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The psychotic’s guide to packing

August 12, 2017

Since this is the holiday season in the UK it’s time to dust off a piece I wrote in another blog a few years ago about packing psychoses. I’m going nowhere this month for the first time in years, so I can cheerfully offer this little self-analysis guide to all you unfortunates who at this moment are readying yourselves for your annual nightmare. I will not be among you, but I will be thinking of your suitcases.

Sad person that I am, for me one of the more interesting aspects of travel is the packing habits of others. Over years of holidays and business trips I’ve watched people pack, or watched the results of their packing from afar.

Packing is an art. There are whole cultures around this seemingly mundane activity that sometimes provide a window into deep psychosis. How you pack depends not only on what you want to pack, but where you’re going, why you’re going, and what sort of neurotic you are.

Here are some of those cultures:

The Reasonable Packer

The Reasonable Packer is someone who doesn’t pack the entire wardrobe, takes a reasonable amount of stuff with them – enough to give them a modicum of choice of what to wear while away. If it’s a four-day  business trip: two suits three ties five shirts and a couple of tee shirts. Plus underwear of course. The Reasonable Packer always take into account at least one accident – soup on the suit, coffee on the tie or ripping argument with a protruding door handle, for example. Or perhaps something more spectacular, like the time I ended up face down in an atrium pond after mistaking it for a glass floor. Reasonable is boring and sensible, which I guess describes many of us most of the time.

The Expansive Packer

The Expansive Packer wants to cover all the options. You’re going somewhere you’ve never been before. What do you pack? If you’re a guy, everything from a tuxedo to your scraggiest back-packer stuff. If you’re a girl, everything from the slinky black dress to bum-clinging shorts and at least six bikinis – after all you want a different outfit for every day, no? Almost inevitably, Expansive Packers end up wearing a tenth of what they bring with them, and eventually realise what idiots they are for packing so much. They vow never to do it again – until the next trip.

The Defensive Packer

Defensive Packers are at best cautious, and at worst downright paranoid. Think of everything that can go wrong, and prepare for the worst conceivable disaster short of death. At least two mobile phones. A whole medicine chest for everything nasty you could conceivably encounter. Three different sprays for bites. Tamiflu for bird flu. Snake venom antidote. Drugs to bung you up and drugs to get you going again. Pills for every kind of headache. Mosquito nets for use in a five-star hotel. If they could get away with it, the Defensive Packer would bring pepper spray, tasers, a nice selection of kitchen knives and an Uzi submachine with enough rounds to handle a 30-minute fire fight. Every journey is a venture into the terrifying unknown. And they will be prepared.

The Anal Packer

The Anal Packer – and please don’t be reading any unseemly meaning into the phrase – is the person of an anally retentive disposition who starts with a list prepared at least three weeks before going anywhere. By D-day minus three, they’re packed and ready to go. Everything immaculately folded. Everything in its place. Shirts in one place, trousers in another. Shoes pre-cleaned and wrapped to prevent anything nasty rubbing off on the clothes. The worst thing you can do if you have an anal packer as a partner is demand that they shove something of yours in their bag at the last moment – it could possibly mean the end of a beautiful relationship. The Anal Packer with Defensive tendencies is the scariest traveller known to humanity. Avoid their bags like the plague.

The Chaotic Packer

The Chaotic Packer is the opposite of the Anal Packer. This one wanders around over several hours scrunching up anything that comes to mind into the bag in no particular order. The kind of person who’s pleased that there seems to be plenty of space left at the end of the process, and then thinks oh shit, I forgot to pack any shoes – or worse, underwear. Inevitably it becomes necessary for a large friend to sit on the bag while Chaotic uses the strength of Hercules to pull the zip. And of course what emerges at arrivals is a burst bag with naughty bits hanging from the fissures for all to see. Do not approach Chaotic Packers while they are about their business. The randomness is terrifying to behold.

The Diva Packer

The Diva Packer never does the job for herself. She has flunkies to assemble enough bags for at least ten consecutive Oscar ceremonies. She’s the one who strides through departures with leaving a line of struggling assistants in her wake. You and I don’t see the Diva Packer too often because she travels first class. But wannabe DPs are often to be found among us plebs exiting through the normal channels. Recognise them by their immaculate matching bags, elegant hats and sour faces.

The Furtive Packer

The Furtive Packer is someone with something to hide. It could be that extra carton of cigarettes, or some expensive purchases that take them way over the duty free limit. It could be stuff that is banned in the country they’re travelling to. I remember someone who travelled regularly to a Middle East country known for its wide range of prohibited goods. Anything from alcohol to women’s magazines with scantily clad models was and still is strictly verboten. Even Christmas puddings with a hint of brandy would not escape the eagle eyes and probing hands of the customs officials. Her tactic was dirty underwear – lots of it. The Furtive Packer derives a serious thrill out of getting away with it – you can usually recognise them by the smirk on their faces as they stride out through arrivals.

The Caravanserai Packer

The Caravanserai Packer is often to be seen at Middle East airports, where there are many foreign workers coming or going. Their hallmark is big bundles of stuff wrapped in cloth and held together by string, and electronics in the original boxes – TVs, microwaves, samovars – you name it. You see them queuing  up at check in with tens of bags, and wonder how they avoid paying at least the price of the original ticket in excess baggage – until you see their entourage of wives and children lurking nearby. Getting caught behind a Caravanserai Packer at check-in is a nightmare. The whole process can take up to half an hour, and there always seems to be some complication that results in the check-in agent having to disappear for a ten-minute consultation with his superior. Take your place behind them at your peril.

My packing culture? Something between Reasonable and Expansive. I have a thing about books – I always overestimate what I will have time to read and end up packing a whole library. No Kindle for me, I’m afraid. And I also have a Defensive streak. I’m paranoid about failing laptops and disappearing phones. So wherever I go I bring two laptops, two phones and an external hard disk.

My wife? She’ll probably kill me for saying this, but she talks Reasonable and ends up somewhere between Expansive and Chaotic. She also has an annoying habit of commenting on stuff I pack – “what do you need that for?”, and “why don’t you bring those lovely shorts?” – the lovely shorts I bought fifteen years ago and kept in the hope of regaining my former sylph-like figure, but can now barely pull over my backside. Not forgetting those things of hers that mysteriously find their way into my suitcase, only to be discovered at the other end. I always take a deep breath when asked those ritual questions at the airport about “have you personally packed the contents of your bag?”. Come to think of it, not a bad way to be rid of your spouse – just sneak in a little canister of some noxious chemical that’s bound to be picked up on the X-ray and they’ve gone for thirty years. Not that my wife is in the habit of adding anything more lethal than a pair of spiky heels or a hair-straightener.

As for my daughters, their packing is a mystery known only unto themselves. Why would you need six bottles of shampoo and conditioner for a two-week holiday? They pack enough make-up to paint the entire cast of Hollywood movie. Stringy things of dubious provenance and purpose. Multiple sunglasses, creams, potions, and enough electronic devices to keep them in a digital bubble of Facebook, Instagram and instant messaging for the duration of their holiday. My policy with them is don’t look, don’t ask.

If there’s one invention that can’t come too soon, it’s teleportation. Failing that, I’d live with a miraculous transformation into the ranks of the billionaires. After all, they don’t need therapy every time they go on holiday.

From → Social, Travel, UK

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