Why This Will Be The Last Time I Over Pack For A Trip
When faced with the prospect of a one-way ticket to Europe, over packing for a trip can be an easy thing to do. Or at least that's what I thought as I eyed my postage-stamp-size suitcase, feeling certain that if inanimate objects could smirk, this one would be doing it. But it couldn't be helped: When it comes to packing for travel, there is just so much to consider.
What would I want to wear as I sipped on hot wine from a cafe table in Paris, watching women with gray hair and baguettes underneath their arms hurry off to their museum-like homes? Or as I watched for the Eiffel Tower to come out from underneath the fog? What would I have on as I took the night train down to Prague? And would a sweater or turtleneck be more appropriate for drinking tiny cups of Turkish coffee in a Budapest shop, where ceilings were gilded in gold and sandwiches came heavy with onions? Surely I needed just the right knit for every situation... And surely it couldn't fit into a case slightly bigger than my backpack from college.
Which is why I tried to bring everything I could, letting dreams of smoky pubs and Tolkien-like hills ride on the sleeves of my sweaters. I figured I needed them to slip into the character I had to be if I was going to make it on this trip. I was the girl who halfway lost her mind and bought a one-way ticket to Dublin, with no real plan about where she was going or what she was going to do. If I was going to just vagabond from one romantic country to the next, I needed the proper clothes to do it in.
Or so I thought.
But what you think and what you learn are usually two completely different things. After my first two weeks were up, I decided that I would never again spend more than 10 minutes packing, because none of it mattered. At first I wanted to haul cute sweaters all over Europe with me, but I later realized that I barely noticed what was neatly folded into my suitcase.
It all started when I got to Ireland. Dublin was an energetic city that held 1,000-year-old books next to whiskey distilleries next to sweeping Gothic cathedrals next to rowdy shepherd-pie-serving pubs. It was a hodge podge that charmed me and convinced me to stay out in its streets way past the point where my feet could take it anymore. Medieval was next to contemporary; castles next to Starbucks. And there were just enough handsome Irish men to make you want to select carefully between the five sweaters you hauled across oceans.
But once I got to Scotland, the trip changed gears. Glens that were taller than any city buildings I've ever seen grew out of the earth and towered in different shades of white and rust. There were hills that looked like they might hold hobbits in the middle of adventures. It was beautiful and, more than that, completely encompassing.
I started to leave my suitcase in the car rather than lugging it up flights of stairs into the hostels, only taking out a change of socks and grabbing my toothbrush. Days passed and I ate those cloud-tipped hills like whipped cream with a spoon, only coming back indoors when the day fell back into an early night. And the more in love I fell with the woods, the cotton-ball sheep, the friendly people offering me tea with vowels that lilted and tilted, the less and less I opened my suitcase.
The same happened when I went to London and got lost in the quietly dignified streets of Westminster, and shivered in the River Thames so I could see how Big Ben looked at night (and if Peter Pan really did hang out on his minute hand). I didn't wear the Merlot-red lipstick I especially bought so I could brood with the rest of the pouty Parisian girls underneath cafe awnings, and I definitely didn't bother changing into the camel wool pants I carefully packed so I could look proper leaning over a French balcony.
My suitcase was no longer a drawer full of outfit changes for my character. I didn't need woolly sleeves or pleated skirts to play the part. The script moved so fast that I got swept away and forgot all my lines.
By the end of week two, I found myself back in Dublin, and back in the déjà vu-like spot of standing in my room, arms folded, and eyeing my suitcase. Before I was worried it'd be too empty, but now I fretted over it being too full. All these sweaters to putz around; all these scarves and hats and turtlenecks that didn't necessarily get in the way, but added nothing to the experience.
And that was the thing: I pray at the alter of fashion. I have four years of Vogue magazines stacked high on the bottom of my nightstand and tape editorial spreads on my walls like a 13-year-old would One Direction posters. Brocade, heavily worked fabrics, and kaleidoscopic colors bring complete happiness into my life. They amp up the experience of meeting friends for salted caramel hot chocolates, or bring something special to meeting a date for roast beef sandwiches at a corner diner.
But when traveling, you have enough happiness to go around. Holding a map on a street that's name you can't pronounce brings so much curiosity and questions and wonder, that it's like you don't have enough room in your head to notice anything else.
Clothes can help translate who we're trying to be with shapes and hues, fabrics and textures. They can say, "Here I am vulnerable, here I am bright." But sometimes, you already have all the words: Written on your face, in the excited flash in your eyes, in the stomp of footsteps as you're running for the bus. In those moments, you don't need clothes. They just get in the way, make you leave your room slower, and make you miss people you were supposed to meet crossing street corners or shadows across cathedrals you were supposed to catch with your camera.
That's how I found myself here, sitting in a B&B cottage overlooking a stamp of a green garden. I sat on a cot that charmingly squeaked as I took out one, two, three sweaters, a couple of hats, and other frills. I took them out and tucked them into a drawer, intending to accidentally "forget them." I didn't need them, at least not now. I had all the words already.
And wheeling my suitcase to the door, I didn't feel a loss. Not when I had a whole world to wrap around my shoulders.
Images: Marlen Komar