Thursday, July 7, 2011

Pack Light

From my secret buddy's list of "10 Things I Learned in NYC": #10 - Only use props that can be folded into a 4x4 INCH square.

We arrived at the bus station. There were twenty-five of us traveling from Portland, Maine to New York, New York with a transfer in Boston's South Station. Twenty-five people, suitcases, costumes and props. It was a lot of stuff.

Deus Ex Machina and I don't own any "real" suitcases - mostly because we simply don't travel that often. We have one soft-sided bag that could be best described as a "carry-on", which Deus Ex Machina uses when he travels for business or classes, but that's it. What we have are backpacks, and a lot of those.

Having spent a good portion of my life traveling hither and yon, I've had a few experiences that have since dictated the way I pack for traveling.

I know about running through airports trying to make connecting flights.

I know about lost luggage.

I know about bags ripping in the middle of my trip and about the struggle to keep from leaving a "trail-'o-my-stuff" in my wake.

I know about trying to carry more than my weight, because I thought I needed all of that stuff.

I know about herding two toddlers and all of their stuff, by myself, inculding a car seat that I've strapped to my backpack so that I look like a kangaroo-turtle - with the carseat on my back and the baby in a sling on my front.

It was with these experiences in mind that I packed for this trip with the goal packing everything I would need in one backpack and one shoulder bag.

When we got to the bus station, I watched my fellow travelers struggling with their bags. I was thankful for my one backpack in which I had stuffed five days worth of clothes, toiletries, and my laptop (with cords), and one shoulder bag with things like my wallet, a book for reading on the bus, and my camera. I also had a reusable grocery bag stuffed with snacks for the trip, and of all of the pieces of "luggage" I carried, that was the most cumbersome, and also the most easily jettisoned.

Little Fire Faery had one backpack that contained her clothes, a garment bag with her costumes, and her "dance" bag that contained her practice leotards and dance shoes. Big Little Sister had gone a bit overboard and hadn't packed very well. She struggled with her bags - giving me one more reason to be thankful that I'd packed so lightly, because I could help her carry her stuff.

We were only going from our homes, to a bus station, to a hotel, and so it really wasn't that big of an issue that there were large suitcases, as we wouldn't really be be carrying our belongnigs for very long, but as the bus made its way from Boston to New York, and I gazed out the windows at the passing countryside, my thoughts drifted to stories I'd read, like Dies the Fire. What would we do, we travelers, if the bus suddenly stopped running ... if all of the cars and trucks that were speeding down the Interstate with us just stopped, like that (*snap*)?

I did a quick mental inventory, of the things in my bag, what would I keep and what would I leave? Ironically, my laptop was on the keep list, even though I know that in those stories, any (and all) electrical devices would be rendered immediately and forever useless. I had my "survival kit" with me, which includes a few matches and a magnesium firestarter. I had a small sewing kit. The only knife I had was a Girl Scout pocket knife. It would have to do.

I realized that I would leave most of the food I'd brought. I'd probably bring the trail mix, but package it differently, in smaller portions so that the girls could each carry some. But I would leave the popcorn - as much as I love popcorn - because it was a really big, bulky bag and it would be a pain to carry. Plus, once I opened it, it would go stale quickly. Granola bars, granola, and tea bags would come with ... the potato chips would stay. The girls would need to eat the few pieces of fruit before we headed out, because we wouldn't be taking it with us.

Plant identification at 70 mph is a fun exercise. It's tough to really make out some of the smaller plants, but I identified several tree varieties, maples and oaks, and I saw lots of cattail and there were plenty of grasses.

I know that it's silly to think like that, and it must seem as if I'm always thinking in these doomsday scenarios. The reality is that we made it all the way to New York City, spent a week there and made it all the way back without any incident, and for all of my paranoid delusions about what if, I didn't need to have worried - which is usually the case. Usually nothing happens.

The problem is that when something does happen, it's big, and it's very, very bad. Knowing how I could respond if my ridiculous fears had manifested, is a rather comforting thought-exercise.

And I guess that's why the whole survivalist/prepper movement is becoming so popular - because it gives us something to do, and it empowers us to be ready - just in case.

Things like the 9/11 tragedy are anomalies and don't happen to most of us. Scenarios like that described in Dies the Fire and in the one of the books I am reading right now, Lucifer's Hammer, are so far-fetched (but way too close to the realm of possibility for comfort's sake) as to be almost laughable ...,

... but the idea that it could happen is enough to prickle my spine with a touch of fear.

When I packed for our trip to New York City, it was with the knowledge that we would be transferring bus lines and that we would be responsible for carrying our luggage by ourselves. It wasn't in fear that we might have had to carry our stuff back to Maine when the world ended and stranded us far from home.

But if I had been forced to walk back, most of the things that started the trip with me would arrive back in Maine. If I had a regular suitcase with little wheels, I am absolutely positive that I could not make the same assertion.

I guess the one burning question, though, would be is there anything I would do differently, and the answer is "of course." Anyone who goes through life without ever learning anything from his/her experiences is not living. Next time, I will bring my water bottle, and I will carry it in my shoulder bag every where I go ...except, maybe, the theatre ;).


  1. I inherited my mom's army duffle bag when I left home. Still the best piece of "luggage" I own!

  2. I am so glad to read your description of your thoughts of "what would we do if..." I do the same thing (not just while riding the bus) and it has definitely changed what I carry with me everyday. Over the last few months, I've added a few small things to my key ring and pockets (tiny flashlight, altoids tin first aid kit, P-38, etc)

    The trick for me is finding a good balance between carrying things that would be "helpful" and not carrying so much as to be overwhelming. This is complicated by the fact that I do not own an automobile, so I travel about on foot, bicycle and by public transit, so what I can realistically carry is limited.

    Thanks particularly for the reminder to add my water bottle; I often leave that behind since my city has LOTS of public drinking fountains (on the sidewalks).

  3. I've always been a what if person - perhaps from getting lost in the woods with my father? Turned out OK, but left an impression on my 5-yr old brain.

    I know where my survival things are in my house. Our truck has a 'basement' - in it we keep the things we know we might need on the road including a tire inflator & repair kit, chains, bungee cords, & pillows. After Hurricane Charley (insert any disaster from your area) we learned fast. We always have water, the cell phone and a snack. A good first kit is under the seat along with wet wipes. Sunscreen is in a door pocket. Need to add blankets - useful for warmth and shade.

    If I were traveling by bus or plane (highly unlikely but possible) I'd be sure to have a space blanket and a rain poncho - one of the thin cheaper ones plus all the things you mentioned. Also, when traveling I wear good walking shoes, always useful.

    I see nothing wrong with playing the what if game - make you a better prepared person.