I approach the doors of the departure level towing a cartful of suitcases. I begin to sweat profusely. All I can remember is the time my entourage of luggage got me stuck in a revolving door.
Making it through, I encounter my next foe: the check-in counter. I drag what feels like dead weight. I heave my stuffed suitcase onto the scale. My heart rate climbs in tandem with the rising red digits before me.
48 pounds. 49.3 pounds. I bite my lip. 49.8 pounds. It is a close call. If there were a few more t-shirts in there, I’d have to whip out the credit card, although it wouldn’t be the first time I had to pay an exorbitant amount for excess baggage.
A fluorescent orange tag reading “Caution: Heavy” is slapped onto my enormous suitcase. The entire ordeal is then repeated for my second piece of luggage.
I am relieved to get it all done without paying this time, although my relief is tempered by embarrassment. I can sense the judgmental gazes of airline staff and fellow travelers. I think I hear a whisper, “Really? How much does one girl need?”
Every journey I take begins this way: with suitcases full of suspense and a hint of humiliation.
I can’t believe I am admitting this on a travel website, where if you search for “packing light,” over ten pages of results appear. For many, efficient packing is a mantra. For me, it is a mysterious holy grail.
I am an overpacker. Confession is the first step.
I own six suitcases. I have enough vacuum-able packing bags to fill a suitcase. I have spent so much money on baggage fees and international shipping costs that I’m too ashamed to admit the exact amount. While my suitcases are full, my wallet remains empty.
With many long-term trips to a variety of climates and cultures under by belt, I had hoped to nail down the perfect packing list. Yet, my load doesn’t seem to get much lighter.
My first trip overseas was to Rwanda for two months. Before I left, I decided to purchase new luggage. I went into the store and asked the associate for the largest suitcase they had. She brought me to the back and pointed to a black behemoth. It needed an extra set of wheels that popped out of the back.
A suitcase this big could surely fit everything I needed to bring to Rwanda. Therefore, I would only need one suitcase! I was sold instantly, thinking that I was such a clever traveler. How wrong I was.
I began packing a few days before the trip. After filling the suitcase with a mound of cargo pants, t-shirts, and chocolate goodies I knew I wouldn’t find in Kigali, I zipped it up and attempted to lift the mammoth. Nothing. That sucker wasn’t going anywhere.
I forced my dad to hold the suitcase while standing on a scale, so I could calculate the weight of my problem. 80 pounds. My plan was foiled. Instead of rethinking and repacking, I emptied the excess into a duffel bag.
At this point, you might be wondering exactly what I put in my luggage. Nothing especially heavy goes in my bags. Some people pack two pairs of pants; I pack three or four. Trust me, I’ll wear almost every single thing in my suitcase. I like choice. Travel is full of the unexpected.
I packed like a pro for my week-long trip to NYC, with a more suitably sized bag. Before I left, I checked the forecast. NYC was supposed to see sunshine. I arrived and it rained almost every day. How many sweaters did I pack? One. It stunk of body odor by day three. I had to buy new sweaters with my credit card, which is a problem. My wallet is always empty, remember?
I cursed myself for traveling light. “See! This is why I overpack,” I told my mother.
I have a lot more justifications in my bag.
I just bought this shirt, so I have to bring it. These shoes are better with this dress, but they hurt my feet so I need a second pair. I won’t have time or money to shop. I sweat a lot, so I have to change clothes a lot.
I’m not oblivious to my addiction. I am trying to get better at packing. I have read every kind of packing list, website, and guide out there. They just don’t work for me.
My biggest challenge yet lies before me. I am currently preparing for a nine-month journey around the world with the Dekeyser and Friends Foundation. I will be in a lot of places, encountering all kinds of seasons and situations: starting in the Philippines, potentially heading to Africa, and ending in Europe. My packing goal is simple: be under the weight limit and avoid having to ship anything home at the end.
On a sleepless night preparing for this packing nightmare, I realized why I overdo it. I stared at my closet, overflowing with jeans and cardigans. That’s what I miss when I’m away: choice. Call it superficial, but having more than one or two t-shirts reminds me of home. I make a lot of sacrifices to live abroad. When the homesickness sets in, I can find some solace in my suitcase.
I will keep trying to lessen my load. However, I am not likely to ever be the girl who can fit it all in one backpack. I am slowly coming to accept that.
When your baggage is your home, sometimes it’s nice to have a two-story suitcase.
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