I recently read a travel narrative in which the author spent six months traveling with only a backpack as his luggage. Although there are definite benefits to packing light, wearing the same two grungy and potentially odorous shirts all the time is not one of them. I know there are times in which I over pack, but then I also know there exists the other extreme, people who pack too little.
“We settled on small backpacks-not significantly larger than the kind a book-laden college student might lug to the library. Into mine I tucked a minimal allotment of clothes, including just three pairs of underwear.” Grounded
Each time I studied abroad I always brought two large roller suitcases with me. Being gone four months with no return trips home, there were things I brought that I needed, things that I wanted with me, and things I knew I wouldn’t be able to get where I was living so they came too. When I went to Mexico to work as a volunteer at an orphanage was the only time I went over the baggage weight allotment, of 50 pounds thus requiring an additional fee on my part. (I attribute that to the more than 10 paperbacks I brought with me. I never regretted it since public libraries are nonexistent in Mexico and books for purchase are generally expensive.) When you live abroad, everything that can fit in your one or two suitcases becomes your home, so my mantra is make it count. (I can also understand why steamer trunks were so popular back in the day.) But everything you bring with you doesn’t necessarily need to return with you. In Spain and Mexico I left behind books I had read but had no reason to keep, shoes that had been “walked into the ground,” and a pillow that had attained a musty smell most likely due to the perpetually moist walls of the house I lived in while in Mexico; yes I had no desire to bring that pillow back with me.
Packing for me becomes especially difficult when contending with different dress codes. Although our most recent trip was only three nights, which in theory should equate to one piece of carry on luggage, this simply can’t be done when having to pack a required wardrobe which included men’s (heavy) formal footwear, suit, cocktail dress and heels. There’s no way all of that can fit into one small suitcase along with your necessities for the two other days. People who pack one change of shirt are clearly not dining anywhere fancy during their travels (or shouldn’t be).
“Our clothes have stains and broken buttons, and look pretty much exactly as you’d expect clothes to look after they’ve circled in the earth inside a backpack.”
I don’t feel there is or should be one universal packing style, simply because each traveler’s plans are going to be different. Yes there are those of us who undoubtedly could pack less, but then there are those who could pack a little more so when dining somewhere nice they don’t look like nomadic hippies. I’m going to do my best not to over pack for my week’s vacation in Maui but if I do, it sure isn’t hurting anyone or anything.