3 weeks and counting! In the mad dash right before a trip, I cannot contain my glee. I want to dance on the rooftops ala Dick Van Dyke with my own chimney sweep and sing my anticipation for the world to know (or at least my highly annoyed neighbors) just how bounce-off-the-walls-like-I’m-five-again excited I am.
In three weeks I will be walking the streets of Reykjavik, Iceland and boarding my plane for Greenland. How can I possibly not be radiating joy?
As a perfectionist, I am already packing. Yes, packing. I know, I know, my trip is three weeks away. Why in the world would I want to pack now? If I were my adorably procrastinating husband, I would be shootin’ the breeze, watching movies and reading a book on the patio only to transform into a harried, dust devil of activity twenty-four hours before my flight. But that kind of lackadaisical approach to travel is something I can no longer afford.
My strongest defense against exacerbating my symptoms of fibromyalgia and compounding the effects of jet lag is planning ahead as much as possible. The last thing my chronically painful and fatigued body needs as I face the long-haul flight across an ocean is to be already drained of energy and sleep. So I have to be smart about my packing.
Three weeks out is my magic time point. I start by selecting a potential wardrobe. As an ultra-light packer who spends weeks in a row traveling with only one carry-on sized bag, I have to design a mix-and-match wardrobe that meets all the needs of my trips. I allow myself only two pairs of pants and one dressy skirt, up to six shirts, and seven changes of underclothes. No more than two pairs of shoes and usually just one. Everything has to be able to pair with everything else, so color scheme is key. I usually stick to neutrals, greens, blues and purples. And I almost always hand wash and air dry on the road to save money, so I test wash before I pack to avoid the unpleasant I-slept-in-my-clothes look.
This may all seem like a lot of unnecessary work and rather limiting – what if I get bored with the same clothes for seven weeks? What if I actually need those strappy shoes or another pair of sandals? What if it’s unseasonably cold? – but packing a limited goes-with-everything wardrobe is actually liberating. Instead of lugging around bulky suitcases from town to town and worrying about what I’m wearing, I can step into a new location footloose and ready to focus on the destination. Who cares if I wore this shirt four days ago? The people in Bali or Sydney or San Francisco or Paris or Berlin don’t know that!
So now I have my wardrobe pinned down. I carefully roll my clothes to limit wrinkles and place them in my bag. Time to focus on everything else.
The key here is asking yourself a series of questions. How often will I use this item? Am I able to buy this where I’m going? What activities will I be doing? Am I hiking or spending all my time in cities? A mix of both? Camping, staying at a hostel, a high-end hotel or in an all-inclusive resort? Be harsh and edit yourself. Do you really need the snorkel gear if you’re only snorkelling for a couple of days? I imagine myself carrying bulky heavy snorkel gear around for only minimal use and that’s enough to convince me I would rather rent equipment instead.
Editing myself is admittedly hard when it comes to reading material. I am a prolific reader. Seven weeks is a lot of flying, bus trips and ferries – won’t I want a huge stack of books? I used to think so and pack almost half my luggage with bulky, heavy, back-breaking books but then hardly touch more than one or two. Now I pack one book in my small day bag and one in my main bag. If I really need new reading material, I can always buy another book on the trip. And I end up coming home with a souvenir! In Vienna, I picked up The Hobbit in German and enjoyed practicing my German while reading a childhood favorite. English-language bookstores are also usually easy to find in most touristy areas and the selection may be completely different from home.
What if I run out of something or discover I actually need something I neglected to pack? Simple. Buy it on your trip. Think of it as an experience. Need socks or body lotion? Join the locals and shop in their local markets, shops and department stores. Tired of your small wardrobe? Splurge on a new outfit that reflects the local fashion sense. Some of my favorite travel memories are of trying on hand knit sweaters in Kathmandu, Nepal and getting a crash course on European sizing from a Czech mother and her daughter.
Of course, with packing, some items are indispensable. My must-haves: mp3 player, camera, first aid kit and basic hiking gear (hiking boots, socks, water bottle, compass, etc), one book, a set of blank journals for recording my experiences and notes, and for cheap sleeping bag accommodation in the Norse world, a lightweight sleeping bag and stuff sack. For everyone this list will vary. I forgo the makeup; some women can’t live without. I’m a tomboy so my wardrobe is pant-centric; other women want dresses and pretty sandals. My techy husband can’t live without his laptop; I am perfectly content using hostel computers, library internet and cybercafes.
Make your own list of priorities, then edit out what you can live without. You’ll be amazed just how light you can really go.