Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.

Falkirk Wheel, Panoramic view.
Image by Cameron Lyall, GNU license Wikimedia

30 May 2011

The Agony and Ecstasy of Packing

For me, packing for a trip has always been a stressful situation full of wailing and gnashing of teeth. Although modern staples such as washing machines and convenience stores ensure that I will have clean clothes or favorite toiletries when traveling, the idea of having to spend time searching for shampoo, socks, or an umbrella (rather than using the time for sightseeing) drives me crazy—especially since I am an over-planner by nature. I won’t even explain how picky I am about certain products and necessities.

Packing and preparing for a seven week trip has been especially challenging, as I have, for two months now, created mental lists of what to bring: just enough, so that I can be warm or cool, depending upon the ever-changing weather in Scotland; not too much, or I will lose precious space to bring back mementos of the trip. Fortunately, international travel allows me to check one bag free-of-charge, so at least I can bring one large suitcase.

Rick Steves, a professional European traveler and guide, offers a useful packing list at http://www.ricksteves.com/plan/tips/packlist.htm. In most cases, I would (mostly) adhere to his advice on minimalist travel, especially for shorter trips or when staying in multiple locations. However, this list seems more bare than usual for me, and I’m left wondering what Mr. Steves’ advice would be for a work-related trip in a single location for more time than a typical vacation and for less time than relocating entirely. I won’t have to hand wash anything in a hotel sink or plan my day around a trip to a laundromat. My laundry challenges will be a little different in that I’ll have a washing machine in my apartment but no dryer. This is very typical of European households where hanging clothes to dry is an economic and environmental concern. While in Scotland, I’ll have to account for time to air-dry my clothes.

I’m a fairly experienced traveler, and yet the unique situation of this visit to Dundee has me questioning whether I’m making the right choices. I can only imagine what some of the students, who have never traveled far from home let alone to another country, must be experiencing. I sympathize, and I offer here a brief glimpse into my suitcase:

  • 3 washable slacks: These can be dressy or casual, which will be very useful for the meetings and other professional situations I’ll be in.
  • 1 all-purpose skirt
  • 7 nice knit shirts/blouses: This may seem like a lot, but I can get lots of mileage out of my pants and skirt with these shirts. And they take up very little room in the suitcase.
  • 2 polos: A nice alternative to the shirts.
  • 3 long-sleeve t-shirts: Just in case.
  • 2 casual t-shirts: For hiking or lounging around.
  • 2 cardigans: These will keep me warm and looking professional enough on those days I don’t want to wear a blazer.
  • 1 washable blazer: For those occasions when I need to look academic.
  • 1 fleece jacket and 1 water-resistant jacket: I’ll be thankful for these when the weather turns.
  • 1 pair of jeans: Because I can’t wear slacks all the time.
  • 1 pair of shorts: In case we do have summer weather in Scotland.
  • 1 pair of convertible hiking pants: For weekend walks in the country.
  • 4 pairs of shoes, one of which I’ll wear on the plane: all-purpose (slip on) black dress shoes, hiking shoes, sandals, and flip-flops.
  • Other assorted odds and ends such as sweat pants, pajamas, socks, underwear, and toiletries.

When looking at this list—and this is just for my main checked bag—I really am bringing a lot of stuff. But the agony of deciding and choosing what to bring has led way to ecstasy in that everything fits in the suitcase. Easily. And within size and weight limits. Furthermore, I’m confident that I’ll be well-prepared, even though there’s still a chance I missed something or failed to account for some situation. But that’s ok. There’s always Marks & Spencer or Tesco or Boots.

If you’re packing this week or next, what are you bringing? If you’ve already started your travel, what do you wish you brought with you? If you’ve gone on a study abroad, sabbatical, or extended vacation, what advice or anecdotes about packing can you share?

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