A Pack-Rat’s Philosophy

I’m someone who loves to travel and plan trips.  Now I’m talking specifically about personal leisure travel and not business travel for all you hardened road warriors out there who are on the road more than you are home, and can make your way through various airports semi-conscious.  But I’m someone who now travels mostly for pleasure, and I adore the anticipation of an upcoming trip, down to the ride to and from the airport.

I guess I’m in love with the theoretical concept of travel, and getting away from your real life, if only for a few days.  But it’s painful sometimes.

It’s painful for me because what I don’t love is packing.  Actually, I hate packing for a vacation because more often than not, I find myself up until the wee hours of morning before my departure doing my fourth load of laundry and figuring out what to pack.  I really really want to pack light… but at the same time, I also want some semblance of choice at my vacation destination.  Who knows when you just might absolutely need that nice sparkly top, that tube of Polysporin, or bug spray?

It’s always been a struggle for me to figure out what to bring and what to leave.  (And don’t even get me started on different types of shoes or toiletries!)  However, once I’m at my destination, 80% of the time I usually end up wearing the same 1-2 outfits everyday because heck, I’m on holiday and I just can’t be bothered with all the choices I’ve offered myself.  It’s the tyranny of having too many choices, more aptly coined the paradox of choice which I’ve referred to in previous posts.  While I admit it’s always nice to have the option to change outfits, I don’t usually exercise my options because it takes too much work and too many brain cells.  But I suppose it’s the more dominant P in my MBTI that’s driving my non-rational behavior in pursuit of “keeping my options open.”

Adding another layer to the minimalist vs. whimsicality of choice paradox, is my tendency towards procrastination, as I just can’t seem to bring myself to start packing until the night before I depart.  I never understand people who are able to pack days in advance of an upcoming trip.  I’ve tried but I physically cannot start packing until the day before departure.  For me, I have a need to “maximize” my laundry by doing ALL of it—including that last pair of socks and underwear I happen to be wearing—just before I leave on a trip.  Sound weird?  How about adding all the dishes and housecleaning to the laundry.  It makes absolutely no sense (ok, actually it makes perfect sense if you are a touch obsessive-compulsive) and is totally inefficient, but I just can’t help myself.  I think it’s because I’ve rationalized (deluded?) myself into thinking that I love coming back to a “hotel home” with made bed, sparkly-clean linens, laundered clothes (aside from the dirty laundry I’ve brought back from my trip, of course) and the dishes all done and garbage taken out.

I guess the pessimist in me says that if I die in a plane crash or car accident while on vacation, at least they’ll know that I kept a relatively tidy house, which can go into my obit.

The upside to all this pre-departure fervor is that upon coming home, my “hotel homecoming” is wonderful, and lessens the withdrawals of post-vacation depression.  The only problem is that it’s quite a pain to accomplish, especially as you’re rushing out the door to catch a flight.

Since I’ve been on a self-reflective/introspective kick as of late, I think I can partially diagnose my phobia of packing as it relates to my last post and my struggle with procrastination and perfectionism (see explanatory graph in my last post.)

I think you can tell a lot about a person by how they pack and travel, and I generally categorize people into three main categories: 1) the minimalist; 2) the pack-rat; and 3) the tweener.  Most guys and hardcore road warriors (and people who don’t wear contact lenses and who are perfectly content using hotel toiletries) I’d place into category one, including DH.  He’s relatively efficient and only takes about 20-30 minutes to pack for a trip.  You also know you’re firmly in the minimalist camp if you’ve successfully used pretty much everything you’ve packed in your bag at least once.

I hover between a tweener and a pack-rat.  I know this because I usually come back from a trip with about a third to half of my suitcase full of clothes I didn’t end up wearing, which is the price I pay for “leaving my options open.”  Also, since I don’t like to use hotel toiletries because they end up destroying my hair and skin, I usually bring my own products from home, secured in a clear Ziplock bag.  Yes, anal, I know, but I’ve experienced one too many shampoo or contact lens solution explosions to finally wise up.

The various Ziplock bags I’m forced to pack also means that I have to check-in my bag because I’m perpetually over the “liquid limit” because of my toiletries.  But I’ve always prided myself in packing everything efficiently and neatly, like a 3D game of Tetris, as you can see.

Packing 2 att

Packing att

So imagine my surprise on this last trip from Seattle to Kauai when we arrived at our destination and I picked up my checked bag to find the lock missing and replaced by a plastic zip-tab.  Of course, TSA picked out my brand new bag to search, and since I (foolishly) did not have a TSA-compliant lock, my lock was destroyed.  DH and I surmised that the TSA targets nicer-looking new bags to “search” in the hopes of finding better stuff to steal.

Fortunately I opened up my bag at the Lihue airport to find all my contents and belongings present and accounted for, but mashed and haphazardly stuffed back into my bag.  TSA did leave a note, but I still had that icky feeling of someone going through my underwear.  At least I knew better than to pack valuables and electronics into my checked luggage, and I guess I’ll have to now spring for one of these TSA locks.  Lesson learned and re-iterated: never, and I mean NEVER, pack valuables or electronics in your checked baggage unless you’re asking for it to be stolen.

I know I should feel more safe knowing the TSA is doing their job, but honestly, I’m not entirely confident that random bag searches do much at all, other than inconvenience people while offering an opportunity for random (bad) people to steal your stuff with zero recourse.  Of course it would be ridiculous and unreasonable to ask for baggage inspectors to re-pack searched bags neatly, but I think the TSA should at least provide you with that courtesy.  Looking back, I find it amusing that I felt more annoyed at how my bag was messily re-stuffed than having my lock destroyed and being searched in the first place.

More realistically, the simple solution is for me to fight my own irrational tendencies towards “options” and to just learn to become a true minimalist: One who simply carries on her bag, with tiny quart-sized Ziplock bag filled to the brim with travel-sized toiletries out and in plain sight for everyone to see.

Ain’t never gonna happen.  That would just be way too easy.

PS: Has anyone else wondered about the historical implied value of SC Johnson stock (owners of the Ziplock brand) since the TSA instituted the various liquid and Ziplock bag rules after 9/11?  Well, we won’t accurately know for sure because SC Johnson & Son is a privately-held company… But my guess is that this “family company” is doing quite nicely, thank you very much.