The photo above was taken many years ago in the main railway station in Lucerne, Switzerland, just after Mary and I had arrived from Chiasso. Mary looks as though she is waiting for me to help her with our luggage! During my travels, I have rarely taken photos that included luggage, but since the topic of packing that luggage is the subject of this post, it seems appropriate here.
As I’ve mentioned before, my parents were anything but “seasoned travelers”, so I grew up with very little experience of packing suitcases. I really didn’t pack a suitcase myself until I went away to university for the first time. As I recounted in an earlier post, I quickly learned some hard lessons about what or what not to pack!
However, those lessons didn’t really solve the problem of how to remember to pack everything that I would actually need, and how to avoid forgetting some vital item.
Whatever You Do, Don’t Forget That!
To be honest, I didn’t usually “panic” about packing, but there was a low-level anxiety. Whenever I had to pack a suitcase, even for an overnight stay, there was always a nagging worry that I was forgetting something important.
Usually, my fears turned out to be unfounded, but on one occasion I did forget something vital.
During 1986, I had to fly from London to Munich, just on a one-day trip, to attend a job interview. As I was parking my car at Heathrow Airport, I suddenly realized to my horror that I had left my passport at home! There wasn’t time to drive back home to get it, so I decided that I had no choice but to go to the checkin terminal, and ask about my options.
My flight was with British Airways, and unfortunately this was to be my first experience of misleading information provided by that airline (but not the last). The checkin agent was adamant that there was no way I’d be allowed into West Germany without my passport, and that the immigration authorities there would simply send me straight back to Britain. Taking the flight would simply be a waste of time, she claimed.
Nonetheless, I couldn’t cancel my ticket at that point, so it seemed that I had nothing further to lose by taking the flight to Munich. When I arrived in Munich, it turned out that what I had been told by the British Airways representative had been completely false! When I explained my predicament, the German immigration officer laughed, and assured me that this situation occurred every day. He told me that they could simply issue me with a temporary Reisepass, which would allow me into the country just for the day, and which I would surrender on leaving.
That was what I did, and, apart from a few additional delays answering extra questions, it was really no problem at all. There wasn’t even a fee to pay!
Inspiration: Make a List
Despite the unexpectedly happy resolution of that situation, I continued to wonder whether there might be some way for me to guarantee that I would not forget some vital item when packing. As I grew older and traveled more frequently, the significance of the problem increased.
Eventually, I was inspired to find a solution by the activities of my friend Adam Wilt, who is shown below (on the left), with me and Mary, at an SMPTE video broadcast some time during the 1990s.
Adam provided videography services at many events, and he always brought all his own equipment with him. That included a wide variety of small-but-critical items, such as cables and adapters. Obviously it was important for him to avoid leaving some item behind at the end of every shoot. I couldn’t help noticing that, when packing his kit, he created a handwritten list, ticking off every item as he packed it, and then ticking off every item again as he repacked after the event.
It immediately dawned on me that here was the solution to my packing worries! If I just made a list of everything that I needed to pack, then I wouldn’t have to worry about forgetting anything. It seemed like a great idea, but then, of course, how would I ensure that the list itself was complete?
I realized that if I created my list on a computer, as a word processor file, then not only would I avoid having to rewrite it for every journey, but I’d also be able to improve the list after each trip, adding or removing items as travel conditions changed. (For example, years ago my list included phone cables and adapters for dial-up internet connections in hotels, but none of that is necessary now!)
I created my list more than 20 years ago, and I’ve used edited versions of it for every trip since then. I sub-divided the list to make packing even easier, splitting off, for example, items needed only for international travel, and (after 9/11) items that could or could not be carried onto aircraft.
The photo above illustrates the pleasures of care-free travel. Mary was relaxing in an airbed seat, on a flight back to the US from London, having carefully included her crafting items in her carry-on baggage, so she could work on her projects during the flight. For my part, I could enjoy the flight, without having to worry about having forgotten some vital item.
Many thanks to Adam Wilt for the inspiration that permanently solved my problem!