Look at Life: Packing

6th July 2018

The Psychology of Perfect Packing

By Lisa Botwright

When it comes to first world problems, this must come top of the list; as confessions go, I fear it will elicit very little sympathy. But here goes.

I find packing for a holiday really stressful.

It’s not that I don’t feel extremely lucky to be going away in the first place. I’m a summer person who physically yearns for sunshine throughout the ten months of British winter. When the kids were younger and money was tight, we had to forgo holidays abroad for several years in a row. ‘Glad you’re having a lovely time,’ I’d comment through gritted teeth, as I read my friends’ gleeful accounts on social media.

So I’m aware that packing for a trip should be a joyful experience: a time to be spent revelling in anticipation as I lay out my co-ordinated capsule wardrobe and my efficiently collated set of beauty essentials. Only it’s not.

I can happily do the list-making, the shopping, the ironing (well, maybe happily’s not the word for that bit); basically, the preparation is fine. I’ve read all the top tips from luggage manufacturers and luxury travel agents and I can recite the advice (everything from ‘take what you love’ to ‘do not attempt to cater for every emergency’ to ‘lay everything out and assess wisely’)… but when it comes to the actual packing – to physically putting things in cases – I am frozen with indecision. I just can’t commit.

I never used to be like this. Once upon a time I’d just throw a few bits into a bag without a second thought – but it’s the responsibility of having to think about my offspring that unhinges me. Experience suggests I’m not very good at anticipating what they need.

My son was once very nearly hospitalised with hypothermia, thanks to my pitiful packing (or parenting) skills. As a new Cub Scout, he was really excited to be going off to camp. He’d already been away with the Beavers and had told me all about his stay in a lovely cosy cabin in the woods. Imagining the idyllic Swallows and Amazons-style adventure he was about to enjoy, I blithely packed shorts, t-shirts and his little cotton pyjamas…

It snowed: the coldest Easter in centuries. And he was in a canvas tent, not a heated cabin. When he was eventually returned – blue and shivering – he sweetly reassured me that he was fine as the other children (those with not-so-clueless parents) had lent him spare blankets, thermals and extra fleeces. I still shudder to think about it. The upshot is that he’s turned into an independent and capable little soul who’s largely done his own packing ever since. Funny that.

Meanwhile, my daughter feels the need to examine all the holiday paperwork, after I forgot to check her passport when she was little. (She’s my firstborn – ‘how am I to know children’s passports expire after five years rather than ten?’ I said to my husband, weakly, when we got to the airport and the check-in staff flagged up her ineligibility to travel.) I wouldn’t say she was traumatised by my dramatic-but-ultimately-futile weeping, wailing and begging, but she still likes to tell everyone all about it to this day.

As result of those (and far too many other similar) incidents, packing remains, for me, fraught with unnecessary anxiety. Despite being perfectly calm and organised in all other areas of my life – I find that the sight of the suitcases immediately sparks off the jitters.

I’ve read that anxiety around packing is really the manifestation of our emotional response to leaving our home environment, to stepping out of our comfort zone. There might be something in that – but I think it’s more to do with the fact that there’s so much pressure for our designated rest and relaxation time to be faultless. We all work so hard and try and cram so many things into our hectic lives that we become fixated on an unattainable vision of holiday-idyll.

This year I’m going to need all the help I can get. There’s a significant anniversary coming up and we’ve been saving for an extra special family trip. We’ve booked one that includes multiple-stops within two different countries, a variety of activities requiring lots of different clothes and equipment, and the lowest weight allowance known to man.

What on earth was I thinking? I have a feeling I may need to rope in my son’s help. He knows all the tricks now…

Find Your Local