[Photo: a very realistic picture of what I imagine everyone’s suitcases look like.]
I like to think I roll with the punches. While I’ve got your average number of responsibilities and worries and daily stressors, my brain isn’t wired to perseverate over the little details. I know that, in theory, everything will work out in the end. The lesson will be taught, the papers will be graded, the retirement fund will exist in some form, people will generally like me, and really, no one is secretly living in my basement.
But there is one activity that sets me wildly careening around the house with little bits of paper stuck in my pockets, perspiring and refolding a sweater four times.
I hate it. In fact, the very first draft of this treatise was a blank document that said: “Packing. I hate it.”
I’m not a huge procrastinator. I make lists. I know that doing something feels better than not doing it. But these learned (and probably hardwired—I know not everyone is blessed with a brain like this) habits do not, have not, and probably never will carry over to the hell that is packing for a trip.
This is hyperbolic. I know. It’s just a suitcase. OR IT’S JUST THE MAW OF THE CAVE OF WONDERS FROM ALADDIN WAITING TO EAT ME ALIVE.
The first part isn’t so bad. I make a list. This is soothing. I write down everything I could possibly need. I Google “packing list.” I make a separate list of things I need to buy. It’s all very organized. And then I approach the mouth of that cave and it immediately crumbles around me.
There’s this phenomenon called “decision fatigue.” Teachers get it a lot. So do project managers and other busy people. When your brain is called on to make too many choices in a day, it gets tired and you end up making bad decisions or getting hyper-focused on something simple. The problem for me is that PACKING IS BASICALLY THREE HOURS OF MAKING DECISIONS. Do I need to pack three pairs of shoes? Would two or even one suffice? Probably. But in my imagined version of the trip I meet an actress while touring a museum and get invited to an uber-chic dinner party so I probably need all three pairs. Just in case. To have options, you know?
Here’s the problem with going to a foreign country—which I am, tomorrow, and I will have been there (Greece) for five days by the time you read this. It’s hard to just pop into the pharmacy or supermarket and quick buy exactly what you forgot. Sometimes the pharmacy has a weird name like “chemist” and that’s confusing because you’re not trying to be a science teacher or Walter White, you just need some Claritin. And usually they don’t have supermarkets because it’s Europe and they’re too cosmopolitan and eco-friendly to load five pounds of baby carrots AND two packs of toilet paper AND a pair of pajama pants into their carts at Meijer. So if you need socks AND deodorant, you’ve got four stores to visit.
And here’s the other problem—I’m going with students! I’m the teacher, the adult. I’m basically the mom. Have you seen the diaper bags and purses moms pack? They have EVERYTHING. Tampon? Safety pin? $2 bill? Instant coffee packet? Map of the New York subway system? Mom’s got it. I don’t have the mom spidey sense to intuit what kids will need. I just know the situation will arise when I have to MacGyver a clothesline out of Command hooks and some yarn I unraveled from the seam of a sweater because some student fell into an aqueduct. But what if I didn’t pack Command hooks?!
It’s not even just physical stuff. I’ve electronically “packed”: a screenshot of everyone’s passport, contact info for every hotel and tour guide and the US and Chinese Embassies, a full downloaded season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel for plane rides and evening relaxing, three different playlists catered toward mood and activity, and three ebooks. I’ve heard they don’t have the internet in Europe. They just turned it off when Trump got elected so they didn’t have to watch us suffer anymore.
No one likes to be called high maintenance. It’s one of those “is that an insult??” sort of terms and it’s the number one thing men on the dating site OkCupid are NOT INTO. (Strictly anecdotal.) I’d like to reclaim that term. If high maintenance means comfortable, confident, and prepared, then I’m it. Call them “creature comforts” or whatever, but I like what I like and it’s what I’m used to and I WANT TO HAVE EVERYTHING WITH ME. Are some people willing to travel the globe without a tube of mascara or two options for sunglasses? Yes. I’m just not one of them, and I’m embracing that.
Yes, I know I’ll have fun, even if it’s day three in the same pullover. Just try telling that to my inner control freak. She’s not a good listener.
Sigh. Just send some good vibes and hope that I didn’t need the roll of twine I considered packing, would you?
Abby Zwart (’13) teaches high school English in Grand Rapids, Michigan. She spends her free time making lists of books she should read, cooking, and managing the post calvin.