Friday, February 27, 2015

Extra Baggage

Traveling to new places, whether down the road or a long airplane ride away, is something I have always loved. Packing is another (not so loved) story. In my 20s I perfected the art of traveling light – a summer of backpacking in Europe, impromptu camping trips out west, and a 6-month stint in Ireland with only one (very large) suitcase.

These days I don’t wander so far or so often, nor do I travel so lightly. My excursions now tend to include an entourage of three children and all of their – and my – stuff. I wonder what my minimalist 20-something self would think of all the bags we carry.

One summer, while I was in college, I spent three weeks living out of a backpack. That was a glorious three weeks during which I visited Paris, Nice, Rome, Florence, Salzburg, and Innsbruck. I went to art museums and cathedrals, tossed foreign coins into famous fountains, ate perfect croissants and creamy gelato, and climbed mountains in two different countries – all in the same four t-shirts, three pairs of shorts, and one wool sweater.

I thought I was pretty suave to be traveling so light. But throughout my backpacking journey, I met seriously light travelers: people – mostly Australians and New Zealanders – who had been backpacking around Europe and beyond for months, sometimes longer than a year, each with only one worn pack.

Just after turning 27 I packed my bags – one very large suitcase and a much smaller carry-on – and headed from the Colorado mountains to the west of Ireland for six months. The suitcase was temporarily lost somewhere between Denver International Airport and Shannon, Ireland, so I lived for four days with the clothes I had on and one partial extra set I’d thrown into the carry-on.

Contrast that to our first family vacation, which was a mere week at a lake in the wilds of Wayne, Maine. My youngest was a baby that summer, and the older two still in diapers. The back row of seats in the minivan was folded flat, and we filled that space to brimming with Tonka dump trucks, water toys, sleeping bags, floaty tubes for the lake. And enough diapers for three kids to last a week

We’ve since moved the summer vacation to Cape Cod. Luckily my parents go with us, because we need two vehicles to transport all that stuff: sand toys and books and favorite stuffed animals and a week’s worth of food staples and snacks. But no diapers, thank goodness. Last summer we also went to visit friends on the coast of Maine for a quick overnight, and I swear we packed nearly the same amount as we would have for a week away.

Last week we embarked on our first family expedition involving airplane travel – a whole new adventure in going places. Yes, this winter-loving family flew south for a week, lamenting leaving the all that great snow to other skiers, but relishing the chance to feel some summer-like warmth during an exceedingly cold winter.

In true mom fashion, I had the kids’ warm weather clothing pulled from winter storage and packed neatly into their new suitcases several days before our trip. My own bag, on the other hand, I grabbed the morning of departure and filled helter-skelter with wrinkled shorts and a couple of sundresses, flip-flops and bathing suits, and my youngest child’s purple stuffed unicorn, which took up a good quarter of my large bag and without which, she claims, she cannot sleep.

Maybe this change in my packing savvy has something to do with having children. Or with being out of practice. Or with there being too much space in the suitcase. Whatever the reason, I’m pretty sure the traveling, and the experiences we have along the way, are more important than the bags we carry.

Original content by Meghan McCarthy McPhaul, posted to her Blog: Writings From a Full Life. This essay also appears as Meghan's Close to Home column in the February 27, 2015 edition of the Littleton Record.

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