As a young twenty something I cavorted around the world with a back pack loaded with nothing more than the bare essentials, a swim suit, a sarong, thongs, a change of clothes, shampoo, tooth brush and paste, the Lonely Planet and my mate Gaffa. It didn’t start out that way of course. Being a novice in the life of a backpacker, I stuffed my pack in preparation for every eventuality… a famine, a party, an earthquake, a rapist you name it, I was ready for it. Within two hours of getting off the plane and finding my way to the nearest accommodation, I was already heaving, gasping and cursing the contents. Over the next few weeks, I began the shedding processing and not just the excess kilos in my pack. The process of elimination was unremorseful and relentless. I was able to focus on the things that really mattered and it wasn’t only the few items I was left with (kept so I didn’t get arrested for public nudity), gaffer tape also became my friend and it got me out of plenty of scrapes but that is a whole other story. By only packing what I needed I could actually hear myself think. I wasn’t in a conundrum over what to wear or what to read, just zen thoughts on which bus to catch, what to eat and how much gaffer tape I had left.
Add 15 years and my life becomes like a complex calculus equation as we embark on our first family adventure. Add two children, a husband, minus the backpack, add suitcases, a plane and a road trip and I spiral back into the vortex of my Obsessive Packing Disorder. Mosquito repellent, snacks, Stingose, Panadol, travel sickness pills, allergy pills, eye covers, ear plugs, reading books, drinks, games, colour in pencils and books, Nintendo, chargers, balls, lego, soft toys…and that was just the daypack for onboard activities. I justified my actions because I am talking about the days when one movie fitted all on the few screens scattered around the aircraft and long before the proliferation of ipads for entertainment. The suitcase was jammed with clothes in case it rained, in case it got hot, in case it got cold and of course there was even the possibility of snow in summer on a mountain somewhere. It really was difficult to decide what not to pack for family holiday.
Single mindedly, I packed what I thought was important to them and ensured I had ammunition at hand for me in case I heard those dreaded words no travelling parent ever wants to hear “I’m bored”. We did end up wearing some of the clothes and the soft toy did feature heavily in our travel documentary and Ted, by the way, still comes along with us on every trip. However, everything else was superfluous. Inadvertently, my obsession was trying to control their adventure, their journey and their story. Things spiralled out of control when they began playing in every playground, running around every caravan park, drawing in the sand with a stick on the beach, skimming rocks in the lakes, hiking walking trails, following wild wallabies and looking for koalas in trees.
Once I accepted my situation, it still wasn’t all a play in the park. We had our low points. My husband got sick of driving, I was mad at my son who left his thongs behind at a playground, we were tired, we argued, we niggled and I was the worst mother in the world because they couldn’t have ice cream every day. The boys got covered in mud, stuck with prickles, our bedding got saturated, we were held hostage in our camper by a screaching Tasmanian Devil but the darkness lifted and Armageddon never eventuated.
We hauled all of the excess baggage back home with the addition of some lovely smooth river rocks, stones with sparkly fool’s gold, interesting smooth sticks, shells and lots of broken chocolate from the Cadbury’s factory and of course a tonne of photographs. I learnt a lot about my obsession and what not to pack for a family holiday. ‘Just in case’ rarely happens so now we all just take a backpack with the essentials and the kids bring theirs back loaded with whatever they want within reason (the bullet my son found managed to attract some interest at airport security) and we load our heads with some awesome memories.