Confessions of an overpacker

I admit it. I am an overpacker. I used to read stories of how to pack light, but within a few paragraphs I would begin skimming the contents — looking not for helpful hints on how to slim my stack but for new items I might need to add.

I do not limit myself to logic or season. Even if I am flying to Switzerland in January, I take at least one summer dress. The sun seems to follow me and there is nothing more uncomfortable than roasting in a sweater on a hot day. I always take a swimsuit, too, because a Jacuzzi might display itself anywhere.

My feet do not like wearing the same shoes every day. Maybe taking four or five pairs is going overboard for a 3-day jaunt, but have you ever been so fed up with a foot-blistering shoe that you tossed it into the sea? I have.

A journal is essential to record the journey’s “amors,” traumas and unexpected encounters. Incense and candles also are musts. Mini water bottles are important for long bus rides in which only vino is offered and I am just plain thirsty.

As might be obvious, my outgoing load is not in the “carry-on” category. Years ago I got an idea from an old J. Peterman catalog that encouraged one to spoil oneself, so I refuse to do any laundry on a trip. It is my choice and my vacation and, yes, I Iike to change clothes and take some of my best wardrobe. Dressing well has helped in obtaining rare courtesy upgrades on airlines, as a matter of fact.

My purse is not exactly feather-light, either. I take and keep my jewelry, money and cameras near me at all times. Other essentials go in my backpack, as it is much easier to manuever than a regular purse. Into the bag go comfy Bucky eyeshades (sold in luggage stores), facial hydrating spritz and the best earplugs I have ever discovered, Q-Zone (available from sources such as the online U.K. company for $12-plus).

I also hang a beeper-sized air purifier around my neck for long journeys. Since I began using the air purifier (available through Magellan’s for $95; phone 800/962-4943 or visit, I haven’t become sick from recycled airplane air.

I gave up toting my bathroom goods from the bath to the suitcase every trip, as I forgot my kohl eyeliner one too many times, so I bought duplicate cosmetics. I also quit using a tiny train case after Turkish Airlines lost mine for 24 hours. Instead, I use a nylon fold-up pack with plastic pouches and zippered compartments and pack that inside the big suitcase.

I always check in two suitcases. Sometimes I even put one of those fold-up bags with wheels inside one of them in case I plan to do some massive shopping; that becomes my carry-on for the trip home.

One might wonder if I go over the airlines’ legal weight limit. No, though sometimes it is a very close call. I just figure that if I can still lift the bag off the ground at home, it is under the 70-pound limit.

This syndrome is all my mother’s fault. We used to travel on ships when there was no limit to the number or weight of suitcases. Even when my dad took us on driving trips, the illness was already manifest. My two sisters and I had to sit on the suitcases in the back seat, as the trunk was stacked to the hilt — but we never had to run to a store for anything.

One of my sisters has let go of this family trait and finds endless pleasure in criticizing my packing. However, even she is amazed at how much I can stuff into a suitcase. (She refuses to help me sit on it to close and lock it for the return trip, however.)

Other trip essentials include a color copy of my passport, an additional passport photo and two credit cards (in case one gets fraud-alerted and I have to call the company collect while buying a mink coat — yes, this really happened to me). I take a credit phone card as well as a prepaid phone card.

Last, but not least, I take bubble wrap. Many countries do not have it. I love bubble wrap and attribute the very rare breakage of fragile items to its use.

No, I have no desire to become a light traveler. Perhaps some of you will join my overpacking ways or at least admit that the desire is lurking within you. I know you are out there, wandering around with your measly, underfed suitcases. I just want to be sure that my velvet cloak is packed in case I am enveloped by a snowstorm in the Sahara Desert. One never knows.

Travel is full of the unexpected, and I, for one, will be ready.

Tucson, AZ