By Michael Willard
School’s out for summer, warm weather is here, and during the next couple of weeks, vacations will begin for plenty of people throughout the county.
We’ll pack up our cars and head to the beach, or load up the camping supplies and seek out a shady space to pitch a tent in the mountains. Some folks will load up and spend time on the area’s lakes or streams, while others set sights on more distant ports of call. Regardless of the destination, when we prepare to take vacation, we all share one thing in common: packing.
Whether it is a day-trip to the pond for “Take-A-Kid Fishing Day” or a two-week tour of some foreign nation, everybody seeking a little rest and relaxation must first endure the vacation torture of “the pack.” And if your family is like most Americans, when we pack, we like to prepare for every possible occasion or twist of fate our vacation could possibly deliver. Sure, chances of needing an extra kitchen sink at the beach are pretty slim, but it is always a good idea to pack one just in case.
Growing up, the Willard family trekked all over the North American creation — from Bar Harbor, Maine to Key West, Fla., to Yellowstone National Park and the Rockies. In between, there was North Carolina, Tennessee, northern Alabama, central Arkansas and plenty of other places. Without fail, before we ever took a single step off the Willard property, my father and I spent countless hours packing. For every trip, we packed that kitchen sink (or at least the wash tubs we used for a dish-washing sink), as well as just about every single piece of camping equipment we owned.
But that was just the start.
We packed luggage and sleeping bags, air mattresses, pillows, fishing gear, tools, food, tarps, several pairs of shoes, and just about thing we thought might be required for our tent camping adventures across the nation. Chance of rain? Pack the rain coats and the ground covers. Might be cold in the middle of the summer? Better pack a cord of firewood — especially the fat lighter required to spark a perfect marshmallow roast. And with a pair of Willard women in tow, they certainly required plenty of clothing changes and various beauty accouterments. Seems like we always packed an oar, too, even though we didn’t take a boat along. Still, if we needed that oar, it was good thing we packed it.
Somehow, miraculously, all that stuff went into our Coleman pull-behind trailer and Dad’s Jeep Cherokee. Most of the time. OK, so we have to tie stuff to the roof, too, but that counts as “getting it all in.”
Of course when you go on vacation, you can’t pack just once. The first pack is rarely the last pack of a trip. For each and every stop along the way, you’ve got to unpack, set up camp, only to turn around and break-down camp and repack everything again.
Fortunately, after a few camping trips, my dad and I managed to turn packing into something of a science. We created quite a little system, right down to the methods for tying a tarp packed with sleeping bags to the Jeep roof. In the trailer, every item always had its own place, not to mention its direction of placement. Often it was like a puzzle that focused on maximizing every single square inch of trailer, truck and roof space — and the puzzle rarely changed, lest our perfect packing system got all messed up. When we Willards finished packing, I’d wager you couldn’t find the smallest slice of extra space, and if you could, we’d fill it with something — even if we didn’t really need it.
As an adult, there have been countless times I’ve used the packing skills I honed alongside Dad during our summer vacations of yesteryear. Whether it was packing a gift box for shipment (hey, if it fits, it ships, right?) or packing for a long-distance move, the knowledge I gained under his tutelage has served me well.
Now, with my own family to take around the planet, I appreciate the lessons I learned during those packing exploits just a little bit more. Through all those times spent packing our camping trailer in the rain; cursing inanimate objects that refused to fit in their assigned space; and the weary arms and legs that came in the aftermath of the pack and unpack, I learned some important knowledge I still use every time I go on vacation: If you don’t absolutely need it, leave it at home!
Michael Willard is the publisher of and a columnist for The Observer News Enterprise. His column appears in the weekend edition. Reach Willard at firstname.lastname@example.org .