Packing too much for your trip—again?

Just 45 square inches. Doesn’t sound like much, and truthfully it isn’t. But if “packing light” meant living out of a 45-square-inch suitcase for six weeks, then I guess it would have to be enough.

The anticipation of my first trip outside the United States had me in stitches of excitement and nerves. Daydreams about what the rolling hills, the castles, and the people of the United Kingdom would be like swept me away from many a boring class lecture in the months before I left. But one thought would always bring me back to my hard desk chair with a thunk: could I possibly live happily out of a 45-square-inch suitcase—the size of a dresser drawer—for six weeks?

People always recommend packing light for trips, offering pragmatic points like “less luggage is easier to carry” or “it’s less to risk losing.” But what about all that stuff I like to use in my day-to-day existence? What about the hair products, that extra pair of sneakers, my music collection, my movies, and constant internet access? I am quite attached to my possessions and sometimes feel naked without them. Not only that, I seem to have a phobia of being unprepared, whether it be for a bloody nose, a great photo opportunity, or simple boredom. Combine these two characteristics, and you have a girl who tried to cram her entire 18 years worth of stuff into the back of a Subaru when she went to college. Not exactly what you’d call light packing.

I wanted to push myself a little more for this trip, so I cut my usual list of just-in-casies to only the absolutely-every-daysies. I decided that it would be worth it to leave behind most of my technology and most of my preoccupation with my appearance; I decided that I would, for a time, trim down my ever-expanding palette of hobbies and interests. I took with me a camera, a small laptop for storing my 1,364 photographs, two novels, my iPod, a pen, and my journal.

Not surprisingly, packing light did make it easier to move around, it made me less worried about losing things, and it proved all those other pragmatic points made by anonymous web advisors to be true. But it also added to my travel experience in a way I had not anticipated—I found myself living a simpler, cleaner life. Instead of living among and through my things, I was living among the people I was with and through the places I was seeing. It was absolutely refreshing and exhilarating, like relishing a simple piece of fine chocolate after glutting oneself on candy bars filled with distracting nuts, creams, caramels, and rice crunchies.

Every morning I would shower, dress in one of four outfits, and pull my hair back—and I was ready for another day of adventure. I found time to write my thoughts in my journal and catch my inspirations on film. I enjoyed the occasional escape through my books or my music. But most of the time I simply enjoyed my surroundings. I breathed the air, I touched the walls and trees, I listened to the people on the train, and I watched the sunlight on the fields. I would not have enjoyed simple living had I been preoccupied with my stuff. Disengaging from my possessions allowed me to disengage from my western American lifestyle and engage instead in these new Welsh and English lifestyles that I was exploring.

Since that experience, I have a very different opinion on packing. It is no longer a chore of cramming as much as I can into as small a space as I can. Packing is an opportunity to step outside my everyday surroundings, leave behind my ordinary attachments, and experience a different life—explore a different me.

Next time you are packing for a vacation, stop and think not only about what you want to take with you, but also what you would like to leave behind. Traveling offers a unique opportunity to step away from your day-to-day distractions and rediscover that life is not the things you carry in your pocket—or in your suitcase—but the things you carry in your heart.

—Diana Dzubak

You’ll understand the weight of the situation, or lack thereof in your bag, when you have to carry your stuff wherever you go.

Are you guilty of packing the just-in-casies and more? Learn how to eliminate the uneccessaries here.