This myth is regularly rehashed by those who claim to be experts, but after a lifetime of travel, I can honestly say it’s far from the truth.
It’s been a while, of course, but even so it was a shock to receive an email last week claiming Aussies had “forgotten how to pack”. Sorry?
The press release was sent by an unholy alliance of a tour operator, a clothing company and a smart device, who were collectively trying to convince travelers to download an app that would tell them what to pack depending on their destination. .
I didn’t download the app because (a) life is too short and (b) I don’t have a smart device. But the app’s only online review suggests it’s useless anyway.
“It takes five minutes of chatter before anything packaging-related happens,” the reviewer writes. “I stopped (listening) when they said, ‘It’s nice to have a beach towel in America. Have you ever packed one?
The other reason I didn’t download it is because I forgot how to pack. I’m sure none of us did. I’ve never been very good at it. And I certainly haven’t improved after two years of punishment.
Last month on my first big OS trip, to Africa, I freaked out reading the itinerary and seeing, in big bold print, that my luggage had to weigh less than 20kg and fit in a soft bag. Otherwise, I couldn’t fly on the small plane in Botswana.
I sweated so much over that bold warning. The 20kg bit was fine – I never pack that much anyway because I’m too lazy to lug it around – but soft? My (rather large) case has a hard base but a soft top. Would that work?
Readers, yes. But even so, I spent much of my time in Africa wishing I had researched the destinations better beforehand. That way, I didn’t have to worry about the turtleneck, thermal top, raincoat, five-collar shirts, and dress jacket.
It turns out that every day was very hot and very laid back. I could have survived happily on half – if not a third – of what I had taken.
I don’t know how to “pack light”. Once, as I was boarding a cruise ship, another passenger looked in disbelief at the size of my suitcase and said, “It’s not a suitcase. It’s a mobile home! So vulgar.
Being overly thoughtful, I tend to plan for every possible contingency on work assignments and then pack accordingly. It’s completely normal for me to include fleece class attire alongside Hawaiian shirts and casual pants. My motto when planning a travel wardrobe is, you never know.
Or, as my editor likes to say, “I call it Loto instead of packing my bags.” Whether I win or lose depends on what happens at my destination when I open my case to see what I put in while apparently wearing a blindfold.
I read a column last week that claimed that if only people were better organized, they could fly overseas with nothing more than carry-on luggage. The author suggested we could just pick up all the parts we needed along the way. How I laughed.
Not all of us are Ralph Lauren models who can slip into unstructured pieces without looking like bums. The carry-on myth is regularly repeated by those who apparently only travel business class or better and have gold cards for any incident. Their opinions are irrelevant to the rest of us.
Given my disability, an editor once sent me to a packing tutorial at the posh Louis Vuitton boutique in Melbourne. For about an hour, I watched in awe as an assistant showed me how to fold a mink-collar cashmere cardigan and shared various other origami secrets for making the most of available space.
Louis Vuitton, for the uninitiated, made fashionable steamer trunks in the 19th century so the company knew every ins and out of a case. As my instructor said, “Louis Vuitton’s heritage is as a trunk maker, so we know those things.”
Other tips I learned that day: pad the toes of shoes (with socks or underwear is fine). Fill the gaps between heavier items with “underwear”. Roll up collars and turn jackets inside out to keep them fresh. Those weird straps in your case? They are intended to be attached to the first layer of material. Who knew?
I was also advised to cover my packed things with a “trans-seasonal shawl” because “that way, when you open the case, everything is beautiful”. I don’t remember doing that since. And I still have no idea what a trans-seasonal shawl is.
That’s the thing with the packaging. It’s a very individual trait. If you can go to Morocco for a month with only hand luggage, more power for you. Me? I’ll pack a tuxedo and rain gear, just in case.
Think you’re a bad packer? Honestly, you can’t be worse than me. On several occasions, I forgot to pack essential underwear, shoes, socks and toiletries such as toothbrush, toothpaste and – horror of horrors – hair product. I’m resigned to the fact that I’ll never be a successful packer, but I still continue to search for articles online (like “How to Pack” in the New York Times) in the vain hope of ever having an idea of what that I might need when I’m away.