Here I am, ready to go, with everything I need for 59 days.
I’m going to be away from home for fifty-nine days.
Compared to our “long trip” (our 14-month trip to Europe in 2004-2005), this is a short trip. But compared to most American vacations, this is an extended vacation… a long time to be gone and a long time to plan and pack for.
Anyone else remember Parkinson’s Law? Mr. Parkinson wrote a famous best-selling business book back in the late 1950's, in the same era as the Peter Principle book. His law definitely applies to packing for a European vacation. His basic law was that “work expands to fill the time allocated to it.” One of the examples I remember relates to someone who needs to write and send a postcard. A busy person dashes into a shop, quickly buys a card, scribbles out a message, buys a stamp and sends that card on its way. They can accomplish this task in 15 minutes or less if that’s all the time they have available. But a person with much more time can make that simple task last for hours, maybe even all day. They take their time preparing to go out, visit a couple of stores, browse many possible cards, carefully compose their message and so on.
The amount of time you spend on packing can definitely expand to fill the time you decide to allocate to it. Some people are really into the packing and allocate lots of time. They start packing days—even weeks—before a trip and really get into the process. They make lists, stack up piles of possible clothes, evaluate alternatives, contemplate their luggage, buy all sorts of special travel gismos, and are all ready to go several days before the trip. On my first-ever trip to Europe, I traveled with a friend who not only had a list—she had a schedule for the trip detailing each outfit and accessories she planned to wear n every day. And of course she had a very large suitcase.
I never allocate much time to packing, and unlike my husband and daughter who start getting organized several days in advance, the time I spend is usually at the last minute. About two days before a trip to Europe, I set up a card table in the bedroom and start assembling a few things. Not clothes to begin with… usually other things. I don’t really get serious about the clothes until 24 hours before the trip. For this trip I allocated about one hour to packing. I did laundry the night before, and really just started stacking up clothes a few hours before I left for the airport. I didn’t have a list either. After 16 trips to Europe, and several hundred business and personal trips, I think I just sort of know what I need to bring. And it helps that I keep the special travel supplies and equipment all in one place. (Though I will confess—I didn’t remember to bring the dirty laundry bag or a collapsable umbrella. I need to add these to my box of permanent travel items.)
But here’s the more important extension of Parkinson’s Law related to packing: “What you take on a trip expands to fill the size of the suitcase you have selected.”
The key to “packing light” isn’t the list of what you take—it’s the size of your suitcase. Begin with the size suitcase you want to deal with, and then plan to take only what fits in your bag. When I decide to take a larger suitcase or duffel, I always end up taking much more than what I need. Got a little extra room? Just stick in two more pairs of shoes and maybe a couple of extra tops...
I’m pretty proud of my packing for this 59-day trip. I know I’ve “packed light”—now I’ll have to see if I “packed right.”. I bought some new, very inexpensive, soft side luggage at Wal-Mart a few days before I left. It’s a vibrant turquoise, so I have no problem spotting it on the baggage carousel. I’ve brought two of the three pieces with me—a 22 inch rolling bag and a small shoulder bag. The shoulder bag attachs to the rolling bag. The shoulder bag doubles as my laptop bag, and I carried it on the plane. I also have a very small backpack that I use as my “purse” when we travel. It holds my wallet, sunglasses, digital camera, a small notebook and pen, digital camera, small purchases etc.
The smaller suitcase forced me to think about my trip as just a one week trip that I’m repeating eight+ times—not as as a 59 day trip. I’ll do laundry and hand-washing, and then I’ll just recycle those same clothes again and again. I admit that I’d rather not deal with the washing, but I’d rather deal with that than with the complexites of a too-large suitcase.
My wardrobe is pretty simple, almost a formula. It helps to have been here in Provence last summer to know what to expect and the kinds of clothes that work best for me here: capri pants, a camisole or tank top, and a couple of light shirts I can layer on top. I brought about five of each of these, including the clothes I wore on the plane. I have one week’s worth of underwear, one nightgown, a sweater, and a straw hat. I have three pairs of shoes, one pair mainly for serious walking and hiking. I have my laptop and digital camera and related equipment, our European hairdryer, two carefully-selected guidebooks and three maps, a small French dictionary and a book on French verbs, one novel, a few files for work, and some gifts. I cut way back on toiletries this time and will buy supplies here. I know I’ll have to find a few more things to read. This is the lightest I have ever traveled.
My luggage was very manageable. I was able to deal with it easily at Charles de Gaulle airport where I had to walk quite a ways to the TGV station. I got on and off the train with no problem, carried it up several flights of steps at the Aix TGV station, and (the biggest challenge) walked about 15 minutes from the Aix bus depot to my B&B on a roughly-paved sidewalk.
On our Luberon Experience trips we’ve seen many different packing styles in action. Joan and Fred earned our lifelong respect by arriving with one carryon bag and a backpack between the two of them for two weeks in Europe—and always seeming to have plenty of different outfits. In May Maril joined us for a week (also on a two-week European trip) with a small rolling bag and a fabulous assortment of lightweight mix and match separates incorporating just a couple of colors.
Here are my tips for packing light:
o Select a small rolling suitcase (a carryon or just slightly larger)
o Make sure you can easily manage your own luggage up and down stairs and some extended distance. This is imperative if you’re traveling by train.
o Regardless of the length of your trip, pack for just one week. Plan to wear most items twice a week and to do laundry and handwashing.
o Bring separates you can mix-and-match and vary with accessories.
o Limit shoes, toiletries and books, the things that add the most space and weight.