except when it’s not.

 Also, I bought the shoes, because the Internet told me to, And because they may just be the sexiest things I own.

Also, I bought the shoes, because the Internet told me to, And because they may just be the sexiest things I own.