Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Packing Right

Packing for a trip is one of the most challenging tasks of which I know, with "challenging" being positive-speak for "colossal pain in the arse." I love to visit other places, but the idea of gathering clothes and being separated from my closet for any length of time is frightening. I rarely plan clothes in advance and feel disloyal choosing “favorite” outfits. Any time I've tried to plan clothes ahead, I wake up in the wrong mood or the wrong weight, and it's back to square one anyway.

Once upon a time, I was really, really good at packing. A blissful stretch of time in Massachusetts in the 1980s and 90s involved frequent weekend trips to Maine, Cape Cod and New York, and grand vacations on cruise ships and to Caribbean Islands. Back then, life was a Travel Channel adventure and "What if..." was the guiding mantra. What if we went into Manhattan?  What if we went to the theatre or a nice restaurant? What if there was a great new dance club? What if ... I could pack blindfolded and knew exactly what to cram into a bag or two or three to provide critical and varied wardrobe options to cover all potential scenarios.

Overpacking to cover any and all foreseeable social situations resulted in a sense of obligation to change outfits for each activity -- as many as three or four times a day.  It was part of the fun of stepping outside regular life and being someplace else. A single day in "real life" rarely included shopping and a picnic and a trip to the beach and a nightclub and ice cream stand and a restaurant, but those were the norm on a weekend or vacation trip.

"Real life" featured endless hours trapped in the same spot at work, interrupted only by trips to the restroom and maybe outside the building for lunch, followed by a car ride home or to the grocery store. The only times outfits were changed during a "normal" day was if catastrophe struck -- like a coffee spill or the unfortunate explosion of a critical seam in the back of one’s skirt or pants.

A wardrobe evolution to predominantly black made packing even easier. Mostly black equals instant coordination and clothes for a week-long visit to Paris in November 1999 fit into one suitcase that technically qualified as a carry-on – and even included an extra coat. It was the epitome of coordination and efficiency which has never yet been replicated.

Since moving to Tennessee, my travel schedule has declined from regular, interesting and frequent to once or twice a year, at best. Sorely out of practice, there are semiannual panicked tailspins at the horrific idea of packing for a holiday visit home.

One of the difficulties (of course I mean "challenges") is the abundance of activities that may be proposed while 1,000 miles away from the comfort of the closet. Past travel has included sledding, ice skating, hiking, swimming, night clubs, fine restaurants, casinos and midnight swims in the ocean immediately after leaving a nightclub -- most of it spontaneous. Toes were frozen, snowsuits borrowed, clothing items destroyed by chlorine or salt water. Sometimes, activities were declined due to the absence of proper footwear or a swimsuit.

A recently cultivated nuance to packing involves forgetting some ordinary, yet critical, everyday item.  I’ll arrive with a suitcase stuffed with 50 pounds of clothing and shoes and still need an emergency trip to WalMart or Target for pajamas, sweatpants, a toothbrush, contact lens supplies or underwear.

For Christmas 2011, it felt like I had a pretty good idea of what to pack. The Christmas itinerary was planned and weather forecasts called for not too cold and not snowy. Basic standard needs were something to wear for Christmas and to church, something in case I went out with friends, pajamas, and sweats or jeans for relaxing time spent at the table annihilating family members in Scrabble (my favorite game on the planet). Seemed simple enough.

The Parisian wardrobe packing model was followed with everything charcoal gray or black mix-and-match with punches of color in the purple Christmas jacket, a teal jersey and a bright green cashmere sweater. If a garment didn't work in at least two outfit combinations or coordinate with the pearly pink cane supporting me and my compound fractured leg, it stayed home.

In a crazy, whimsical moment of fantasy, a "Let's pretend I go out on a date or have a job interview" cream-colored lace shirt was tossed into the mix, to be worn with a cardigan or the purple jacket and either the black skirt or jeans or pinstripe pants (multiple combinations!). It was crazy, because there had been exactly three dates in the previous 18 months and it is questionable that one was an actual date. There were also no interviews scheduled, but I am a little bit of a Boy Scout (Be Prepared!). 

While no dates or job interviews materialized during the week, a much grander invitation was extended -- to be a guest on a TV talk show. That launched a wave of total panic over the paralyzing wonderment of what to wear on a show taping in two days. Of all the varied activities that ever flitted through the imagined realm of possibility, "being on TV" was NEVER once considered when packing for a trip. Now that it’s happened, I guess it can go on the list.

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