“Here are the Barbies, Daddy.”
“The ones we’re taking on the trip.”
“All of these?“ There was a tangled mass of half-naked arms, legs, and torsos on the floor in front of me along with a ziplock bag of clothing changes, shoes – assumedly in matching pairs, or maybe not – and other style accoutrements.
“Oh, okay. You sure you want to take all of these?” I asked with the curious hesitancy of someone already envisioning the family rolling massive luggage bags down cobble-stoned European streets, pits stained with sweat, desperately seeking a destination and silently cursing The Tribe of Barbie under his breath. For a moment I considered taking it to another level: fear. I could suggest that these valued Barbies might get lost and never make it back home. I could tell the girls that there had recently been a rash of Barcelona Barbie Pickpocketing Incidents (BBPIs) detailed in articles on El Pais online. Did they really want to subject their Barbie family to possible kidnapping and plastic human trafficking? I mean, it would make for a good storyline, but, alas… No, I would not use fear to force them to pack my way. I mean, they had already piled up nearly 25 lbs (more than 11 kilos – best to start thinking in metric, no?) of books near the suitcases. This was going to be different, and I needed to adjust.
Packing for the international adventures Jess and I took together is an annual ritual and one of the most cherished moments of the year for me. It starts with taking out my backpack and emptying its contents onto the floor. Inside are rolled and folded shirts, old pants, and other items (an alarm clock that only works 42% of the time, the money pocket that has been nestled into my armpit since 1998, expired antibiotics that I carry, just in case) that are processed for packing. Some of the shirts have been in continuous use for more than two decades, and their reappearance on my bedroom floor is like a serendipitous encounter with someone you haven’t seen and don’t realize how much you’ve missed until that moment. Jess has heard me say, “hello, old friend!” on more than one occasion. “Are you talking to your travel pants, Matt?” Yes, yes I am. Take it as a statement on my life or relationships, but seeing those old companions, each soaked in the sweat of past adventures together, brings me joy.
The process of packing is methodical. My goal is always to take the least amount of clothing and gear necessary, even if the minimalist challenge itself is unnecessary. There’s something about an adventure with just the items in your backpack and the strategic planning of when and how to wash (and dry – a process I’ve failed at many times. Argentina, 2007 – Jess still won’t let that one go. A soaking wet fleece, the Andes in winter, and a pack of German Shepard street dogs nearing me as I lay on the sidewalk?That was a day.) clothes between treks, hotels, and hostels that has become critically important to travel to me. Maybe, like the travel itself, it’s the abandonment of daily ritual and routine, the lack of requirements and the proliferation of pathways and an opportunity to think less about what has to get done and more about what could be done. The packing represents the beginning. It’s a ritual that anticipates the stories to be discovered, the memories to be forged, and the adventures to be had.
Ultimately, when the process is completed, my bag is tightly packed, every item of clothing carefully selected, tightly rolled, and compressed into any empty space. There are clothes that I’ve identified as “retirees” who will not be making the return trip with me and will instead be sacrificed to make space for things acquired. Ceremoniously abandoned in a hotel room or train compartment, those pants or shirts will go on to the chapter of their life’s journey, their backpack space to be filled by something brutally bargained for in the markets, a bottle of wine to be transported home for our anniversary, or just some snack food. You ditched a shirt for a bag of apricots? Yes, yes I did. And, they were delicious. Space is a premium in my backpack, and sometimes my appetite wins out.
So, on that Tuesday morning, when the Barbies showed up on the landing, I knew things were going to be different.
And, this time, it was supposed to be different. This summer, our kids would be joining our travels abroad for the first time. What adventures lay ahead for this crew on their journey to Spain? Would this moment prove the beginning of something new, the end to something old, or something different entirely?
Regardless, I’m still doing my packing the same way that I always have. I just know that this year, that pair of pants I abandon along the way might be to make room for Barbie’s Spanish cousin (heroically rescued from a BBPI by… Dad!) rather than a bag of fresh apricots.