When my brother and I were little, we used to play a game on long car rides called “In My Suitcase.” One of us would start out saying, “In my suitcase you will find” and then name something, like “five pairs of teal polka dotted socks.” The other person would then respond, “In my suitcase you will find five pairs of teal polka dotted socks” and then add something else to the list, like “54 toothbrushes.” You’d go back and forth until someone forgot part of the list. We actually rarely limited ourselves to items that might actually appear in a suitcase. I think the game could have really been named in “in my zoo you will find” because we liked to put odd numbers of giraffes and buffalo in the bag.
I still put more than I should in a suitcase. I am a chronic over-packer. I was the child who brought a body-sized duffel bag to the sleepover. I liked to bring my own pillow and a blanket and a sleeping bag and floss.
And not much has changed. I still pack like wherever I am staying might forget to give me a bed, or I might have a surprise dentist appointment.
The thing is that I like to plan. I like to imagine what sort of relaxing things I could do on vacation. Picking out the books and the outfits for vacation is half the fun.
I visualize myself curled up under a tree looking out at a gorgeous view, in a flowy, grey cotton skirt and beige wool sweater, sipping a steaming cup of coffee, reading Dante Alighieri’s The Divine Comedy, or Sigrid Undset’s Kristin Lavransdatter, or Fyodor Dostoyevsky The Brothers Karamazov. I am incredibly optimistic about how much I will read on vacation.
But of course there are consequences to bringing eight hardback books in your suitcase. Heavy consequences.
I also like the idea of minimalism. But I have a hard time traveling light. My husband, Evan, thinks this is particularly humorous because I actually have a habit of only wearing a few outfits over and over again on vacation, leaving much of what I packed untouched. The reality of vacation is my wearing a pair of black yoga pants, a cup of half-drunk coffee half-forgotten as I sit at the dining room table playing numerous rounds of the board game Dominion after a day of hiking. Just because this version of vacation is different than my ideal does not in any way mean that I dislike how my vacations end up. On the contrary, I love my vacations.
But I have a hard time letting go of the ideal version in my head that the books and extra outfits represents.
One strategy I’ve tried recently is to pack early. I lay out all the things that I would like to bring in some ideal world where vacations are months long. Then I let my four favorite outfits and those six books I’ve been meaning to read have a couple of days of beautiful, fantasy-literary-classic vacations in my head. Then it seems easier to put them back after they have had a chance to play.
But another, deeper way to think about reforming my packing habit is to release my vice-like grip on the ideal vacation. I have a tendency, after imagining these series of perfect magazine moments, to have higher expectations than I should for vacations.
Some of this is bad habit stems from years of being sick and depleted from my regular life and need for vacation to fill me up. But it is not realistic to think that two weeks could make up for the exhaustion of the other fifty. I can’t appreciate what vacation is if I am expecting it to be a panacea for a depleted life.
I find that when I go into vacation not needing it to fill a void in my life, then I can appreciate the people and the moments I actually have more.
The key to a good vacation is to find times during my regular week to have beautiful and good moments.
If every week, I read books I love, then I don’t need to bring twenty books on vacation to make up for my intellectual hunger. If I cultivate regular connections with my friends and call my family regularly, then I am less of a micro-manager about making my family follow scripts for perfect moments that I wrote in my head. If I let myself have two squares of chocolate every day after lunch, then I don’t eat an obscene amount of chocolate there.
So I am practicing traveling lighter. I can bring a little prayer book, not four different devotionals. I can bring one novel that I’ll actually read. I can bring one little knitting project, not a backlog of to-do crafts. I can bring a couple of snacks, but not enough canned tuna to ride out a major power outage. I can leave my yoga mat at home; for a week I can practice on the carpet.
I can cross things off my packing list. I don’t have to bring everything I might need. I can aim for a couple of really great conversations with my family, and let them enjoy their vacation the way that they want to. I don’t have a monopoly on the way that vacation days should be structured. It’s their vacation too.
Finally, I can also use my desire to bring an item as a sign that something could be out of balance in my regular life. The cravings I have to pack and over-plan for vacation can be a window into where my heart is. In my suitcase you will find what might be missing in my everyday practices.
If I can gently acknowledge that I am weighed down with particular expectations and unmet needs, then I can choose to consider where outside of vacation I need to have those needs met. Then I can put the complete works of Shakespeare back on the shelf to be read a little everyday, and enjoy my vacation for what it is: a chance to leave the everyday and see something beautiful.
What do you find yourself over-packing for vacations? Might it be something that you wish you had more time for in your everyday life?
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