Next Time, Pack Heavy
It’s my third morning in Nicaragua, and I’m already out of clean underwear.
Let me be clear: this is not an ultralight backpacking expedition. This is not, really, an expedition of any kind. We got on airplanes, and then we got in cars, and then the cars brought us to our destination. Once we’re done working— in this case, teaching a four day wilderness medicine course in the mountains outside Jinotega— we’ll pack up our things and climb into another car, step onto another airplane. Over the course of two weeks and two countries, I will be actively carrying my bag for, at most, a grand total of 45 minutes. Nonetheless, I've brought essentially nothing with me.
I spend every waking moment with my co-instructor Sarah— teaching, traveling, and eating endless rice and beans. By day six I’m also wearing her clothes, because it's 55 degrees and raining, and I packed like I was going to the beach for twenty minutes.
As I bemoan my layer-less state, Sarah smiles. “Man, I saw you with your one little duffel bag at the airport and I was like, aw, Dory packed so light, she’s such an efficient traveler... and I’ve got this big huge duffel full of stuff.”
Pulling on Sarah’s puffy jacket, I laugh. “Yeah, but you also have more than one pair of pants.”
When I was packing for this trip, staring into the maw of a floppy blue duffel bag, clothes stacked neatly in front of me, I remember using a kind of skewed logic: I held my favorite purple hoody in my hands for a second, considering its possible place in my bag, and then dismissed it— nope, not necessary, already have a pullover. I left behind my black jeans (one pair of jeans is enough,) six more pairs of underwear (I can just wash them in the sink,) and a hardcover fantasy novel I was an excruciating 100 pages from completing (too heavy.) I missed every one of these items, at various intervals, for the following 14 days.
Somewhere over the course of my international travels, I convinced myself that packing light carried some inherent moral good. If I can just pack light enough, I told myself, I will become the fleet-footed adventure goddess of my social media dreams. Quietly, I felt my tiny carry-on and perfectly organized backpack made me somehow better— more savvy, more competent, more dialed than everyone around me. And so: saw the end off your toothbrush! Wear two pairs of underwear for three weeks! One pair of shoes for literally everything! No extra face creams under any circumstances! How many pairs of socks? One!
And then, on day three of a trip to Nicaragua or day six of a trip to Korea or hour four of a road trip to Montana, there I am: borrowing a tank top, using someone else’s hairbrush, or pulling on a borrowed puffy jacket. And in the same breath, thanking my friends effusively for the foresight I decided to sacrifice in the name of those few moments of smug self-satisfaction, zipping up yet another half-empty suitcase.
Is one moment of moral superiority really worth two weeks of hand-washed underwear, dirty jeans, and continuously wearing the same sweatshirt? Or, more aptly: is one moment of moral superiority really worth endlessly mooching gear off my less ridiculous friends? The answer is pretty clearly no.
So next time, I’m bringing town sneakers and another pair of pants and extra underwear and my purple hoody. I’m bringing emergency coffee and cozy pajamas and face lotion and that hair product that smells like coconuts. This is not a backpacking trip. There is no Nobel Prize for Packing Light. And at some point, my friends will probably stop traveling with 3 extra pairs of socks.
Next time, I'm packing heavy.
And if I don't, and I ask to borrow a t-shirt, send me this link.