For years, I've been lulling myself to sleep at night by imagining I'm packing a lovely little suitcase for an imaginary weekend getaway. Three days in Paris, Florence, Vermont, New York.... I start thinking about which sweaters to bring and I'm out like a light. It works every time.
But in reality, packing is drudgery. By the time I finish, I often wonder if the trip's pleasures will outweigh the trouble of loading up the suitcase. It usually takes much of a day, even with advance planning. And then I panic: I feel a desperate need to re-pack about an hour before we're due at the airport. I always throw in several ridiculous "what-if?" items at that point.
And it's not like I don't have a system. I aim for semi-minimalism. I believe I should be able to manage my suitcase easily while racing from one end of a train station to the other, or traipsing up and down steps and bridges in cities like Venice.
So I am not one of those people you see in check-in lines pulling suitcases large enough to fit a stowaway. I have standards, even if I fail to meet them. I use a 24", non-expandable suitcase, which is just barely over the limit for carry-ons. I've been stuffing it for years for any jaunt short of a 3-week trip (I borrowed a portion of my husband's 27" suitcase for that.)
Lately, I also bring a Longchamp carry-on with our airplane meals (I won't eat a particle of airline food, having learned the hard way), a pashmina (I won't unwrap those crummy pillows or blankets, either), reading matter (New Yorkers I can leave behind), and all the stuff that's too precious for the suitcase. I try to have enough essentials to tide me over for a day or two if my suitcase is lost.
Upon landing, I pack whatever remains in the carry-on into my suitcase so I'm only shlepping it and my handbag (another weightless Longchamp) to my destination. Leaving enough room in the suitcase is tough. But the beauty of Longchamp bags is that they fold into nothing.
I keep packing lists for various types of trips — Europe, Maine, home, etc. — on my laptop, so I'm never starting from scratch. I add notes later if my choices were particularly good or bad: "22 tees for a 9-day trip?" "Wore same damn skirt for 4 days. Never touched boots or coat." "Read all 4 novels. Wore 2 of 5 pairs of shoes."
Paris in November will be cold and often wet. I expected to spend a lot of time on my own, and planned to bring just a pair of dark jeans, dark cords, turtlenecks, a Barbour (the French seem to love them), and a nice skirt. But now we are meeting various friends for dinner and lunch, and we are invited to the country for the weekend. And I have to meet my husband's colleagues for one or two documentary showings. Busy. So I'm also bringing a long coat, three pairs of boots (two for walking, one for dressing up), a fancier skirt and top, and a pile of scarves because they are très chic et de rigeur in Paris. Plus hats, books, toiletries, and all the other things that make my lists a whole page long.
At least I don't haul heavy machinery: no laptop, hair dryer, iron, clock, or anything you'd find in a TravelSmith catalog. Just a tiny camera, its charger, and a skirt hanger (because there seldom is one).
My next suitcase may be a wee bit bigger, or at least expandable — and it's going to be a spinner. Two extra wheels make all the difference, especially in airports where you can glide them along with two fingers. My husband has a featherweight Heys spinner that I covet, although at 26" it seems too big for me. I'd try to pack my bed pillows with that much space.
Most of the packing for this trip is finally done, and I am going to try to forget about it and read Permanent Parisians, about old Paris cemeteries, one more time so I don't have to pack it. And in just eight days, I'll have the many displeasures of unpacking to contend with. With no croissants or éclairs to look forward to, that's going to be even worse!