Travelling light: it's in the bag

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John Mayall: Fly Tomorrow (1968, see Essential Elsewhere)
Travelling light: it's in the bag

As with most people who fancy themselves as a glamorously casual traveller -- able to pick up and run when a flight becomes available -- I would, for many years, pride myself on how economically I could pack a bag.

Regular and brief trips to Los Angeles, Sydney or Melbourne made me skilled in the art of leaving things out. A weekend stopover to interview Arnold Schwarzenegger in Hollywood or some rock band in Melbourne was hardly worth packing for: a change of socks and underwear, another shirt, some toiletries and that was it.

I usually travelled with everything in a briefcase – which of course raised curious questions from Customs on my return home and the inevitable lengthy wait while they re-checked the battered case for some hidden contents.

But I always argued you needn’t carry most things – certainly not a towel or t-shirts  because the places you go will have them, and usually dirt cheap.

Recently however, when packing for a fortnight around various parts of Malaysia I looked at the contents of my small suitcase and noted the most space-consuming object in it: the toilet bag.

Let me say that at 56 I am not some gentrified metrosexual, there were no skin balms or expensive aftershaves. There was, in fact, no razor.

What I had was a toilet bag stuffed with pills, medicines, just-in-case things my wife insists I take, tubes, small tubs of unfamiliar creams, and what I call Other Stuff.

Let it also be noted I keep excellent health: my blood pressure has always been alarmingly good, my bones don’t ache nor my back hurt. And ever since I left regular employment in central Auckland where I would indulge in a weekly steak lunch while I did “research” on journalism assignments, my cholesterol level has fallen to the point my doctor now smiles at me.

But still I seemed to have a very large bag of potions, so I emptied it onto the bed to 

see what could throw away.

I need the Lipex to keep something heart-related in order, and the Thyroxin because I have an under-active thyroid (or maybe it’s over-active, it’s been so long I forget which).

Because I can’t spend as much time in the sun as I used too – Oh, for the pre-teen 

years when I’d spent 10 hours on a beach – I also had a tube of Factor Something Big to spare my flesh the ravages of the boiling tropics. Then there was toothpaste, a hair brush, some heavy duty insect repellent because I was going up-river into the mosquito-filled jungle, a packet of Panadol . . .

Some years ago I met a man who had suffered a stroke a decade before. It had taken him five years to learn how to walk and talk again. He was only a few years older than me, so when he said taking the equivalent of half an Aspirin a day could ward off such a misfortune I took him seriously.

So I carry them too.

There were also the things my wife put in: Tiger Balm, plasters, things to bung you up or unstop you . . .

Years ago I would have objected to these, but experience tells me she is invariably right. She also has the good grace never to say “I told you so” when applying a plaster she is carrying to some wound I have incurred while walking in the desert, or offering something to assuage a hard-earned hangover.

But I looked at all this stuff spread out on the bed and knew I had to get rid of something. Just one thing and I would be satisfied.

So I ditched the packet that could make for an even more event-filled trip: the anti-diarrhoea pills.

After all, as my well-travelled Dad used to say, what’s life without a wee risk?


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Richard - Jun 27, 2009

As we get older the hairbrush is one of the first items that can be left out of the packing. Going bald and having short hair negates its use entirely :-)
Cheers, Richard

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