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Packing as a ritual, not a chore

Packing is a form of premeditation and intention-setting — what you think about is what you bring about, and when it comes to traveling, wild anticipation must always come with preparedness and a sense of wonder.

A couple of weeks before leaving for a trip, it begins. First come the mental notes, and then the inventory. Vaguely, in my mind, I would have an idea of what I’d like to bring. There are the essentials, the things that don’t get taken out of the suitcase: noise-cancelling headphones to zone out with; my toiletries case, which gets restocked and organized every trip; my collapsible water bottle; a universal adapter; P99 flip-flops; and a raincoat. Everything else, apart from clothing, I could survive a few days without, but of course, I would pack more, and it’s a process that I relish as much as the trip itself. 

Packing is a form of premeditation and intention-setting — what you think about is what you bring about, and when it comes to traveling, wild anticipation must always come with preparedness and a sense of wonder. It comes down to answering three simple questions: What should I bring to make this trip comfortable? What should I bring to make this trip safe? What should I bring to make this trip magical?Some people might add a fourth: What should I bring to make this trip Insta-worthy?Which is a kind of derivative of the third. Either way, in this age, it’s a perfectly valid query.  

I used to hate packing, back when I didn’t know how to or had a strategy that worked. Over the years, I’ve come to enjoy it, accepting that this is where the journey begins: In my mind, as I imagine the clothes I would be wearing and where I’d be wearing them to. Long before Instagram, all humans already had feeds in their heads — little grids that projected all the possibilities that accompany a trip, no matter how short, and the filters that allowed us the edit our lives accordingly, as they happened. 

Helen Keller said, “Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.”

SCENT

One item that affects how we remember a trip is perfume. Helen Keller said, “Smell is a potent wizard that transports you across thousands of miles and all the years you have lived.” A whiff of Mimosa & Cardamom sends me two years into the past, to a cozy artist’s B&B in Camden Town, where days were spent strolling local markets, second-hand book stores and freezing cold highways. 

Wood Sage & Sea Salt reminds me of the dreamy Heidelberg Castle in Northwest Germany, which Mark Twain wrote about in his travel book, A Tramp Abroad: “Misfortune has done for this old tower what it has done for the human character sometimes — improved it.” 

White tea transports me to the banks of Venice, where I, upon disembarking from our vaporetto, instantly started seizing from the cold and drizzle; and its narrow calleswhere we squeezed our way through seemingly rain-proof locals, with our umbrellas and suitcases in tow.

I don’t overthink which scent to pack. It’s simply important that I bring one along. My miniature bottles of perfume, collected in a box stashed somewhere at home, are time capsules that contain travel memories that cannot be cut up and collaged. They linger and fade, and that’s their beauty.

If the trip is longer than a week, you can always do laundry, and that’s what posts titled, “How to Pack for a Two-Week Winter Vacation in One Carry-On” don’t tell you. There’s laundry involved. 

CLOTHING

There are two types of clothing for travel: functional and decorative. Falling under Functional, obviously, are your undergarments and basics. For a week-long trip, maybe this would include two pairs of pants, a skirt or shorts, five basic shirts, two dress shirts, and a jacket. This is assuming there won’t be any daily OOTD posts. Under Decorative would be the scarves, hats, purses and socks that would enhance said outfits. 

I pack my basics pretty quickly. That’s their purpose anyway — to remove the additional stress of coming up with outfits, you have to bring items that you can mix and match. If the trip is longer than a week, you can always do laundry, and that’s what posts titled, “How to Pack for a Two-Week Winter Vacation in One Carry-On” don’t tell you. There’s laundry involved. It’s another question to ask yourself: Do I want to have my clothes washed so I can bring less, or am I okay with carrying more luggage so I don’t have to get my clothes washed? It’s all up to you.

Another hack for effortless packing is bringing similar pieces. The ritual of packing involves some introspection, and while you are at it, why not ask yourself: Who am I going to be on this trip? There is no better time to become more adventurous with fashion than when you are in another country where nobody knows you and nobody cares. Creating a different persona also opens you up to new things, and the best part is, it is temporary. 

My Decoratives are pretty simple as well. I have that one Twilly, a gift from a press event, that I always bring in case I need a kick of style. A fashion editor friend, Liza, posted the other day, “When in doubt, add a Twilly,” and she is so right. I always bring a hat, because it’s functional and I never get to wear a hat under regular circumstances. I bring two extra pairs of shoes: dress shoes for city destinations and lightweight all-weather shoes that are waterproof, for more outdoorsy trips. As for jewelry, I try not to bring any, save for a necklace and watch. In cases where I would need to dress up, I bring bold statement pieces that didn’t cost a lot of money. 

SKINCARE AND MAKEUP

I always see traveling as a chance to mix up my skincare routine. Of course my essentials would be there. Right now it’s, Murad Outsmart Acne Clarifying Treatment, Shiseido Essential Energy Day Emulsion and Shiseido Essential Energy Moisturizing Cream, Hada Labo Lotion, Murad Renewing Eye Cream, Biore UV Water Essence, and Oro Gold Lip Balm (it’s better than La Mer, promise). But every time, I would bring something I don’t normally use, such as a sleeping mask, just so I would look forward to practicing skincare even after a long day of being touristy. To me, it’s motivation. 

Packing makeup is a separate ritual altogether. I like to practice a “look” before packing, and this involves trying on everything I have until I arrive at a makeup look that would serve me well for a week. In case of boredom, I bring two extra lipsticks. I do this for every trip, no joke. Something I don’t bring on trips: super black, super thick mascara (you won’t have the energy to take it off at night and it will run, no matter how “waterproof,” if out exploring the entire day) — instead, bring a brownish mascara, like Chanel Le Volume in Prune, which runs eventually but gives you smoky eyes instead of raccoon eyes when it does. I also don’t bring big tubes of foundation, but a powder one and one sample-size liquid one, just in case. Nars Creamy Concealer is blendable enough to cover what needs to be covered, just top with a light coverage powder. 

Bittersweet Symphony played as I brisk-walked to Hyde Park on the most wintry of winter nights. I walked like Richard Ashcroft walked, arms swinging, chin held up high, and felt the city and all that it was and all that it will be flow through me. For some reason, without a soundtrack, I don’t think it would have been the same.

MAGIC

Now comes the fun part. What makes a trip magical? I have a friend who always brings her Instax mini on trips, a cousin who always brings Polly, a stuffed white bear (now gray) she’s had since she was five years old, and another friend who writes on postcards as she goes along, a la Diane Lane in Under the Tuscan Sun, hoping that she would, I don’t know, stumble upon an abandoned villa and loads of cash to buy it.I like to bring books, regardless of whether or not I’d have time to read them. It’s a comfort thing as much as a magic thing. A book is a defense against unwanted attention, an invisibility cloak, a bag of Every Flavor Beans in one. In a way, some books would be redundant. It would be like traveling while traveling, but isn’t being in two places at once one of the most basic functions of magic? 

I’ve made the mistake of bringing Chuck Palahniuk’s Survivor on a plane once; it’s good thing it’s not as widely read as Fight Club, but I got a mean look from the TSA agent that scanned my carry-on. It’s a good book for them to read. I brought Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber to Bali —reading goth core on the beach with a bottle of Bintang was an experience. But so far, the most magical book moment I’ve had was re-reading Just Kids on a bus. What ever you are inspired by, bring that. 

Music is also magic. Before every trip, I make a playlist and I listen to it on loop while walking around cities alone. Wi-Fi off, roaming off. Just me, my offline playlist, and my downloaded Google Map. It’s pretty special way to explore. Landmarks become choruses. Intros come in as you turn a corner. Verses play out as you decide which is left and right. I made Brit-pop playlist for a trip to London. Bittersweet Symphony played as I brisk-walked to Hyde Park on the most wintry of winter nights. I walked like Richard Ashcroft walked, arms swinging, chin held up high, and felt the city and all that it was and all that it will be flow through me. For some reason, without a soundtrack, I don’t think it would have been the same. That’s magic.

* * *

Consider this: packing is a way of designing your trip. Itineraries may add structure, but what you put in your suitcase, that’s the soul. Look forward to it, embrace it, and take your time with it. Oh, and, unpack immediately when you get back, but that’s a story for another day.

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