no one is putting my name on the side of a plane any time soon*

I used to be more spontaneous: throw a toothbrush and an extra pair of underwear in my backpack and I was good to go.  Okay, maybe a t-shirt, too.

Actually, those items might have been in there already, just in case an adventure presented itself.

After (the first time) an airline lost my luggage, I flew with a full toiletries kit and change of clothes in my carry-on bag.  My early travel destinations were in tropical latitudes – a change of clothes meant a simple tank top and skirt (hardly items that constitute baggage).

On a long layover, it felt a little more civilized to reach for dental floss, some hand cream, and maybe an extra swipe of deodorant.

But in a post-9/11 era of travel, that full toiletries kit must either be checked or pared down considerably.  It got me wondering, when did I start needing all these things?

It probably started when I had a baby.  Babies need a lot of stuff: I don’t mean extraneous plastic-toys-and-noise-makers kind of stuff.  Just the ever-evolving basics that take up room, and then there are the in-case items: extra water and snacks, a change of clothes, a container for found treasures, sunscreen or a winter hat, bee-sting ointment or mittens, band-aids, books, crayons, a blankie, etc. etc. etc.

But it’s been a long time since I’ve had a toddler.  A loooong time.

Um… I still carry a lot of stuff around.

To wit, today (I just checked) my bag contains:

  • sunglasses (+case +wipe)
  • reading glasses (+case +wipe)
  • mobile phone – my first smart phone, although really, I think they’re all rather clever
  • personal cup for Starbucks (empty)
  • Moleskine notebook
  • stainless steel water bottle (full)
  • wallet
  • nook e-book reader
  • hand-written card ready to mail to my Tina
  • blank cards waiting to be written as thank-you notes
  • small point-and-shoot camera
  • handkerchief (really just a torn, soft cotton rag to use a snotter)
  • small zippered bag with gum, lip balm, a pill-box of lactase, assorted pens/pencils, fruit leather, eye drops, and my car keys

I will use most – if not all – of these today, so I don’t mind carrying them around.  Which really means: keeping them in my car.

Maybe my previous ability to travel so unencumbered was because I was my own sherpa – I walked or biked or bused everywhere – the necessity of each item carried was evaluated more closely.

Modern air travel is another thing entirely.

My bag for airplane rides has all of the above, PLUS a laptop,  more serious food stores (a function of my medically restricted diet), MP3 player + earphones, a camera bag  (I almost always travel with my SLR and a few lenses), and a large scarf to regulate the changing temperatures of planes/trains/airports.

And the cords.  Good god, the cords and chargers.  Enough to strangle Medusa, it is.

With all the missed connections in recent years, you’d think I’d still be carrying that change of clothes, but as you can see, it was crowded out some time ago.

Next trip, I’m definitely packing a toothbrush and an extra pair of underwear.  I think that’s all I have room for.

*relates to a quote from the movie Up in the Air


  • oh I almost missed her in the first shot—she is obviously watching the plan rise above the cloud cover—probably planning a noce game of hide and seek.

  • Packing is a learned skill, but I think it helps not to need very much. A house fire and a transatlantic move have changed my relationship with stuff… now I know I can start over anywhere, and my stuff does not define me (as much).
    Still, how great is it to be the one that has a sewing kit, knife, band aid, and advil when someone needs it?

  • That’s the thing, Catherine. I know that I really could get by with a lot less. But I don’t have to right now, and it IS nice to be able to pull something out of the bag, á la Mary Poppins, that is the just-right thing for the moment.

    There are aspects of less stuff that would be an absolute relief – in the first world, we tend to have way too many choices. Check out any American grocery store cereal aisle for a prime example.

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