Why Packing is Like Writing

- by Karen Tintori

For someone who loves to travel, I absolutely hate — despise — stress over — abhor — get hives about — wish someone else would do my — packing.

Packing just about takes the fun out of going away. And tonight, I’m doubly stressed about what to put in my suitcase because I’m packing for two trips in one. Back to back, I’m off to give a paper in NY, then dashing home for a few hours to attend a dinner dance, then onto another plane, this time to Chicago to speak at a conference. Instead of shlepping my suitcase from the basement up to my bedroom to start stuffing it, I’m here, procrastinating, angsting and complaining to all of you.

I’ve got the vitamins and bone density pills counted out, some Ambien (in case himself’s snoring interferes with me getting enough beauty rest), a good book, the camera, boarding passes, travel insurance vouchers, two printed copies of the talks, itinerary, doggy boot camp Jessica’s address and phone number, hotel and restaurant reservation confirmations. The underwear, socks, work out clothes, toiletries, pajamas are all easy. It’s the wardrobe that always gives me fits. And no matter how I pare down, based on past experiences, I inevitably pack too much.

How cold, warm, rainy, snowy is it going to be in New York and Chicago this week? Will I need a wool coat or will my light spring coat suffice? Can I get away with a carry-on, or will I need a regular suitcase? How many pairs of shoes? Red and black or just black? Note to self: Check the weather on the internet.

It all comes down to making the right decisions, trying to guess and second guess myself ahead of time over what I’ll want to wear when — and hoping I’ve made the right choices.

Packing is sort of like writing. Once you decide the size of the suitcase that would best carry your story, you’ve next got to lay out all the underpinnings and then decide on the most attractive, most appropriate garb to layer on top. Try them on for size. Toss the ones that don’t fit. The sentences not only need to complement each other, the paragraphs must coordinate well and catch an (editor’s) eye. The words have to wear the right color, the phrases just the perfect nuanced shade. You can’t over-pack, and you can’t travel light.

But writing has its advantages over packing for a trip — in lots of ways. Pack all the wrong things, and sometimes you can go shopping when you reach your destination and hastily purchase what you need instead. But more likely, you’re stuck walking around in a thin sweater on an unseasonably frigid day, with your fingertips and lips turning an uncomplimentary shade of blue. Pack the wrong shoes and you might not be able to hobble anywhere at all.

“Suitcases” filled with words may also cause me angst, but they are much more forgiving than Samsonite or Louis Vuitton. Word-filled “suitcases” I can cart anywhere — and I can beam them up, too. (Too bad I’m not a travel writer. I always thought that was the best gig going. Providing someone else packed.)

Right now, I’d better pack this in and go tend to the soft-sided Lucas bag stretched across my bed, yawning wider than I am at the moment. In the interim, I did run upstairs and decide that the hard-sided rolling suitcase was overkill and himself decided he didn’t want to hang around any carousels.

There’s another way packing is like writing. I always feel so much better about it once it’s all done.

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