Summer Shlep: Packing It All In

Shlep is the Yiddish word that means “to carry, lug or drag.” It’s worked its way into the everyday vernacular – but we’re not talking about the local shlep home from the supermarket; the shlep to Center City to go out to dinner, we’re talking about the long distance shlep, the travel shlep, the summer shlep. And we’ve been lucky enough to do it this summer.

The bad news is we had to pack.

Men tend to be on the team that commands “pack light.” Maybe because they end up doing the schlepping, they felt they had to put some limits on it. But it’s not like the old days; we don’t have a matching set of hard side suitcases, cosmetic totes and shoe bags. (OK, we might wish we did, but we don’t.) Nowadays everything has wheels and pop-up handles, so it’s not as hard to be the bellhop.

We try to pack light but how can we possibly know what we’ll want to wear next Tuesday in Tampa? Can we trust the 10-day weather forecast? Will we be walking to the museum in Munich and wish we had packed those comfortable leather laceups? What if we spill something on the all-purpose black pants? Do we need a raincoat for the rainforest or should we just pack a jacket with a hood? What does the cruise line mean by “resort casual?” Better to throw in the skirt, the dress and the packable pants and be prepared for anything.

In an effort to save space and not pack 10 pairs of underwear, Joyce once invested in the quick-dry travel underwear — guaranteed to dry out quickly, after you wash it in the hotel sink with the small bar of soap. They did not perform as advertised. Rather than strolling in soggy panties, she was thankful she had packed a few extra regular pairs, just in case!

Sometimes, our husbands insist we limit ourselves to “carry-ons only” to save time and not risk the revolving roulette wheel that is the baggage carousel. They have a point. In 2008, an average of 90,000 bags per day were lost, damaged or delayed. But after the fiasco of transferring Pepto-Bismol, shampoo, aloe vera gel, and suntan lotion to 3-ounce airline-safe containers we’re not sure that “carry-on only” is the best idea.

We have weathered the worst-case scenario of a lost bag several times. On a family trip to the Bahamas, Ellen’s family had to make a quick trip to the local straw market for two souvenir T-shirts and two pairs of Hawaiian shorts when a suitcase was lost. The luggage-less child only had to dress like a mismatched tourist until that night, when her bag arrived.

Since our kids are grown, you’d think it would be a breeze to pack light for a family trip. No more checking the stroller, the car seat and the port-a-crib. No more trying to stuff two weeks’ worth of diapers, sippy cups, stuffed animals and the 101-piece set of plastic play food into a duffel. No more having to stop en route at a K-Mart to purchase “the identical twin brother” of a daughter’s beloved blankie that had been accidentally left behind at home.

Now our kids’ packing list has changed to electrical adapters to recharge their iPods and extra battery packs for their laptops, cameras, and cell phones. While we pack one outfit for daytime and a second for dinner out, our daughters pack a full range of possible clubbing outfits. Who knows what the locals wear when they go out to drink and dance? Our teens need to be prepared.

We both love to travel. We love the adventure, the relaxation and the family time. When Joyce and her husband were 30, they took a three-month trip around the world, each with only a 17-pound backpack. Those 17 pounds contained everything from essential medicine, to an all-purpose dress and rolls of toilet paper.

Today, we generally travel to places where you don’t have to bring your own toilet paper. So why is so hard for us to pare down to the essentials before we grab our passports?

Since you now know that we can’t pack light, you won’t be surprised to learn that we usually shlep home seashell necklaces, shot glasses from Pedro’s beach bar, and that heavy, hand-painted ceramic plate we just couldn’t resist.

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4 Responses to Summer Shlep: Packing It All In

  1. David says:

    OK, I can’t resist a comment on this one: Ellen, at least, was able to pack lightly on our recent trip. Sadly, the definition of “light” wasn’t light enough for the airline to consider her bag a carry on – who knew that the airline would be so strict about the 8 kilo limit for carry-ons, or that they would force 75 people to check luggage they thought they could just, uh, shlep aboard as carry-ons?


  2. Lisa Marks says:

    My husband and I always have a mini disagreement when we are going away. I have to sit on my suitcase to close it. The zipper looks as if it might tear and my husband saying sternly, “This weighs more than 50 lbs!” Inside I worry and pray, “oh please do not let that be true”. We shlep to the airport, my bag is weighed and it is always below 50 lbs. I look at my partner with a grin and then we shlep to our gate. I have gratitude that we can shelp!
    Heres to shleping!!!


  3. Loved the schlepping story! ellensue


  4. Mary Fiedler says:

    My husband always says “We’re ONLY staying TWO DAYS!!! I usually pack what I want! Love your stories…


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