Is it time to rethink the way we pack our suitcases?

Some people were born to pack bags. I am not one of those people, which became apparent when planning for an upcoming trip triggered a spiral of despair. For one, I find it impossible to imagine the state of being cold when packing in a hot climate. Imagining one's future self, and the tiny details of living therein, is essential to being a "good packer".

Illustration: Simon Letch

Illustration: Simon LetchCredit:

Another problem is that I never remember whether I'm meant to fold clothes a particular way, or just roll them. (Roll, it turns out, after a quick google.) Moreover, using packing cubes is, like painting with watercolours, an art which eludes me. No, I mean it, those cubes are a total mystery. Where do you even buy them?

Recently I interviewed a woman for this magazine who travels the world for a living – she's a fashion buyer – and she told me that before every trip she figures out her every outfit, for every occasion. Such foresight was remarkable to me, as was her habit of immediately unpacking the moment she gets into a hotel room. "You mean you don't rifle blindly through the suitcase, inevitably spilling wine and shampoo and some weird sticky substance everywhere, before eventually concluding that at least two pairs of underpants have been mysteriously lost to the cosmos?" I gasped. She smiled and I noticed her linen dress was creaseless. I also noticed the absence of coffee stains on her outfit, because even though she is frequently crossing time zones, her preferred beverage is matcha tea. Of course.

Some people – specifically, the rich – get around the challenge of packing by outsourcing it. I discovered this a while back, on a press trip to the Ritz Paris, where the concierge, delivering a wake-up call, explained that should madam want her bag packed by a professional, all she had to do was let him know. It's mademoiselle, actually, I said in a huff. But, um, yes, if they wouldn't mind sending someone up to the room, pronto? Then I remembered that pronto isn't a French word, but by then a man in a navy suit with gold trimmings had already appeared and begun rolling my clothes like so many fat croissants. (In this analogy, my suitcase is a boulangerie. I'm okay with that.)

Travel has always been a luxury, but perhaps these days it's an irresponsible one. You probably saw the recent news about the UN climate change report. The one that says in 20 years we'll be nothing but desiccated husks of cells living in an Hieronymus Bosch hellscape. In response, an American science reporter announced on Twitter that he was giving up flying, for good.

That puts packing quandaries in perspective, doesn't it? If I ever want to see my loved ones, it's impossible for me to make a similar sacrifice. That's even as signs of the planet's deteriorating health are all around us – like the report that the unusually severe typhoons which have recently swept through Japan have tricked the cherry blossoms into overriding their hormonal signals, prompting them to blossom way ahead of springtime.

There may yet be small, positive actions to take. An Instagram ad I saw recently for a sustainable clothing company, one which refashions second-hand garments into trendy new ones, made the point that there are already enough clothes in the world to meet our needs. Until we can vote our way to a price on carbon, maybe buying less is one thing I do to contribute. It's a win-win, really. Fewer clothes means less stuff to cram in a suitcase.

To read more from Good Weekend magazine, visit our page at The Sydney Morning Herald or The Age.

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