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?