Live Fast, Die Young, Carry A Heavy Pack

My Mom, (Mama. E.) just moved out of the family house in Berkeley after 46 years. She moved to a much smaller place and we had to throw out a bunch of her stuff beforehand. You know those gigantic debris boxes that you see at construction job sites? We filled two of those to the brim. Unbelievable.

So after a couple days of tossing out stuff, I came home and looked around my own house. My house isn’t that big. I’ve seen garden sheds bigger than my house. I reckon that a Ford Excursion is bigger than my house.

But my “HO-scale” house is filled with stuff too. After throwing so much of Mom’s stuff away, I looked at my possessions in a new light; “I don’t need all this stuff,” I whined, “and I can get by pretty well without it.” Maybe I need a debris box installed outside my house too. Maybe I need to fill it and live more like Gandhi. But how much travel gear did Gandhi have?

Packing for a trip is sorta like figuring out just which stuff to bring along, to carry your house with you. A quick Google search will uncover all sorts of ‘packing checklists’. They, (the unnamed, mythical writers of packing lists) obviously do not mean for you to take everything that is on the list, they just put everything that could ever possibly be needed. It’s up to you to pare down the list for your needs.

Any idiot (with the exception of this writer) can figure out a way to pare down such a list. And once you pare it down, it can become something of a personal challenge.

“Do I need a beach towel? Beach towels take up too much room, so out goes the beach towel”

A smaller towel will have to suffice. Or a “pack towel”. Pack towels are made from some substance not found in nature, and they suck (literally, not figuratively) the water off of you. I know some travelers who think that even a pack towel takes up too much room. They cut a new one in half; each dries himself with a portion about the size of a hanky. Going through all of your stuff and determining if a smaller version of it will suffice helps immensely. Less stuff and less big stuff.

Do I need an umbrella?




If you go to soggy Scotland, you will soon notice that when it looks partly cloudy it will certainly rain, and then if you prepare for rain showers it will stop raining. (If it looks clear and is warm and sunny, you are actually in Spain and you need a new map). An umbrella works wonder for keeping rain at bay. That’s what all the locals have, but should you bring one? No, silly. Buy one there.

Amazing as it may seem, some places in the world have stores where they actually sell things. It’s pretty cool. You go in and buy something and use it for the duration of your trip, then give it away to an Oxfam charity shop before you fly home.

You pack will have more room for those important souvenirs if your pack isn’t full.

Underwear and socks, a couple of shirts, something to swim in, some long pants, a jacket, a sweater, a fleece jacket or a jumper. A hat. Something to clean yourself with. Some earplugs. Some Chaco sandals. What else is there? A guidebook, a camera, a baby grand piano, some money. Your pack won’t have to be that full.

If you watch American public TV at all, you might have seen the programs by (amazingly popular and successful) dweeb Rick Steves. A smart and talented guy with whom I am glad that I don’t have to travel, he has some excellent advice on packing.

His entire, filled pack is even smaller than my butt. I don’t know how he does it, though I suspect that he pays more hotel laundry bills than I do. I carry a weeks worth of socks and undies, a few cotton shirts and some travel pants. I am not nearly as geeky as Rick Steves, but I am staying away from Cinque Terre until he is off TV.

Then why is my pack filled? There are, of course, books (Have you read “Sand In My Bra”?) and my short-wave radio (to listen to the BBC) and my toiletry kit from Outdoor Research. Some Chacos, a roll of TP with aloe, a hat. Most everything else (my Discman, my camera, my full-grown boa constrictor) go into my daypack.

Take along half the stuff and twice the money

I suggest that people pack their travel pack with all the stuff that they think that they will need and go to the airport via the regular city bus, just like a normal schlub. Haul it up onto the bus, down its aisle, sit in the back. Transfer busses once, just for fun. When you get to the airport, find and carry your pack to the Aeroflot counter, stand in line for a while, then go back home on the bus. If this doesn’t provide inspiration for tossing out half the junk in your pack, then I don’t know what will. The bare minimum that you need? The clothes on your back, a Visa card or a bunch of money, your passport and air tickets.

Anything else is luxury.