The Packed Suitcase For Life and The Overdue Vacation

I’m sitting on my suitcase in the hotel lobby in Berlin, hoping the latest addition of a hardback coffee table book will fit in with my life of 10 days. The bellhop stares at me and says, “Can I help you?” I guess I might look crazy to the naked eye but in reality I’m doing what I love to do, packing.

Designer Diane Von Furstenberg says of packing, “When you figure out your suitcase, you figure out your life.” Most bemoan the packing process. It is one we try to make easier, quicker and lighter. However I have to agree with Diane. When you can figure out just what items are so important to you for a two week vacation or a round the world journey, in essence you have prioritized your life as it should be. The packing process is much more meaningful.

I don’t recall a time where I didn’t enjoy packing. As a child, I would put on pretend packing shows whenever my family was headed off on a vacation. I loved anything travel sized and compact, something that was made for the adventure of the road. Packing symbolized everything about travel. Sometimes I think I would get more excited about what I was going to place in my purple backpack that being on the trip couldn’t compete. It was the build up to adventure, the idea that everything outside of the bag would be forgotten at home and the destination would be the only focus.

Lately I have been packing for all of the wrong reasons. My childish innocence for packing has lost its magic somewhere with my nonexistent vacation. Packing used to be a process before completely getting away from home. I was leaving behind those things I needed in an everyday life for a more simplified, one-suitcase existence. My handbag wasn’t weighed down with a laptop just yet or countless notebooks filled with articles to write. I was off to recharge from the complicated life a third grader.

Now I travel mostly for work. That work allows me to write about rich travel stories and have unusual experiences everyday. However I have reached a point where I haven’t traveled for myself in a long time. I haven’t taken a vacation. I haven’t packed just for the adventure. I pack my office, outfits that will fit in with a professional press trip and countless pens that seem to die now by the day rather than by the month. What I pack has been tailored to my job, not so much my life.

The American work ethic leaves very little room for vacation, for time to let the brain relax. A recent article in the New York Times dissected the problem with not shutting down the office and emails for a vacation. With each sentence, I could see myself. My email pings on my phone and I have to look, no matter the hour or circumstance. The online world and that life back home are hard to separate from travel.

They say we don’t have passports and we don’t have time off. We are overworked and busy. While watching the local news the other day, they were lending tips on how to get in and out of the supermarket as fast as possible. They kept saying how busy everyone is in this day and age, that even shopping for food is something we need to do with rapid speed. I remember my host mom Loriana in Florence when she would go grocery shopping. You would think she was dressing for a Gucci photo shoot in her sharp camel suit and silk scarf. In reality, she was dressing for the experience. She wasn’t off to shop. She was off to experience Florence for the morning and she wanted to look her best.

I’m finally going to take a vacation, just before a quarter life crisis develops and I become one of those people that needs tips on how to get in and out of the supermarket in 30 seconds. I want to finally pack a suitcase for life. I want to rediscover what travel should always be, an escape.

I fast forward to a few days later from that hotel lobby incident in Berlin. Now we are sitting around a table in Palma de Mallorca, telling our host about the American vacation. We tell her most people get two weeks off a year along with some holidays. She compares notes, citing all of the holidays and vacation time in Spain. When we finish telling her our American ways of taking time off, with the most concerned of faces she says, “That sounds awful.”

That concerned look on her face sticks with me as I head back to my room for the night. I glance at my suitcase, with clothes spilling out in a rushed fashion. I haven’t figured out my suitcase and therefore my life isn’t in order. As I head off next week on road trips throughout the middle of America and the South, my suitcase will look a little differently. I’m packing for myself at long last.

When did you last pack a suitcase strictly for yourself? When was your last vacation?


  1. says

    This seems to be a common theme as Nomadic Matt just wrote about the same thing. For me, it’s burn out. Travel is a lot about work and not always about relaxing and enjoying it. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I had a vacation just for me. It’s tough. I’ve gotten to that breaking point a few times and had to take a break. My body would get sick or I would just get overwhelmed. I took a break in other ways.

    A vacation though? I think it’s been a couple of years.

  2. says

    Great read, Suzy. Travel blogging is an interesting conundrum that I never would have imagined existed. We start writing and blogging because we love travel so, so much, but then we lose some of the innocent love of travel when we constantly take notes & photos, tweet about it, see every experience through the lens of what kind of post it could be… You need and deserve a real vacation. :-)

  3. says

    I think this is why I never want to make my travel blog my only job, and stick with my expat jobs offline. I think I’d get burned out and lose that passion for packing my suitcase as well. Enjoy your road trips!

    • Suzy Guese says

      Sadly this blog is not my only job as a freelance travel writer. I guess to be your own boss you have to have lots of jobs going at once. When you are constantly writing about travel, you can forget what it’s like to travel without working but I don’t think I could ever lose my passion for packing!

  4. says

    Great post. I have to say though I HATE packing. I have been doing it since I was 2 when my parents divorced and was travelling backwards and forwards between countries to each parent and then later years between houses every couple of weeks. I’ve also moved house a ridiculous number of times too. I think some of it is that I always overpack. Have been trying to figure out a way to become a minimalist, concise packer for travel but it never seems to work. Am still trying though so hopefully one day I will get there and packing will be more fun!

  5. says

    Like Jeremy said there have been a lot of articles lately from Travel Bloggers who never take a vacation. Maybe for their vacation they should go to work in a regular office for a couple of weeks. This will put things in perspective. Or they could just take a vacation from their work like the rest of us do.

    • Suzy Guese says

      I’m not saying I don’t appreciate my job, but I do think people believe travel writing is the dream job, one long vacation, especially those who work in offices. I honestly haven’t taken a weekend off in years. Sadly my job doesn’t end at 5PM. If you travel and write for a living, I do think you need to remember to take a vacation like most people do from their jobs. The line between the two is so close we often forget to do so.

      • says

        I have no doubt that travel writing is not easy. I have had my blog running for 4 months now and am having a hard time creating stories.

        I think one of the hardest things about traveling, especially long term, is that you can not really get comfortable anywhere. You are always on the move and it can be hard to just sit down and relax like you can when you are at home.

  6. Matt says

    I think this is a great article Suzy. As someone who used to work in an office but now freelances, I can definitely relate. While I enjoy freelancing immensely more than being stuck in an office, I cannot remember the last “unplugged” vacation I have had. While the lifestyle of a freelancer can be more comfortable, it is without a doubt more work than my old office job. It can be hard to try to remember to take a break and simply experience traveling like I used to when I was younger. Too many times I pass up sights or activities when I travel because I have to “get back to the office.” I hope you have an experience-filled holiday!

  7. says

    OF all the traveling I’ve done, packing still annoys me the most. I guess I’m still so attached to a lot of my nice clothes its so hard to bring just a select few! While others pack for “work”, I pack to look good, to fit in with the locals of that city or place, and at the same time, to still look as effortlessly stylish as I do back home in NYC. When I go on medical missions abroad, I do tone down a bit as I’ve come to find out, scrubs actually take up space in a backpack or suitcase! The way I pack nowadays usually depends on where I’m going and what I’m doing.

  8. says

    I love this piece; it’s very thoughtful. I guess all my travel is for me, although I have noticed a change in my everyday life and travel because of my blog. Now a simple trip to meet friends at a new place involves note taking and my camera. I haven’t turned this off in almost a year, but I’m not to the point that I want to yet. That day will probably come, but until then, I’ll bring extra pens and memory cards.

  9. says

    I will admit to daydreaming about quitting my job and becoming a full-time travel writer, but this feeling is exactly why I have no plans to do that yet. It’s a job, and I’d hate for work to take some of the fun out of one of my favorite hobbies. Enjoy your vacation!

  10. says

    As weird as it feels to write, I think I enjoy the internet and blogging side of it more than the actual travel side. Hopefully this will help stave off the burnout when and if it ever comes.

    Hope you enjoy your vacation!

  11. says

    I can totally see how its tough to remember to travel for yourself when blogging…I’d hate to take a trip and miss all that good content, but at the same time, we all need time for ourselves to just enjoy travel without doing the work of blogging. Nice post!

  12. says

    In my opinion, it makes perfect sense that you’ll feel this way. You’re human. It’s like someone going to study film because they love it so much, and then they can’t watch a film without noticing everything the camera does, etc. It doesn’t mean they don’t love film anymore if they just want to watch a movie or few as they used to when they fell in love with film. I think it’s fantastic you’re so dedicated to your profession, and I also think it’s fantastic you’re taking a real vacation. Everyone needs a break once in a while, even if we appreciate our everyday :)

  13. says

    We just took a real vacation to Florida to visit my parents- we didn’t blog and I only tweeted or instagramed when I wanted to- it was lovely. It is very annoying how people think travel writers have it all. While it is fun to travel, it is also extremely stressful and freelance is one big high/low. HOpe you get a nice vacation soon!


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