You are here

Anatomy of a Packing List

January 4, 2018

My family members are all experienced travelers, and I've found myself looking back on our separate pre-departure rituals as I prepare to spend the semester in Beijing, China, with IES Abroad.

My father's mode of preparation has become something of a family joke. Each time we are about to go abroad he announces, almost verbatim, "Guys, I'm really going to try to pack light this year, and I think you all should consider doing the same."

We laugh, because he says this each time we are getting ready to travel, to mixed results.

"No, no," He insists. "I'm serious this time. A few t-shirts, a couple of pairs of pants; that's really all I need. Our suitcases are always stuffed to bursting. I'm not pulling out my back for twenty pairs of shoes!"

We don't take him seriously, because my father's attempts to pack light, while admirable, are fundamentally mislaid. He always under-packs, ending up having to buy himself a new wardrobe while we are abroad. Besides, whatever space he happens to save by packing ascetically is quickly filled up with my mother's stuff, which inevitably overflows the confines of her own luggage.

My mother is a professor of Spanish and Latin American studies, and it is her work that has made it possible for us to spend semesters and summers in Mexico, Chile, Spain, and Peru. As such, over-packing is her prerogative, since she has to be sure to take enough business-appropriate outfits for the road. When we were younger my siblings and I didn't understand why she had any right to pack more than the rest of us, and so her habits have somewhat set the trend for the family. In them, she is my father's polar opposite. Her suitcases are always jam-packed. While we are away, she continues to acquire a steady stream of souvenirs—Mexican pottery, Argentine leather shoes, Spanish marzipan, Peruvian textiles, and Chilean wine—which always ends up being stuffed into our suitcases. As children, we felt that we were entitled to similar excess.

For years my sister travelled everywhere with her pillow. Once, my brother insisted on bringing a collapsible soccer goal with him to Spain, as if there was no such thing as soccer in Madrid. My own indulgences were books, but when I lost a library hardcover in Mexico one year, my mother finally put her foot down and purchased me an e-reader. Suddenly I could tuck an entire library into my backpack. I began to understand that my father's minimalistic approach, however much we mocked him for it, had its own merits.

I am keeping this in mind as I prepare to go to China, and I suggest other expectant travelers do the same. It can be easy to default to the comforts of home, to stuff our favorite outfits, our heavy cameras, or our favorite novels into our bags, but I've found that none of these measures remind me of home or prepare me for my journey. My packing list this time is short and sensible. A few shirts, a couple of pairs of pants. But I have left space as well for some reminders of home: my journal, a handful of family photos, and—of course—my e-reader. I've realized that I don't need anything more than that. When we go abroad, we create our own rituals and experience new adventures. I am excited to have the chance to do the same in Beijing, and to have the opportunity to share my trip with you!

From Our Blogs

Oct 10 7:44am

My Weekend in Yokohama

by Sara

There's a whole world outside of Tokyo too!

Learn more
Oct 9 10:58am

IES Abroad Customized Program Introduces Latinx Students to Japanese Culture

by IES Abroad

Since the establishment of the Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities (HACU) in 1986 and formal recognition by congress in 1992, Hispanic Serving Institutions (HSIs) have been leaders in making higher education more accessible to Latinx students.

Learn more
Oct 9 6:56am

At the Movies

by Makai

    I’ve found myself at a movie theater near the center of Amsterdam twice recently. I always get very into going to movies with my mom when I’m home for the summer.

Learn more
Oct 8 4:34pm

Growing Pains

by Bella

As my semester in New Zealand is coming to a close I have been spending some time reflecting on the experiences and feelings I have had along the way.

Learn more
Oct 8 1:40pm

First Time Out of the Country that Isn’t My Country

by Meghan

Home has taken on a new meaning while traveling abroad. Paris, which was so foreign to me a month ago is now where I feel most comfortable.

Learn more
Oct 8 7:49am

Embracing the Austrian Culture and History

by Paige

The more time I spend in Vienna, the more I start to feel at home. The Austrian culture is starting to feel normal to me and not as foriegn as it once was. This weekend IES Abroad took some students on a field trip to Steiermark, which is one of the regions of Austria.

Learn more