Tomorrow I'm leaving on a ten day trip to Japan - part business and hopefully part pleasure! Hence, I'm starting to worry about packing. Actually, I started obsessing about this topic days ago. I love to travel, but I have a love/hate relationship with the process of actually deciding what to bring.
Typically, I try to carry too much. My normal strategy involves laying everything out on my bed first, in neat piles: business clothes, casual clothes, underwear, socks and stockings, shoes, jewelry, toiletries, the inevitable stack of reading material... Then I begin to put it all into the designated suitcase and discover (almost without fail) that it doesn't fit. At this point I have two choices. I can take a larger bag. This is nearly always a bad idea - it means more to lug around, wrestle onto trains or buses, carry up stairs in the hotels that end up not having lifts... The other alternative, of course, is to take less.
So it's time to do triage. Can I get away with one less pair of shoes? (Shoes are among the most bulky articles, but they're also not interchangeable. I can't wear my hiking boots when I deliver my technical paper, can I?) Do I really need a suit, or can I just use one of the other skirts that I've brought for socializing. And so on...
I have recurring dreams about packing. Typically in these dreams, I learn that my plane (or bus or train) is leaving in ten minutes. That's how long I have to throw a few critical items into a backpack. I struggle with the decisions, under time pressure. I wonder if I can buy things that I need when I arrive.
I've improved. When my husband and I first began traveling together, we suffered terribly from our tendency to over-pack. I vividly remember hauling two huge suitcases, at least twenty kilos each, up three flights of stairs in our picturesque hotel in Marseille - then trying to fit them into the back hatch of our tiny rented car! In contrast, two years ago, on our first trip to Japan, we managed a ten day trip with just one carry-on-sized suitcase each.
Of course that trip was holiday only, so we didn't need to carry business clothing. And it was in the spring. Right now it's cold in Kyushu, which means heavy jackets, sweaters, socks and so on.
We've resolved to check a single suitcase for the two of us, bigger than a carry-on but not much. Then we'll carry our computers and other essentials on-board. (My netbook is so light it hardly adds anything to the load.) We will not under any circumstances modify this decision, as we plan to be moving around from one day to the next and definitely do not want to be burdened.
Still, I expect that I'll end up with more than I need. Because, after all, how much do I need? I've always admired people who travel the globe for months at a time, with a single small backpack.
Traveling light. It's a metaphor for life -- to move easily and gracefully, not burdened by too many possessions, too many desires, too many concerns. It's my long-time goal. Maybe I'll achieve it before I die.