the things you never think about.

Okay, I’ll admit it: I’m pretty neurotic. I made a tentative categorized packing list for this trip two months before I left Philly, before I even had suitcases. I thought I had considered everything and couldn’t have possibly left a single thing out, but nothing could have prepared me to face the hard truth about myself: I need a lot of stuff. (Disclaimer: when I say “need,” I mean “would benefit from.” Not to be confused with “would actually die without.” I’m just spoiled and dependent on materialistic things, not fighting for survival.)

It didn’t really occur to me until a few days ago just how many small things I was used to having and no longer had.

Last week, after a quick stop at Primark, and with a heavy sense of buyer’s remorse weighing on my shoulders, I was the proud owner of a new blanket, a new sweater, and new shoes. Only when I got home did I realize that I had no scissors to cut the impossible-to-rip tags off. I tackled them with a dull knife, yes, but at risk of damaging my pretty things (and my pretty self, she adds, under her breath), I didn’t get very far. Fortunately, after mass-texting about twenty people, my next-door neighbor-turned-friend became my friend-turned-knight in shining pink hair and lent me her scissors (thanks Sam). It really wasn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things, but at least I don’t have an itchy tag on my blanket poking me in the feet at night. I am lucky enough to be here with thirty people that I interact with almost daily, and it has helped a lot in those times of shallow, materialistic “need.”

With that in mind, I can’t help but consider the fact that I would be totally helpless if I was here on my own. I’d either have to grow as a person and learn to live without the random little things that I hadn’t thought to pack, or worse, be forced to buy absolutely everything new and not be able to close my suitcases for the flight home without abandoning everything I arrived with. I’m already sad thinking about the fact that my brand new memory foam pillow and shiny new toaster will have no place in my luggage and will likely be left here as a nice surprise for the next resident of the right bed in room 68, but c’est la vie, or whatever.

For my readers/future travelers, here is a list of a few things (but definitely not all things) that you should pack, but will never think to pack, and will kick yourself for not packing when you realize you need them at 3 AM:

-Scissors: To cut that buyer’s remorse in half!

-Meds, and lots of them: Fortunately, this is something I did actually pack. Having a nurse for a mom comes in handy, as bringing a box of Advil Cold to a country where Advil Cold does not exist seemed obvious. (Side note: expect to get sick if you’re going to be in another country for more than a week or two. that Advil Cold has come and gone in less than a month.)

-Office supplies: This one is mostly for students. It can be argued that waiting until you arrive in the country and purchasing these supplies is a better option, but throwing a notebook and a few pens, highlighters, etc. in your bag just to get you started can’t hurt. (I partially do this because I live for being that kid that not only has 15 pens and highlighters with her but is also totally willing to lend them to classmates. It’s how I learned to turn being a nerd into a surefire way to make friends in high school.)

-An open mind: Before you groan, bear with me. An open mind is so important for traveling, especially for the eternally anxious like myself. Yes, an open mind for seeing new places and trying new cuisines is important, but for those of us who are staying somewhere for an extended period of time, an open mind in the grocery store is important too. You are not going to eat out every day. An English grocery store is nothing like an American one, so I’ve had to try new things solely because I wouldn’t eat otherwise. You also have to keep an open mind about the people around you. This is my first experience living with a roommate, so I’ve had to be extra considerate of my roommate. My room was essentially cut in half and the number of people that sleep in it was doubled, so being mindful of your surroundings and your peers is crucial. Getting in to an open mindset prior to your arrival in a new place will help prepare you for the inevitable culture shock you will experience, and might make things a little bit easier. The Sleep Foundation even suggests changing the time on your phone to the zone that you’re traveling to ahead of time, so you can subconsciously start adjusting to the difference.

The longer I live in London, the more I realize that there are a thousand things I hadn’t considered, but now all I can think about is what hasn’t hit me yet.

xx Gabi

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4 thoughts on “the things you never think about.

  1. Interesting post Gabi, like most people out there I can also relate to over-relying on material goods. While we may depend on the things we buy, I think it’s fair to say that most of us also have a dependence on the act of purchasing. It’s something that’s rarely discussed, perhaps because we’d rather not think about it, despite the fact that it is so ubiquitous. Consumption is essentially the keystone of our society, and without it our entire social system would collapse. From infancy we ‘going to the store’ with our parents is a staple in our routine. Even if the little kid sitting in the shopping cart could care less about groceries, they are inadvertently being conditioned to spend money and respond to messaging. As you grow older you start to watch your parent’s more consciously, you see how much thought they put into buying cars and the satisfaction they have when they finally make the purchase. You are encouraged to create a Christmas list or pick some things out for your relatives to buy you for your birthday. If something crappy happens to you your parents buy you icecream or something along those lines. By the time you have your own money in your pockets you are conditioned and encouraged to spend it (why else do we collect it?). The result of this for me, and I’m sure for many other people, is that purchasing virtually anything satisfies an (socially constructed?) emotional need as much as it does a practical one.

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    1. Alex, I agree with you that my reliance is more about the purchase than the actual need for material items. It feels good to get something new, doesn’t it? Often, the joy of it diminishes quickly after the act of purchasing ends.

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  2. Gabi-
    This was a good post to make as I know a lot of us are slowly realizing we don’t have everything we need. But sometimes, I think that’s the point. If I packed every little thing I thought I would need for the entire semester, where’s the fun in that? I think sometimes the best experiences can be simply exploring a new place. Some of the people in this program, along with myself, went looking for a notebook one day and ended up exploring all these different stores in London and made a day out of it. Sometimes forgetting things can be a good social interaction too. Like you said, you contacted everyone in order to find scissors and probably had a good conversation with Sam about it when she gave them to you. Or, I know our group explodes sometimes with people simply saying they need to run to Primark or Sainsbury for something they need, would anyone like to join them. It is impossible to pack everything you are going to need but instead of constantly worrying about that, make forgetting things fun and eventful!
    -Morgan

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  3. Gabi, I wanna start off by saying that I really like your writing. Super easy to read and funny! Also, it most definitely is stressful trying to decide what to bring. It’s weird packing for a place for 4 months where you kinda know what to bring and kinda don’t. A lot of stopping mid-sweater fold to decide if it’s really needed. Plus all the random stuff. I went a little crazy with the travel sized things and may have brought a mini wrinkle release spray. Not sure how relevant it will be, but we’ll see. Anyways, good post.

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