Friday, November 20, 2009

Packing Mania

When I was a youngster, all of our relatives lived between two to sixteen hours drive away, so we were always going on long car trips. And since we were five people in one car, and often camped to save money on hotels, this came to a lot of stuff to pack.

My father would start early that morning and spend several hours collecting all of our packed items, carefully assessing the relative volume and necessary accessibility, and fitting it all into our big blue Chevy Impala. Somehow, he made it all fit, although I remember a couple of years in which I had things packed in around my feet. It always did take hours to pack the car, and somehow I came to understand that this accommodated my father's packing method.

I don't need to take hours to pack it all in, fortunately, although that one year we drove across country with a Summer's worth of stuff came close. We really did have to analyze the layout like a jigsaw puzzle that year, and in the end, a few things didn't make the cut.

My husband, bless him, is good at packing without obsessing. That first trip we took out West together - two weeks in a pickup truck with backpacking gear - he quickly learned that I obsessed over packing. One morning I was trying to get my sunblock no, and he said, Let me pack while you do that. I promise I won't break anything. It took about half as long, and it all fit. He said, We're ready to go. Just don't look to closely at it! Over the years, I've retrained myself to trust him to get it done when I'm too stressed to think straight. And thank goodness for that.

Even when I am not traveling across the country, it does take me a while, my brain organizing as much as the physical items. I'm always running later than I'd like, and I almost always leave feeling I've forgotten something. Often at the last minute, I am making sandwiches or taking clean laundry out of the drier or changing kitty litter - any number of things that need to be done before one goes.

I invariably do leave with something unfinished. Oh, well! I have to say. Or, Aiigh! Damn it! That feeling of panic and terror is as much a part of my travels as anything else. But then once I am on the road, I am relieved that it's out of my hands.

One essential tool to keeping my sanity is the packing list. Whether I am going to a dance weekend, a backpacking trip, or an overnight calling gig, or up to visit relatives for a week, or staying in Arizona for a month, I have my system to kept keep my mind straight.

I have packing lists for backpacking, including food lists and weights down to the ounce for each item. I have a list of basic essentials for any dance weekend with and without camping. I have packing lists for Summer travel, packing lists for Winter travel, and sublists depending on what activities -swimming, stargazing, hiking, birdwatching - we might be doing while traveling.

I need that system so that I bring everything we need, but not more than we need. Every year it shifts around, yet gets a little more refined. Mr Sweetie is proud that we've pared down to what we really need.

Now that we have the little girl, though, I have whole new categories of items to list. Clothing, diapering, nursing, pumping, sleeping, entertainment. And we have to find time in which to not only assess and refine the current list, but to actually pack as well. Yesterday, it took me five different tries to have the time + attention span to consolidate two lists. In case you are wondering, I get a lot of things done in the middle of the night.

And now we on to a whole new race... leaving town within twenty-four hours of our original plan, with everything we need, with sanity still relatively intact, at just the right moment in the feeding cycle to make it at lest an hour down the road before we have to stop. We did it once this Summer; now to try it again...

Wish us luck. We have the lists. We have travel food and clean laundry, but a lot of things to pack and a lot of details to nail down. I want to be gone within twelve hours. I make no promises about my sanity.

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