As far as I can tell there are only two ways to pack a bag. You can either pack too much, or you pack too little. There is no in between. Nobody has ever packed a bag with precisely every item they required for their trip. I know this because I have never seen a self-congratulatory post on Facebook praising someone’s perfectly stocked luggage; and there are always people on Facebook who are taking a holiday.
My own packing tends to fall under the category of too much, though here I believe there are different extents in which a bag can be overloaded. I can remember dating a girl who would insist on filling a suitcase with at least four pairs of shoes for an overnight or a two night stay. She would never stuff them in either, like one imagines you would have to convince four pairs of shoes to fit into a small suitcase. Each pair was placed like they were handcrafted crystal glassware. Every time I would ask her why she needed four different pieces of footwear for a visit to Brighton and on each occasion she would reiterate that it is impractical to decide what outfit she would be wearing days in advance. As a man who will often plan his attire from shirt to socks for work or an event weeks in the future, like some kind of mental pill-box, I found this argument difficult to swallow.
In contrast, I find that my own over packing tends to be a little more subtle. Regardless of where I am travelling I will always take a small packet of pocket tissues, even if I have not blown my nose for weeks and am not being threatened by the common cold. I think I must have sneezed once as a child and suffered the trauma of not having a tissue at hand and having to scramble for a suitable paper substitute before my face became completely overwhelmed with mucus, because I purchase a fresh packet of pocket tissues before every trip, often going to put them into my bag only to find that there is still an unopened packet from my last journey.
Another thing I find myself with more of than I need in my baggage is the notebook and pen. I like to carry a notebook and pen with me most places, because you never know when you’re going to have to remember something for future reference and I find technology isn’t nearly as reliable as paper and ink. A recent example of this would be when I text a friend to inform them of a tasty looking recipe I had seen in The Times Magazine for courgette fritters; the trouble being that I had intended to store the gourmet reminder as a note on my phone. On the plus side my friend enjoyed a delicious dinner. Instead I have always enjoyed the simplicity of a small notebook and a pen and the way that you can read back a note you have made and remember exactly where you were (which bar you were in) when you wrote it.
Though, like with paper tissues, I have a serious problem when it comes to buying more notebooks and pens than are even nearly necessary, which is partly born out of a severe dislike of standing around a crowded train station waiting for a platform announcement. That’s when I will seek the comforting familiarity of a railway WH Smith – usually for a bottle of water, or a newspaper if I haven’t already got mine – and be met with their promotional offer of a Dairy Milk bar the size of a tablet (in the Biblical form, rather than the kindle.) I always panic in these situations. I find it very difficult to say no, usually out of fear of disappointing someone, and so usually I will turn down the £1 slab of chocolate and instead offer to pay £5.49 for a small notebook and a pouch of ten black biros.
There are also the less manic habits, although equally contributing to my conviction as a subtle over packer. I will take my stubble trimmer with me whenever I travel, even if only for one night and even if I have shaved on the morning I leave home, in the event that I am thrust into a situation where I feel compelled to have exactly 1.6mm of stubble on my facial features.
I always pack a book into my bag. That isn’t wildly absurd, even if I rarely read when I am in transit. Typically if I am on a train I will be listening to music and drinking beer from a can, but I do like to keep a book in my backpack in case I feel the need to place it on the table beside my Innis & Gunn in order to convince my fellow travellers that I am not a complete social vagrant. Leaving a copy of The Times open at the crossword page can also have the same effect, but to be efficient that method requires at least some of the clues to have been solved. The Times, naturally, serves the dual purpose of becoming useful should I suffer some sort of sneezing incident.
All of this surely pales into comparison with my worst habit when it comes to packing a bag, however. That habit being procrastination. I am travelling to Glasgow tomorrow night, en route to the U2 concert in Dublin on Saturday. And all I have done to prepare for this trip is write 900 words for my weblog on packing a bag and buy another packet of tissues.