Hamlet had it easy. All he had to figure out was whether "to be or not to be?"--a one-time dilemma, at least if he chose "not to be."
My own quandary, though admittedly relatively frivolous, is a continuing puzzlement that challenges me repeatedly, not on a daily basis but whenever I plan a trip. My soul-searching question, which I am compelled to ask of every item in my closets and drawers, is "to pack or not to pack?" You'd think that it would get easier every time. Wrong. If anything, it seems to get harder.
Though I travel fairly frequently, I still haven't figured out what to take with me. I can be certain of only two things: If I leave it home, I'll wish I had it; if I pack it, I'll wish I hadn't.
The pioneers who crossed the Great Plains were lucky. They could stuff all their stuff into the old Conestoga wagon. Come to think of it, they didn't have much stuff, as opposed to their wealthy descendants who crossed the Atlantic on luxury liners who did have a lot of stuff, but didn't have a packing problem. They simply had their personal maids transfer the contents of their closets and chests to spacious steamer trunks.
Today most of us also have lots of stuff, but no personal maids; and we usually travel long distances on airships instead of steamships. Goodbye steamer trunk, hello dilemma.
The urge to overpack must be in our genes. It's hard to stifle. If only we could remember that last trip when we had to schlep those heavy bags from home to the departure airport, from the arrival airport to the hotel-or, in the case of a multi-destination trip, to and from many hotels-the ultimate nightmare! Worse yet, unpacking at each stop along the way can consume hours which should be spent seeing the sights and mingling with the locals. Be honest. Wouldn't you rather be floating on a gondola while Rudolfo serenades you?
Maybe you think you can avoid the problem by not unpacking at all. Big mistake. Each time you dig into the recesses of your bulging bag searching for a pair of panties, your walking shoes, or your toothbrush, you anger the contents. They take on a life of their own, intertwining with and mangling each other, so that before long any semblance of order is destroyed and it is impossible to find anything.
I admire my friend Janet, who can go away for a month with one small carry-on bag and yet always look lovely. She follows all the expert advice and confines her travel wardrobe to a simple color palette so that one set of accessories coordinates with everything. She plans and packs so efficiently that on her last trip to attend a family wedding, she decided not to take the lovely lightweight silk dress she had planned to wear. Why? Because it had shoulder pads, and they'd take up too much room. The dress stayed home, replaced by an even lighter, pad-less creation.
Another friend, Joanne, on the other hand, wailed for days before our last Florida jaunt that she had to find time to go shopping before we left because she had absolutely nothing to wear. As it turned out, she didn't have time. She didn't go shopping. Imagine my astonishment, therefore, when she showed up at the airport with three huge bags stuffed full of "nothing to wear."
It's not surprising that Joanne's favorite mode of travel is by automobile-preferably her own car (which is almost as big as a Conestoga wagon). Its huge trunk and roomy back seat can accommodate most of what she must take with her just in case-just in case it rains, just in case it snows, just in case there's a record-breaking heat wave, just in case it's freezing, just in case she's invited to several dressy affairs, just in case a gross of T-shirts and a two dozen pairs of slacks and shorts won't be enough to get her through a week of casual outings.Come to think of it, Joanne packs for a trip the way she shops for groceries. Her pantry shelves and refrigerator are always bulging with every imaginable treat favored by any friend who might possibly drop in-just in case.
It's surprising, therefore, that she doesn't also tote a giant cooler crammed with goodies when she travels-just in case the meal service on the plane is slow and her fellow passengers might crave a tasty snack to tide them over.
All I can say is that it's a good thing we can't take anything with us when we depart on our final journey. Can you imagine the dilemma of trying to decide what we'd need to get us through eternity?
Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.