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Sunday, September 15, 2019
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To Pack or Not to Pack

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Making a new friend in London

 

What one Baby Boomer has learned about travel.

 
By Paula Moore Hurtt 

 

How do you pack for a trip? Do you make a list first? Do you try to anticipate every possible scenario so you can be prepared? Or do you throw in a few mix and match outfits and call it a day?  

My husband and I travel a lot. We are snowbirds who spend a couple of months in Florida every year. And we’ve been all over this country and abroad a couple of times. It’s what we enjoy doing most. However, our packing styles could not be more different.  

I’ll never forget the time we were packing for one of our first trips together, and  I saw him throwing his clothes in his suit case all willy nilly…no organization…just  tossing them in. It seemed sacrilege to be leaving so much space in that case. You could smuggle your grandmother in the leftover space, and she’d have plenty of air to breathe even if we crossed the Atlantic! I began fantasizing about the number of pairs of shoes I could tuck into his suitcase when his back was turned. But, that was not to be because of his competitive nature and his pride in packing more efficiently than me.  It has become a long-standing tradition with us for him to toss his suitcase into the back of the car like Superman tossing a truck over a building and then huff and puff and exclaim in amazement at the weight of mine as if it were filled with Kryptonite.  

Of course, on road trips he makes up for his light suit case with what he considers the absolute necessities of travel…a tool box, a tire iron, a cooler with soft drinks and water, a bag of snacks,  golf clubs just in case, chargers for this and chargers for that, a bottle of good bourbon (in the trunk of course), paperback books, a quart or two of oil, maps, GPS system, portable car battery charger, flashlight, batteries, small air compressor and of course his hand gun just in case we get stranded and have to kill a squirrel to cook by the side of the road. If he put all that in his suitcase, we’d be even!

Several years ago, I joined a pilgrimage to Ireland with a friend and her Catholic travel group. It was my first trip to Europe, so I began planning my packing a month in advance and made lists, sub-lists, and addendums to my lists. I must have packed, unpacked, and repacked a dozen times. My sister came over and helped me on the evening I did my final packing, considering each item of clothing and pair of shoes as we weeded through and eliminated a few unnecessary items.  

 I thought I had packed conservatively until we got to our first destination…a charming hotel on the Dingle Peninsula. Did you know that hotels on the Dingle Peninsula have no elevators? That’s what “charming” means in the brochures. They also have no bellboys. Carrying that bag up three flights of stairs along with my carry-on and handbag was eye opening. I hadn’t packed to climb Mt. Everest! Oh, it was worth it. Once the dizziness passed, my chest stopped hurting and my vision cleared, I found the view of the bay outside our window to be breath taking. Or perhaps I just hadn’t caught my breath yet. By the end of that ten-day trip, I had developed pretty impressive upper body strength! 

Our most challenging packing yet was when we took the Queen Mary II “across the pond.” Normally, packing for an ocean journey is easy because you unpack once and the ship takes you from destination to destination. However, this time we were not only packing for the ship, we were packing for planes, trains, ferries, buses and automobiles. We had to be able to haul our stuff through train stations (if you’ve ever traveled in Europe, you know the train you need to be on is always on the OTHER platform…at least two landings and four flights of stairs away from where you are currently standing and it is due to arrive any moment!) We needed to be able to load our bags into and out of taxis, on and off ferries, down the aisles of trains and up and down the stairs of “charming” hotels.  

We made the hub of our trip our nephew’s flat near Tower Bridge in London, and from there we traveled to Holland and Belgium by train where we then toured by bus and then returned by ferry. So there was packing, unpacking, repacking into smaller bags, unpacking and repacking into bigger bags again. It was a challenge I relished…what to leave in London and what to take on our side trips until we took the train back to Southampton for our sail back across the pond to New York and our flight home.  That’s when I learned that as long as we had our passports, credit cards and meds we were fine. After all, they do have stores in those faraway places.  

 I have an acquaintance who traveled around Europe with her son when he was in high school. Before the trip, they went to the local Goodwill store and bought their clothes for the trip (just the outerwear of course). She said she didn’t care what their fellow travelers thought about their fashion sense or lack thereof because she’d never see them again. Each morning of the tour, before they left their hotel to get on the bus for the next destination, they left the previous day’s clothing folded neatly on the bed with a note that said, “Please donate.”  They then were able to fill the space that day’s clothing had taken up in their suitcases with souvenirs. By the time they flew home, they had only the clothes on their backs…and two suitcases full of gifts, souvenirs and dirty underwear! Brilliant!  

There are three pieces of advice I'd give to my fellow Baby Boomers. 

The first is to INVEST IN A GOOD BACKPACK. 

I learned the value of backpacks when my children were young. I have spent many days traipsing around Disney World with one child in a stroller and the other in a baby backpack. A couple of times I even flew with them to Orlando…through the Atlanta airport of course…diaper bag on one shoulder and handbag on the other with my daughter in her stroller and my son in the backpack… all by myself.  I made it through the underground transport from one gate to another in Atlanta and then on the people mover from the gate to the terminal in Orlando and finally onto the monorail at Walt Disney World.  I was fearless in those days…or perhaps desperate! 

A backpack makes an ideal carry-on. It’s the right size, holds the things you don’t want the airline to lose…like your money and meds…and fits easily in the overhead bin or underneath the seat in front of you. Just don’t get the kind with wheels on them. The flight attendants don’t like them. I got my “quality” backpack at a consignment shop in downtown Shelbyville. It’s really a girl’s school bag and is pink with flowers all over it. It’s not exactly high class and one of the zipper pulls is broken, but it has lots of pockets, is well balanced on my shoulders and is so comfortable, I would have bought it if it had Sponge Bob Square Pants on it!  

My second piece of advice is to AVOID THE LOCAL WATER in all foreign countries, even if your tour guide tells you it's safe to drink.  And for some of us, this even holds true in other parts of these great United States!  I've been sick in Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Mexico and several states west of the Mississippi.  Avoid fresh fruits and vegetables washed in local water, keep your mouth shut in the shower and brush your teeth with bottled water.  Bottled water is your friend, and so is your doc if he or she will send you on your way with a good anti-emetic "just in case."  

And that leads me to my third piece of advice for Baby Boomer travelers. 

ROLL WITH THE PUNCHES! 

 Planning a big trip is like planning a wedding.  No matter how meticulous our plans, something pretty much always goes wrong and those are the moments we tend to remember and chuckle about later...sometimes MUCH later!  

We've all sat in traffic on I-75 for an hour...creeping along at 5 miles per hour beside endless orange traffic cones until we finally get to the road crew...3 men standing around the bed of a yellow truck smoking, while one man fills a lone pot-hole.  Hey, it's part of the adventure!  So is running through the Atlanta airport, getting rained on at Disney World and that four year old kicking the back of your seat on the plane.  You've got to roll with it, baby! 

I currently find myself packing for another trip…a one week cruise with my sister and daughter. I have firmly resolved to really and truly pack light this time. I will not over-pack, take unnecessary items, dislocate my shoulders struggling with my suitcase and end up with no room for souvenirs and gifts for my family. After all, if I have my passport, credit card and meds…I’m good to go. Right?  

Of course, I absolutely, positively need three swimsuits…maybe four to be on the safe side. And they all require matching cover-ups, flip-flops, visors or hats and sunglasses. And since there are two formal nights on the ship, I cannot possibly pack less than two evening gowns and three cocktail dresses along with all the accompanying lingerie, shoes, evening bags, wraps and jewelry. Then, of course, I’ll need comfortable clothes and sturdy walking shoes for San Juan…its brick streets are uneven and hilly (safety first!)… and something to wear while jet-skiing and something else to wear to Margeritaville on Grand Turk! Then there are my camera, spare batteries, Kindle, toiletries, curling iron, travel journal and water color pencils, cell phone, chargers for this and chargers for that.

 Oh dear. I think I’m in trouble.  I've filled my bag with Kryptonite again!

Paula Moore Hurtt formerly served as Web Content Manager for ShelbyBoomer.com
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