When I first moved to Portland, I moved into a townhouse with two other roommates. During my first week, my roommate Anna (not her real name) was leaving on a three week trip to China. She packed one, smaller carry-on suitcase which she filled with clothes about an hour before heading to the airport. She pulled a similar stunt before going to Berlin for two week the following Christmas. While some people would find that crazy, I thought Anna was a packing god.
For nearly a decade, I’ve tried to emulate her ability to pack light and in short order. Never again would anyone ever accuses me of overpacking. I did very well with this until I moved to China. While I did start packing my suitcase around 5 pm the night before my morning flight (in short order), I 100 percent overpacked. In my defense, I was moving for an undetermined amount of time. Since my overpacking for moving abroad mishap, I’ve rededicated myself to the goal of minimalist travel. Minimalist packing goals aside, none of my years of packing light or “winging it” while traveling prepared me for what happened this past Christmas.
My family spent the holidays in Sunriver, Oregon—a beautiful ski-resort town that was a staple of my childhood. I’ve spent many of my holidays there throughout my life and was really looking forward to us reestablishing this tradition after a nearly 10-year hiatus. I researched and reserved the perfect house months in advance. I planned and organized meals for the whole trip. I created a list of all the things that needed to happen and needed to be brought for our holiday to be perfect. When the morning of the trip finally came, I was ready. I packed my suitcase, food and cookware for dinners, Christmas presents, and all my snow gear. (I both cross-country ski and snowboard.)
With three of us taking the same car, it was a bit tight but we got the car loaded and headed out on our snowy, festive holiday vacation. I couldn’t be more excited when we got there. We unloaded the car while my nieces (ages 3 and 5) ran around the house playing. Christmas presents and stockings piled up around the fireplace. Everything was going exactly as I planned—until it hit me. I looked in the kitchen, where we’d been bringing stuff in from the car. Then the bedroom, then the garage.
“Where’s my suitcase?” I asked my brother.
“My suitcase. The one with all my stuff.”
“I never saw your suitcase.”
The moment I realized that my suitcase was somehow left behind, sitting at home all by itself, I panicked. I’ve been really good at not letting unfortunate situations get me down lately. Getting laid off from work? Totally fine. Developed new skin allergies? I’m ok. Discovering one of my close friends wasn’t that great of a friend after all? I’ll live and am likely better off in the long run. Luggage doesn’t arrive at final destination? Panic like someone just announced the zombie apocalypse is real and a hoard of zombies are heading our way!
My mind immediately did a mental calculation of what I did and didn’t have. No suitcase meant I only had the clothes I wore that day (one skirt, tights, a sweater, and loafers) and what was in my purse (a toothbrush, water bottle, two books, laptop, camera, charging cords, sleep mask). No change of clothing, no pjs, no pants, no clean underwear, no running gear, no swimsuit for the hot tub. No makeup, face wash, or moisturizer, and the biggest issue of all of them—no medication. I have psoriasis and periorial dermatitis. This winter I’ve been experiencing bad flair ups of both these conditions and the prospect of going without my medication? That seemed horrendous.
Once I calmed down, I realized this wasn’t a zombie-apocalypse level disaster. I had a few things on my side. My sister also has periorial dermatitis, so I could borrow her skincare products. I borrowed PJ bottoms from my dad and a sleep shirt from my mom. I could rent ski boots and Sunriver is just a hop, skip away from Bend, where I could pickup any other necessary supplies (change of clothing and the ever precious clean underwear). The only thing I’d truly go without was my medication.
Even if I hadn’t had the advantage of family members, it still would have been ok. If my luggage ended up lost while backpacking around the world, I could still buy the essentials and a bag to keep them in. These situations are unfortunate, but you can always make do. It’s amazing how little you need once it’s not an option.
I’m going to be honest, though, going without my medication sucked. My psoriasis worsened. My flair up spread to the worse it’d been all winter. It was itchy and uncomfortable. By the time I was home again, all I wanted was to scrub myself down in the shower, and lather myself in topical medication, which is exactly what I did when I got home. It felt glorious. My periorial dermatitis also worsened. This one was a mystery to me cause normally I only get it if I use a product with SLS or fluoride. I’d been borrowing my sister’s skincare products and should have been fine. (We later determined I’m now also allergic to Yellow Dye 5. The reaction I got on that trip is only now going away, more than a month later, with help from my new dermatologist and antibiotics.)
Overall it was an important learning experience. I still had a wonderful holiday and a good time in Sunriver. I know now that if I ever find myself in a similar situation, I’ll be okay. Oh… and I learned to always pack an extra pair of underwear and my medication in my purse/carry-on. I’ll be thankful to have them the next time my luggage is MIA.
GRETCHEN IS A WRITER-BASED IN PORTLAND, ORE. SHE GOT HER START AS A JOURNALIST WORKING ON THE SUSTAINABLE FASHION AND RESTAURANT BEAT BEFORE MOVING INTO COPYWRITING AND ADVERTISING WORK. SHE CURRENTLY BLOGS AND WORKS AS A FREELANCE WRITER.