The only thing more satisfying than writing a packing list is the packing itself. But to be fully enjoyed, packing has to be approached in stages – no matter whether it’s a train trip to Rhode Island or a flight to Warsaw or a bus to New Jersey. I can’t even start a list without mulling over the contingencies.
They say it’s going to rain there. Should I take ‘them’ seriously?
It could drop below freezing, but only late at night. But will I be out then?
There is a pool. Will I really use it?
I might need a hat for the sun. But will I wear one? Hats are conspicuous.
Dress shoes? Do I ever wear them? Or are they just wishful thinking?
Earrings? One pair should be enough, no? But they don’t take up space.
Implicit in every question is an artifact: an umbrella, sweater, swimsuit, a wide-brimmed hat, and a pair black suede pumps. They all go on the list with the usual suspects: pants, tops, a tunic or dress(es), tights and socks (not in summer), a scarf, undergarments, pj’s, toiletries, reading material, charging cords, and meds. If it’s a professional gig, also computer and printed notes. If it’s to stay with friends, a house present that doesn’t weigh more than a bottle of wine. Winnowing sartorial options while repeatedly checking a weather app becomes a game – a way of trying to predict the future in a box-on-wheels, and for the shortest trips, a handbag. (Mine is a portable filing cabinet. Very gratifying.) The goal is to cross out all but the essential items and still be presentable, and maybe a bit better than that. So several lists are made. My pre-travel-self rationalizes it as a necessary. Or, at the least, an edifying form of procrastination. Really, it’s a way to start leaving. The only risk is that the anticipation might turn out to be better than the going. (Incidentally, the rules of packing don’t apply to the return trip, for obvious reasons. The destination has no unknowns.)
This ritual of list-making-editing is not simply a symptom of a traveler’s latent OCD. It’s dictated by the first rule of travel: Never check luggage. Fold, roll, stack, wedge, fill in the corners of the suitcase, strap it all in, and if need be, sit on it until the contents are as flat as origami. Unless I’m gone for more than a month, I would rather use a hotel’s laundry and hand-wash the unmentionables myself. That way there’s no lost luggage; no waiting around a carousel when I just want to be home. But I’ve not even left, yet. How did that happen?