Faire ses valises

overpacked suitcase

This is not my suitcase but it could be

I hate packing. You’d think I’d be good at it by now. But after thirty years of schlepping suitcases and other stuff back and forth outre-Atlantique, I’m still no star.

Part of the problem is that I don’t really like to travel. Don’t get me wrong – I love discovering new places and revisiting ones from the past. It’s the process of getting from point A to point B that gets me. It starts with a necessary narrowing of options. You can’t take it all with you, although I have tried a few times. So you need to decide in advance what you need. Obviously that means anticipating the weather, the situations – who knows if you’ll want to go hiking? What if they don’t have any firm pillows? Inevitably, I over pack.

When visiting family and friends, I usually add a few two (Canada Customs oblige) bottles of bubbly or good red. And then a few odd things from France that people will appreciate: herbes de provence, sea salt, chocolate. This time I made strategic error of bringing some lovely French honey. I thought it well buffered in my running shoe but the glass jar shattered somewhere in transit and spilled its gooey contents all over my suitcase. Thankfully most of my clothes were safe as they were in packing cubes, but those shoes are sure going to get a lot of traction!

I wish I could travel like my husband. He casually tosses a few well-chosen items into a bag and off he goes, carefree. If he forgets something essential, he buys it there. So relaxed is he that inevitably, as the plane takes off, he snores.

img_2083I have taken to capturing these moments on my phone. They provide souvenirs of each trip we take, as well as a bookmark in my photo library. Apparently the tendency to nod off enroute runs in the family, as this recent snap from a holiday flight shows.

I am on a rare solo trip back to Toronto to visit friends and family. It was husband’s idea that I make the trip on my own as he already  all his vacation time skiing. I love that he wants me to enjoy life, although I suspect he’s been plotting ways to get me to pack my bags (‘faire mes valises’) for awhile now.

This morning I’ve unpacked my stuff (which I far prefer to packing), and cleaned all the honey and broken glass from my suitcase. I have vowed that from now on, I’m keeping it simple.

Do you like to pack? Do you travel light or prefer to stay home?


  1. poshbirdy · October 28, 2016

    Love to travel. Just as well really as we have done a fair bit over the years. I pack well, and sometimes leave items at the destination as well if they will be more useful to/ appreciated by those looking after our room. We are the opposites to you – I travel light, while my husband is a tart who takes far too many clothes and shoes. Our daughter takes little at all and wears the same thing over and over! Hubby is a worrier until we are on the plane, whereas I am too relaxed for my own good. One of these days it will bite me, but as long as I have my running clothes I am ready to take off! Have a happy time back home

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      It’s funny how people always seem to attract their opposites. Love how you describe your hubby! 😉 I think it’s great to be like you and just wish I were less anxious about missing some essential item when I travel. Also love the idea of leaving things behind. I often pick up books left behind by other readers at hotels and they have been some of my best holiday reads!

  2. Osyth · October 28, 2016

    Oh my Lord ….honey in your running shoe – that’s a ghastly one! I loathe and detest packing though everyone tells me I do it well. I have lost count of the number of nice carry-on bags I have had to donate to a daughter who can’t fit everything in her bag for the return trip. I never get them back so I’m the chic and elegant gal with carefully coordinated carrier bags at Logan or Roissy! Packing The Bean is another story entirely ….

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      That is so funny, I have exactly the same problem with my daughter! My good suitcase is currently with her and she swears she will bring it back for Christmas. I have my doubts. How do you pack the bean? Hopefully you don’t put him through with the bags….? We did that once but never again. Apparently if there is a loss of oxygen the outcome is not good. 😦

      • Osyth · October 28, 2016

        I had a full set of Vuitton once upon a time …. the girls each have some very lovely pieces and I travel with House for Primani to try and stave off any further ‘loans’ …. good luck with yours! The Bean travels with us in the cabin. She has an Airline approved bag that fits under the seat and it means she can travel Delta, American, Air France, KLM and doubtless others we havent explored. My husband showed his soft side when he refused to countenance the idea of her going in the hold despite my brother (an airline pilot) assuring us she word be fine … I get from your comment that he was right and I do hope your doggie was not permanently affected. The Bean is thinking of writing the Dummies Guide to travel with pets – the advice on line is SO confusing ….

      • MELewis · October 28, 2016

        That is a great book idea! 🙂

  3. Suzanne et Pierre · October 28, 2016

    Very good piece (as usual!). I don’t particularly like packing or the act of travelling from point A to B (especially if it involves a plane!) but I am now very adapt in travelling fairly light (except when we travel by car where we pack everything including pillows!) We have learned to travel light now that you have to pay for checking your suitcase on most flights…I hope you had a good stay with friends & family in Toronto. (Suzanne)

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      Thanks, Suzanne. Next time we come back to Canada together we have promised ourselves a longer trip to discover another region of this great land – either east or west. We will certainly take inspiration in our choice of location from your photos! Hopefully after the honey fiasco I will be better organized with the packing.

  4. BigLizzy · October 28, 2016

    Mel, This post completely, utterly resonates with me but for a slightly different reason than you.

    Like you: I love being in new places and having adventures, but getting there is the issue for me, not the packing. As a sufferer of what I term “hard-core social anxiety”, the process of traveling (by air) for me is absolutely torturous. I have all kinds of challenges with it. Crowded airports, noise, light, movement, cigarette smoke, exhaust fumes from cars, stress, running to the gate, worrying about being late, trying to find healthy options to eat when I’m out there! It all simply exhausts me. It’s not fun at all. And, then there’s the gallon of water I drink every day. The TSA Nazis won’t let one take a decent-sized bottle of water on the plane, so I end up feeling dehydrated, too. Gah!

    Hence, the reason I rarely travel by air. Actually, I travel a great deal locally on my Harley (and by car when my husband comes along), but flying is really a last resort for me. I’ve missed a great deal of life because of this anxiety and tension of mine, but I look at this way: if I’m completely spent when I arrive and it takes me three days to recover, it’s just not worth it.

    I have to travel soon (fly) to California for work and I’m DREADING IT. Packing is the least of my troubles. It’s all the other stuff that kills my happiness. This post, however, helps me realize that we all have our “stuff” whether emotional or simply trying to pack effectively. We all have our challenges. It’s all the same. We’re really all in this together and anything we can do to be nice to ourselves during the process is a great way to deal with it.

    Love you, sister. Thanks for the awesome post. As always! Bises!

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      Lizzy, thanks for your words of encouragement and for sharing your anxieties about the getting there. For me this is a whole other source of angst, and deserving of its own post. I must say, having chosen to spend my life on the other side of Atlantic from family and friends has more or less forced me to deal with it. But I am, and always will be, a very nervous flyer. I cannot really relax until I’ve reached my destination, which means 12-16 hours of intense nerves. A lot of what makes me suffer is the claustrophobia of being cramped next to so many other beings with no control over air, temperature, etc. But I force myself to suffer through it for what waits on the other side. I hope you can do what you have to without too much personal cost. California sounds like a good place to go if you have to travel by plane somewhere. Bon courage! Be good to yourself. xo

  5. George Lewis · October 28, 2016

    What’s your new nickname- sweet feet or honey toes?

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      Ha, ha. Stick in the mud? 😉

  6. francetaste · October 28, 2016

    When packing glass (including wine): roll up each bottle in a cut-down wine box and secure with lots of duct tape. They never open it–I suppose it x-rays fine. Never had a broken bottle (knock on wood). I wouldn’t take bubbly–too risky that it explodes. We tend to stick to red wine. Bottle in plastic grocery bag, then wrapped in cardboard, then in another plastic bag. If anything happens, with luck the damage will be limited. Once a package of fancy sea salt got opened and spilled everywhere.
    I pack light for myself, but our suitcases always are heavy with presents for family and friends.

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      Your advice makes me realize how foolhardy I have been just slipping my bottles in with my clothes and hoping for the best. 😉 Never even occurred to me that champagne would explode! Will try your technique for wrapping next time. The stupid thing is, I frequently toss good stuff like bubble-wrap from online deliveries and when it came time to pack, had nothing at hand. A plastic bag around that jar of honey sure would have limited the damage. Or a plastic container!

  7. doodletllc · October 28, 2016

    Lately, we’ve been traveling with carry-ons as a family of 4..one for each…and it’s been good…lots of editing and planning but it in the end, we are not bogged down by luggage…But I agree, it is a chore. 🙂

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      That is entirely admirable and you inspire me to make more of an effort. I love the idea of not being bogged down by needless stuff. As for the carry-on rules, though, liquids always get me – it’s hard to find travel size containers that don’t leak.

  8. Dana · October 28, 2016

    Hate packing. Hate getting there. Love it once I’m there 🙂

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      I’m with you, Dana. It’s a lot of work but it’s worth it.

  9. moulindelaroche · October 28, 2016

    The thing I love about having a home in France as well as the UK is that we have everything there…clothes, toiletries, even the right pillows, Suzanne et Pierre! No, our packing is usually more like tool box, chest of drawers, tins of paint, and anything else DIY focussed that is either too expensive or too hard to find quickly and easily in rural France. This time out it was packing in the context of ‘house move’, as we start our next and forever renovation project. Now that really was a nightmare – but so worth it.
    Hope you have a lovely visit!

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      Good grief you have my heart-felt sympathy. It’s a worthy cause but packing DIY stuff? I hope you are better organized than little old me. Bon courage!

  10. coteetcampagne · October 28, 2016

    We are budget-bunnies and run about with just cabin luggage; boy, can I rock capsule wardrobe!! I know what I’ll wear. I tend to edit Trev’s stuff because he is an appalling over packer, this backfired the trip when I left all his underwear at home….

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      LOL! Poor guy. I admire your ‘capsule’ wardrobe. You really don’t need a lot, you just need the right pieces.

      • coteetcampagne · October 28, 2016

        Yep, the right pieces for taking a house apart and putting it back together. I can’t remember that last time I dressed up in France

  11. Susanne · October 28, 2016

    How nice to be on your own for a while. Enjoy it!

    I don’t enjoy the process of organizing stuff for the suitcase though I’m getting better at winnowing out unnecessary stuff so that I can manage with a carry-on bag and no checked luggage. I do NOT like air travel anymore because it is so fraught with anxiety at the airport, the long lines, security, delays. No fun. If at all possible, I prefer the train.

    • MELewis · October 28, 2016

      I am doing just that, Susanne. Merci! By the way, I love the train. Best way to travel.

  12. awtytravels · October 30, 2016

    My rule is “don’t pack anything you can’t carry on your back”. I did a year or two of particularly intense business travelling, mainly day-trips or one-night stays, and I was the only one with a backpack, but I was happy. The only thing I do make a point of carrying is a power adapter, being London-based it means that most of my chargers etc come with those big British plugs and good luck finding an adapter if you don’t have one!

    BTW, slightly off-topic. A beekeeper friend told me not to take honey on transcon flights. Apparently it’s a very good vehicle for viruses and other pests that plague bees worldwide. I don’t have any further insight but for the passionate plea of my Welsh friend. Plus, the jar breaks in the bag!

    • MELewis · November 2, 2016

      I feel ashamed to have even tried to bring honey. What your friend says makes perfect sense and in future I will keep my offerings to non-breakables. As for the business travel, your policy makes sense. I once did a short trip with a checked bag that didn’t make it and had to go to meetings the next day with nothing fresher than a hotel toothbrush!

      • awtytravels · November 2, 2016

        At least your hotel had toothbrushes! (how about toothpaste though?)

  13. Our backwards and forward trips are at least 24 hours each way. The jet lag is hard to get over quickly and I was full of admiration for my parents who had 31-odd hours of transit on their last trip to visit us in France. Not easy…

    • MELewis · November 2, 2016

      Oh, yes….that long trip is the one thing that has stopped me so far from visiting Australia so far. Your parents sound like hardy types!

  14. midihideaways · November 2, 2016

    Sorry to hear about the honey – and I’m sure it was good honey too!! I’ve taken honey, but it was lavender honey, and it had set by the time I packed it. Lucky for me the jar did not break, but it wouldn’t have leaked very much… Enjoy your break in Canada!!

    • MELewis · November 2, 2016

      Merci Monsieur. Just getting ready for my return trip. No honey this time!

      • midihideaways · November 2, 2016

        What about maple syrup?? 🙂

      • MELewis · November 2, 2016

        You can get the real stuff everywhere in France now, so probably not worth the bother to transport!

  15. Mél@nie · November 2, 2016

    @”Do you like to pack? Do you travel light or prefer to stay home?” – packing has become kinda “routine” for decades… 🙂 we do travel light, hopefully… we prefer to stay home – now and then… 🙂

  16. Pingback: Poser ses valises – FranceSays

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