Adventures in Packing

I’m packing for my India trip. Or rather, I’ve got stuff scattered all over the front room that I will soon be cramming, jamming, and compacting into one carry-on bag and one teeny-tiny 14” x 22” suitcase that United is making me check through to Mumbai. Damn. What is it with all these annoying luggage rules and charges? Back in the 70’s when I was a flight attendant for TWA, we gave travelers and their baggage r-e-s-p-e-c-t and plenty of room on board. For free. (Excuse me, so sorry, that was me being cranky. I’ll now return to the issue at hand.)

What to bring is easy: everything. Pillow, sheet, mosquito net, mosquito spray, mosquito repel towelettes, yoga mat, yoga clothes, clothes for mountain mornings, clothes for 95° days by the Arabian Sea, my whole medicine cabinet, just in case of itches, rashes, pink eye, allergies, stomach upset, diarrhea, constipation, scrapes, deep wounds, hideous gashes, bites from any of the 87 venomous snakes found in India, Bengal tiger attacks…

OK, stop. I’ve done tons of international travel–often alone–throughout my life, including when I lugged a backpack the size of a baby elephant across Europe for a year—me and half the entire North American 60’s generation. How did we decide what to pack back then? Did we think other travelers would share stuff if they had something we forgot to bring?

So why is this trip different? The packing such an ordeal? Is it because I’ve lost confidence in my brain power or body strength from these past few years of recuperating? Is it simply because I’m older? By 65 or 70 we ought to be considerably more cautious, right? We ought to be taking proper group tours, not venturing off solo, arriving alone in the Mumbai airport at midnight, speeding through the Indian dark on an overnight train to Kozhikode, sharing a sleeping car with strangers.

And then Zing! I remember—I was scared then, too. About being young and naïve. About forgetting stuff. About getting stuff stolen. About being lonely. I had that scared/thrilled anticipation of stepping out of my comfort zone that makes life exciting and keeps life exciting. Yes, I’m older and slower now, and also wiser: not so naïve; well-prepared for all the screaming red itches and nasty stomach rumbles that come with adventure travel. As for people, I’ve always found generous, trustworthy folks to share my journeys along the way. There are thieves and con artists and rapists, too–I know that, I’ve been there, and I turn my back on them. Nothing I pack will keep away the boogieman. Pack too much, and it creates heavy lifting, confusion, and just more stuff to keep an eye on.

So, at this point it’s not so much about packing—it’s more a matter of unpacking. I’ll buy clothes at the markets. Helps the global economy and delights me. I’ll leave the yoga mat. It’s India–of course they will have yoga mats! And yes, they’ll also have doctors and pharmacies and ayurvedic healers.

I’m so glad my hunger for adventure has not diminished. I still want to experience extraordinary places in the world (my world, my earth) and people of the world (my sisters, my brothers). If that’s unconventional after 65, then I figure this is a fine time in my life to be unconventional.