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The evolution of a packer

Traveling used to be so glamorous, didn’t it? I remember a time when travelers dressed to fly, just as we dressed for church or for weddings. Traveling used to be an event, an occasion. Now, it’s a competitive sport.

Carole Townsend

I’m not much of a traveler. Oh, I’m on the road a lot, for both business and pleasure, but I’m not very good at it. I’m not one of those efficient, in-the-know travelers seen in all airports, rolling their compact little luggage behind them, ticket in hand, knowing exactly what gate they’re headed for. You know the ones I’m talking about. They always look like they’re 11 or 12 years old, tops. They know what to do in an airport, where to go. They arrive just in time to find their gate, navigate security and walk right up to boarding. They never get lost. They never have to ask for help. And they never, ever, over-pack.

I am just now beginning to get the hang of packing for travel, and I’m in my mid-fifties. I have dozens of trips under my belt, many of them air travel, but I just can’t get the hang of packing for those trips. I thought I’d die – literally – when airlines started limiting the number and weight of baggage, both carry-on and checked. They had never done that before.  A passenger could carry on a steamer trunk if she could somehow stuff it into the overhead compartment. Remember those days? And checked bags could weigh as much as she wanted them to weigh, it didn’t matter. The ‘80s were great, weren’t they? 

Then all that changed, and I am just now starting to get the hang of it. 

I travel a great deal for a few months after I publish every book. I haven’t reached the level of a Patterson or a King yet, so a book publicity tour is required. The advent of Skype has somewhat lessened the demands of traveling for publicity, but it hasn’t eliminated them. Besides, I detest Skyping. So I hit the road to peddle my books the old fashioned way.

My husband and I, now that our children are grown, get the opportunity to take trips we had only dreamed about before. I pack for those trips like we’re actually moving to the destination, not just visiting. There have been a couple of occasions on which I was forced to unload clothing and hair styling items out of my bags right on the curb in front of Hartsfield-Atlanta, the skycap weighing the bag every so often to see if it was at or under the 50-lb. mark. It’s quite humiliating; the practiced travelers wheel right past me, smirking at my inexperience.

I used to think the over-packing problem was pretty much limited to women. “We need choices,” I’d say to myself as I packed sixty or so outfits for a three-day trip. “What if I decide I want to wear (fill in the blank), and I haven’t packed it?” However, our youngest daughter traveled to South America for a month in May, and she packed everything she needed in a thimble-sized rolling bag. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I guess it’s not a “woman” thing. It’s a “me” thing. I’m learning, though.

A few weeks ago, I traveled to Tennessee for business. I really thought about every single item I packed in my bag. I packed one outfit per day, even though that meant wearing the same thing for any appearances/interviews I had on that day. Everything I took, including hair styling products and appliances, fit into a medium-sized bag, plenty light enough for the scrutinizing skycap at the airport. I struggled with that, but I did it anyway and you know what? It was OK. No one cared or even noticed what I was wearing. 

I’m packing now, for a trip that’s coming later this week. So far I have a swimsuit, a sundress, and a toothbrush. I may pack a scarf for my hair, which never behaves in humidity. There’s no point in taking anything to style it.  Besides, I don’t know anyone where we’re going. Who cares? 

I have to take a swimsuit. The odds are against me when I think about buying one when we get where we’re going. The thought of even trying makes me cringe. There’s a science to swimsuit shopping; it requires a best friend and margaritas. 

The sundress is a good choice; those cover a multitude of sins and are very comfortable. The toothbrush…that’s optional. Every store carries toothbrushes, and they’re inexpensive. I can buy one there and leave it there. Not a problem. So that leaves a swimsuit, a sundress and a scarf. And my husband, who packs everything he needs in his wallet. Always has.

I can fit all that I need in my purse, so why carry a bag at all? All that’s left for me to remember is my ticket, my ID, and hubby. He fits in the seat next to me. For once in my life, I may actually travel like one of those smugly self-assured pros who have all of this down to a science. I will walk right past the suspicious skycap, ticket in hand and purse securely by my side, arm-in-arm with hubby. We will quickly scan the gate postings, find ours, and breeze through security (I’ve learned to wear slip-on shoes, loose clothing easily removed,  and no jewelry). That leaves only the parts in my right knee to set off the buzzer. If the guy wants to see my scar, I’ll be ready to show it.

Once we get through security, I will head straight for the people mover and depart at the proper exit, speed walking a direct path to the Delta gate. I will not panic when they change the gate at the last minute, which is pretty much inevitable. And I refuse to ask the gate agent any questions. Doing that is a sure giveaway of a novice traveler.

The only thing I haven’t mastered is sleeping in the airport (that’ll never happen) and that last-minute line juggling that savvy travelers do. They sit in their seat at the gate, not getting in line when their row is called to board. At the last minute, they saunter up to the line with their tiny rolling bag, looking nonchalant as they elbow their way into the line ahead of others. I just can’t do it. It’s very rude.

Swimsuit. Sundress. Toothbrush (I like mine. It’s electric). Husband. That’s it. I can now compete with the youngsters. No, there’s no glamour in traveling any longer, but I can’t say that it’s all bad news. Secretly, I kind of like traveling light. It’s changed the way I think about travel, makes it more of an adventure, I think. Traveling light gives me the illusion that, if hubby and I decide we want to stay in some exotic port and never leave, we could. 

Maybe, just maybe, we could.

Carole Townsend is a Gwinnett author and freelance writer. Her fourth book, BLOOD IN THE SOIL, was published April 2016. It is the true tale of a crime that took place in Gwinnett County nearly 40 years ago. Her other three books are MAGNOLIAS, SWEET TEA & EXHAUST; RED LIPSTICK & CLEAN UNDERWEAR; and SOUTHERN FRIED WHITE TRASH. Carole often appears on network television talk and news shows, as well as on national true crime radio shows. Her books can be found in bookstores, on, Barnes &, and at When she’s not writing, Carole travels throughout the southeast, talking to groups about women, children and the family. For more information, visit For more information, visit