Packing Up is Hard to Do

Apparently I’m a Xennial. Caught between two generations. Not clueless about the tide of technology and social media like Generation X, nor steeped in it since childhood like the Millennials. People in this age bracket have the luxury of just about being able to afford a home, but a dubious future pension. The activities we do are also different. Call it stunted adolescence or maintaining your sense of adventure, but these things apparently define those born between 1977 and 1985. We’ll carry on going to festivals, clubbing (there are places you can do it on a Saturday morning) and, as I am about to do, take their children travelling.

Instagram and Facebook are overloaded with cute kiddies posing against beautiful backdrops. Leave it all behind, ditch the routine, make your offspring worldly, get in there quick while they’re still young and it’s both cheaper and less hassle (hopefully). Yet the reality of actually doing it, of gearing yourself up to leave, is not all that easy. Yes, I’m aware that complaining about having the opportunity to travel for six months is akin to moaning that my caviar and swans eggs are too warm. But it’s worth noting that it’s not as rosy as the Instagram filters would have you believe.

Look how small my bag was!

I remember this feeling all too well. At the bumbling age of 22, fresh out of University, I packed up and headed out to China for a year teaching English. It was to be followed by an adventurous trip in South East Asia, so I knew I wouldn’t see home for almost 18 months. My meagre possessions barely fit in a wardrobe back then, but still the thought of not seeing it all was a wrench. A change in your life is for you only, and those you leave behind will continue without you, treading the path of their lives in a different direction. Never mind the fact that by the time you come home the clothes you left behind will make you look like some kind of castaway.

Of course, this is a much shorter trip, but when you’ve been around for 38 years, not only do you gather up quite a lot more stuff, you also develop far more ties to your life. Enmeshed in the daily routines, the faces and situations that make up your reality, it seems much more impossible to leave it.

And it’s not just the stuff we’ll need while we’re away that’s getting packed. The entire contents of the flat will be crammed into the loft, so someone can help out with our extortionate London mortgage (thanks future tenants). That in itself is strange. Putting things into boxes is never a simple activity. It encourages reflection, evaluation. Which of the books, trinkets or gadgets that you have acquired over the years really deserve their status in your home? The sunflower clock I made for my Design Technology GCSE, the calabash pot from Botswana, the shell that was brought back from a beach I can’t even recall, all of them must earn their place if they are to be stowed away. It also makes me realise just how much jewellery I have that I never even wear.

But these are just things. More worrying, especially with a little baby, are the missing memories. That people won’t witness her developmental milestones as she grows and changes. All the smiles and interactions with those who love her that she will miss out on. It’s also dawning on me that she will literally be with me 24 hours a day. Half a year without babysitters is a daunting prospect.

Today I will be mostly challenging the laws of physics

If that weren’t enough, how the hell are you supposed to pack for such a long period of time? My younger self had fewer options, and managed to fit 18 months worth in one rucksack (admittedly the return journey was a little heavier). This time, it’s far more problematic. I must say a huge thank you to HaveBabyWillTravel for reminding me of all the things I might have forgotten, to BabyCan Travel for cheery picking useful gear to take with you, and to LocalMilkBlog for nudging me in the direction of keeping it simple. When it comes down to it, a suitcase is a tiny thing. Especially when you’re trying to pack light. For three. And one of them is a small baby. A day out often results in more than I can carry, so how will this possibly work?

There are other, more selfish considerations. I’ve only just been able to fit back into my clothes, it seems a shame to not wear them. How repetitive will my photos look if I’m wearing the same clothes in every location? What if we go somewhere nice and all I have are sensible walking shoes or flip flops? First world problems, every one, but they’ve still left me ticking over outfit choices in bed when I should have been making the most of sleep before a familiar cry for milk wakes me up.

On my way home, not quite the same…

Before I left for China all those years ago, I only took into account the practicalities. What I didn’t realise was how much my travels would affect me. When I came back, I felt different. It wasn’t a simple case of slotting back into the abandoned life, picking up where I left off. Experiences don’t just happen to you. Memories remake you as you are making them. A goodbye, for however long, involved the shedding of a skin. Perhaps this is why packing up and leaving is so hard to do. You don’t always know what version of yourself will return.

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I'm a writer, teacher and drummer based in London. Short fiction and reviews are my main staples, along with some dabbling in novel writing.

3 thoughts on “Packing Up is Hard to Do

  1. The best thing about packing is when it’s over. It’s always hard just before you set off and liberating when all those decisions are left behind. Your words remind me of when I set off to work in Holland for the first time – it was the hardest decision because I knew that the life I would have lived if I’d stayed put would never be. Choices all the way. But good to have choices.

  2. We have just been doing the same epic packing job to facilitate three months in Australia. I got rid of my two sons for the last few days so I could get things done without having to find the lost lego men every half hour. I hope the start of your travels with baby are going well and you have packed everything you need – and not too much you don’t need!

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