Posted by: charityliz | June 14, 2012

the road to recovery

As a chronic over-packer, I’ve been trying real hard over the past year to address my “problem”, and last week my recovery took a serious hit from American Airlines!   And since I was stuck on a long flight with nothing better to do at that point, I felt especially inclined to recount the various stages of my road to recovery in detail.

Disclaimer: This is not the typical 12-Step recovery process…it actually requires 13 steps – most of which will be unfamiliar to anyone who is a reasonable packer.

1.       Identifying the Problem

My road to recovery began only about a year ago, though I should have realized that I had a “problem” about 10 years ago, when I took my first international trip.  I was going on a summer mission trip, where I’d be volunteering and living at a girls orphanage in Guatemala with a team of other college friends.  Upon arriving at the airport for our big trip, my travel companions dropped their jaws when I rolled up with my mega-duffle, full of everything one could imagine (or at least that I could imagine) would be needed for an international voyage.  Oh, I hadn’t forgotten the conversation that our team had about a week prior – when we all agreed that we should “pack conservatively, bring nothing fancy, and only include what was needed.”  That’s exactly what I did – from my perspective.  But with one glance at my overstuffed luggage, my team quickly opened it up and discovered things like several rolls of toilette paper (you know, in case they didn’t have TP in Guatemala) and thirty pairs of underwear.  Yes, thirty.  Why? Because I would be gone for thirty days and I just didn’t want to risk not being able to wash my unmentionables!  Yes, it’s embarrassing to admit, but that was me.

2.       Denial

While I did make some small improvements (i.e. I eventually discovered that it’s actually possible to wash one’s panties, even in other countries), my over-packing problem continued for years.  I thought it was impossible to leave for any longer than two nights without packing something that would take up half of the average car trunk.   On weekend road-trips and camping trips, my friends would lovingly remind me that I really only needed one backpack and one sleeping bag—hoping that I’d actually follow their instructions—only to find out that I simply could not manage to pack all my crap in less than one large duffle, plus a backpack and a sleeping “roll” (which included extra “comforts” besides just my sleeping bag).  I mean, what’s a girl supposed to do?  Just my workout clothes and tennis shoes filled my backpack!  What about my flip-flops and backup flip-flops (in case the first pair got lost, and because they barely take up any room anyways) and summer PJ’s, but also my warmer PJs, and an extra blanket, and lots of layers—because ya never know how cold it could get in the middle of the summer!  There was no shortage of gear…or explanations.

 3.       Justification

I don’t think I appear to be a particularly high maintenance girl…and frankly, I don’t think I am.  I mean, I wasn’t packing a massive make-up bag and blow dryer to go camping.  I was bringing stuff that made me feel like I was better safe than sorry.  And this might be a good time to blame my dear ‘ole dad for my problem, since I grew up hearing his “better safe than sorry” mantra whenever it came to packing and preparing for any adventure.  Although, to be fair, I’m not sure that he has ever been accused of being an over-packer.  Somehow, I took it to the next level, I guess.

4.       The Competing Forces Within

At the same time I was operating as Miss Over Packer for all those years, I was also becoming what I like to call at work, an Efficiency Expert.  I am addicted to doing things in the most efficient way possible – not just at work, but with life in general.  This is why I leave just enough time to catch the train in the morning (why waste time dilly-dallying & waiting for the train to come when I can be busy doing other stuff instead),  why I listen to audio books in the car (I can’t do much other than just sit if I’m reading a book, but if I can drive and get through a book…now we’re talkin’!) and why  I will carry a surprising number of grocery bags up the stairs to my apartment from my car—all in one trip—simply because it’s more efficient than returning to my car for a second load.

5.       Schizophrenia

My schizophrenic tendencies began to surface as Ms. Efficiency Expert was getting incredibly annoyed with Miss Over Packer.  Every time they traveled, Miss Over Packer insisted on bringing so much crap that they always had to check the big suitcase which was sure to take extra time, if not extra money, which was all very annoying to Ms. Efficiency.  And then of course, on the other end of the flight, it took extra time again to pick up the luggage and extra energy to carry the luggage, etc.  It was just unthinkable for an Efficiency Expert to even consider this lifestyle as sustainable, and so she began to convince the over-packer in me to change her ways.

6.       Break Through

About nine months ago, I started flying quite a bit to see my parents in Orange County.  Now, this should have been a no-brainer.  Two or three days at my parents’ house in a mild climate.  How could that possibly warrant more than a simple carry-on duffle?  Plus, when the flight only takes about an hour, it seems really ridiculous to wait another 20-30 minutes to pick up your bags.  It completely diminishes the advantage of saving so much time by flying!  With a few successful trips of light and happy packing, my road to recovery as an over-packer officially began.

7.       Steady Progress

Fast forward to my recent trip to Paris.  In the interest of full and immediate disclosure, I couldn’t pack it all in a carry-on.  I mean, give me a break…I was going for a whole week…and the weather in Paris at that time was cold…and I wasn’t going to wear the same two outfits every day in lovely Paris with my favorite guy by my side.  But at the same time, I’m proud to say, I don’t think I over-packed.  There were only a few items I didn’t wear (like a pair of socks and a dress and maybe a tank top).   That’s pretty good!   So the recovery process was going really well.

8.       A Changed Woman

This past week,  I had to go to Florida for four days for a work conference. Two years ago, I went on a similar conference trip and packed a bag so big that it was overweight when I checked it (as in, I already knew I was checking the bag, but it weighed over the 50 pound limit, so I had to pay extra on top of the fee that was already charged for a checked bag!).  But for my trip this week, I was able to pack it all in a carry-on!  Yes, it took some careful planning and it wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t a battle.  I had been on the road to recovery long enough to reap the sweet benefits of traveling light and whipping through airports without any added wait or weight regarding luggage!

9.       The Set-Back

Fast forward to last Wednesday.  The most annoying thing that could possibly happen to a recovering-over-packer-thriving-efficiency-expert happened to me.   As I was rolling onto my the last leg of my trip home, the flight attendant informed me that the plane was out of space and I was forced to check my bag.  They quickly whisked my efficiently packed roll-on away from me, as I watched it exit the “trap door” to the side of the plane, presumably to be stuffed on top of the very luggage pile underneath the plane that I was trying to avoid.   No apologies were offered.  No discount on my flight was given (you know, the flight that I paid for with the expectation that I was allowed to bring a carry-on).  There will be no paying me back for the time that I spend on the other end of this flight waiting for my bag to get unloaded from the plane, onto some baggage train, down some luggage shoot, and hopefully (if it survives) onto the luggage carousel, where I will have been waiting for at least 20 minutes—in which amount of time I could be home already!   I was definitely NOT a happy camper–or should I say happy flyer, at that moment.

And then, as if to add insult to injury, right after my carry-on was whisked away, the flight attendant determined that there was actually a little more space on the plane, so the three people in line behind me actually got to roll-on their roll-ons!

10.   Threat of Backsliding

I was so frustrated at first that I vowed to never pack strategically again.  If I have to check my luggage either way, I’m just gonna pack as much as I want!  That’ll show ‘em!

 11.   Tenacity

Of course, the better half of me (Ms. Efficiency) knew that over-packing on my trip would not show anyone anything—except maybe for an extra charge on my credit card bill for checking an extra heavy bag.  I must resist the temptation to revive the old, useless habits!

12.   Transcendence

I already feel a bit better just putting all of that out there.   Perhaps this is all part of the recovery process; accepting the bumps as they come. Yup.  I’m going to choose to rise above and move on either way – no grudges, no frustrations.  Because baggage—especially the emotional kind—is seldom a good thing.

13.   Bargaining for Reparations

Even though I’m moving on, I certainly would not be opposed to American Airlines showing some “good faith” by offering any of the following (because I try not to whine about a problem without offering some possible solutions):

  1. A lifetime of unlimited free flights to anywhere on the planet
  2. Free internet on my flight
  3. An upgrade to first class on my next flight
  4. A complimentary glass of wine on the flight…or any special treat to ease the blow from realizing that life really isn’t fair
  5. A genuine apology


  1. The 30 pairs of underwear—oh my, I had NO idea!! NO IDEA! And, it was happening right under my nose! Just like so many other mothers, I never would have suspected (well, maybe????)

  2. Oh my goodness, you crack me up!! I have the opposite problem. Growing up with my dad and brother being pilots and having their own planes, they just flew us everywhere. I’ve been conditioned to pack super light no matter the length of time because of weight requirements in the plane. If I showed up with more than one small bag, my dad would leave it behind regardless of what was in it. Then in 2007 I took my first international commercial flight to Paris with my brother. We stayed for 10 days and all I took was a tiny little carry on. My brother was mortified when I told him he needed to pack in a carry on because I was not going to wait around for him on the other end at baggage claim. Haha! It’s a bummer your bag got checked, but look at the bright side, you didn’t have to pay the fee to check it right? I would have been so excited that I got a free checked bag. I know people who purposely pack carry on’s and dont check them, with the hopes that it will get checked anyway and they can get around the “bag checking fee.” On a side note, if I ever fly international again I am checking a bag! I so wish I had more than I did when I was in Paris!! P.s. there is a serious flaw in airport security as well, as I’ve had carry on bags with all sorts of “forbidden items” in them. In fact I forgot I had a pocket knife in my backpack I took on the plane when I flew to my parents earlier this week, and I managed to get on the plane with it! Go figure.

  3. Oh Charity . . .

  4. Having seen the over-packing in action, experiencing it on a few occassions, as well as having many discussions about it I find this quite hilarious. PS Any credit to your pre-Paris packing counselor? Haha!

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