Among the many things we as a race have not yet mastered is the art of packing. There are two schools of thought to begin with. Clothes should be folded, says one. No, you are out of your mind, says the other – clothes ought to be rolled. And where should shoes go? At the bottom of the suitcase, obviously. Or, equally obviously, at the top.
There are, I am told, more websites advising you on how to pack than how to attempt world peace. This is not surprising, however. More people are interested in getting from A to B than are keen on turning the other cheek or whatever world peace entails.
You can tell a lot about a person by the way he packs for a trip. In my teens and 20s, I belonged to a third school of packing that was popular among my age group. The crush-andchuck school. This involved throwing clothes in any old way into an open suitcase. The only rule to observe was that bits of a sleeve or part of a belt didn’t hang out after the suitcase was locked. It worked for a while, and then something happened that changed my whole approach. I got married. Like in so many other aspects, packing went from the messy to the organised.
I follow three rules. First, spread out all you want to carry on your bed. This includes, besides clothes, books, toiletry, airline tickets, language guides, wires, plugs, paracetamol, gifts, those things stewardesses assure you exist under your seats but you can never be sure about… no, I exaggerate, that last I leave to the airline. Anyway, you get the idea.
Rule two – and this is the most important – I cut the whole thing by half. Four shirts are reduced to two, all trousers are reduced to a single pair of jeans.
Rule three – Fight with the wife, who wants to go in the opposite direction, multiplying the stuff by two rather than dividing it by the same number. This means, of course, we end up carrying two suitcases where one would do.
Packing light is a modern fad. Robert Scott, the British explorer who lost the race to the South Pole, didn’t travel light on that trip. Scott and his men carried gramophones, Russian novels, a study of the Napoleonic wars and more. When a search party finally found their corpses, they found on Scott’s sled 35 pounds of rocks containing late Paleozoic fossils, which the men had dragged 400 miles. Had they dumped the rocks, Scott and his men might have survived. What does it matter whether you fold your clothes or roll them?