I recently attended a weekend celebration for a friend’s birthday where the dress code was pre-decided. It was a hot and sweltering beach destination, so it’s not like I needed to pack anything cumbersome; besides, I had absolute clarity on what I had to wear on two out of the three days. Still, my bag weighed 11 kg. I should add I was the minimalist on the trip, most of the guests looked like they were planning to migrate, hauling 20-kg suitcases, because as one said defensively, ‘why not, it’s the permitted baggage allowance’. Back in Delhi, while unpacking, I noticed I had seven sets of unworn clothes, and of the three pairs of sandals I carried, I ended up wearing just one. My sneakers, which I valiantly lug all around the world in the hope that I’ll find the time for a gym, predictably, never saw the light of day.
Packing is one of those chores that seems deceptively simple but it’s a skill that most of humanity doesn’t appear to have. Even seasoned travellers end up carrying a mind boggling array of stuff they don’t use and even if it’s not costing extra, that’s not the point. Heavy bags can be backbreaking and frustrating. Packing strategically is a test of planning skills and is indicative of one’s ability to ruthlessly (and philosophically) edit your life. Mostly though, people approach packing like they do a five-star hotel buffet. There’s Indian, Continental and Thai, you can’t possibly eat and enjoy it all, yet it’s piled together on a single plate. The suitcase meets a similar fate, stuffed with incongruous odds and ends. Generally, you will find the same people who spend hours agonising over what to order at a restaurant, or are perpetually late, will also be terribly indecisive packers.
There are some rules I have learnt the hard way over countless trips. Simply, that we need to think harder about the value our peripheral belongings hold, and a trip can be stress free only when the unimportant is tossed out (of a bag). First things first, if your suitcase is the size of a coffin, you will be sure to shove in random rubbish. Why let all that unutilised space go waste? The simplest way to cut out useless clutter is to invest in a medium-sized bag, large enough to be practical but small enough so you’re not tempted to squeeze in more last-minute. A smart packer doesn’t dwell on the what-if-I-need-it category of stuff, the singular reason junk lands in a suitcase. Unless you’re going to the moon, everything can be bought on 90 per cent of the earth’s surface. Once you accept that worst comes to worst, you’ll be making a mad dash to a shop, it’s amazing how quickly so much more becomes expendable.
Then there is that which is never expendable: like medicines. Or socks. If you’re an exceptionally bad packer who’s fallen short of space, you won’t chuck out the humungous bottle of shampoo or body lotion, but will stint on the varieties of meds you need to carry. You only realise the value of your own medical kit if you’ve ever tried getting a Crocin off a flight attendant. I have, and it involved the signing of a frightening number of papers, and the cabin crew treating me like I was carrying the Ebola virus. In these sensitive times, admitting to a fever onboard is risking getting bumped off a flight, so basic anti-allergies and painkillers should be on your person. To travel lightly and move more easily also means recognising you need to be prepared for eventualities, so if a space-guzzling BP machine needs to be fit in, so be it.
Luckily, the world has reconciled to the fact that fashion and functionality need to intersect, for baggage’s sake. Enter the oversized and unflattering puffer jacket made famous by Uniqlo. The feather weight, water-resistant and practical design that can be reduced to the size of a tennis ball, is a boon for the practical traveller. If you’re a desperate fashionista hooked to Instagram, you could pack five of them and it wouldn’t add a kg to your bag’s weight. As Tolkien noted, all who wander are not lost, but those who are hauling a great mass of possessions hither and yon — are really tired.