Diary of a Marriage: Husbands vs. Wives: The Packing Wars

Does the packing part of any vacation inevitably cause a fight between other married couples? Or is it just us?

Diary of a Marriage: Husbands vs. Wives: The Packing Wars


We were standing at our gate in the airport, waiting for our boarding group to be called, and we were nervous.

“That guy over there is really eyeing up everyone’s bags,” J. whispered to me. “I don’t know if this is going to work.”

I looked at the guy standing next to the United Airlines podium. He was brutally serious, thick eyebrows furrowed over angry eyes he trained like lasers on the bags of each person who filed past him. Suddenly, he gestured to a woman.

“You, put your bag over here,” he barked. We watched as she timidly placed her wheeled bag in front of a plastic sign that diagrammed the size requirements of carry-on luggage: 14 inches long, 9 inches wide, 22 inches high.  He scowled at it. “You’re fine.” She grabbed her bag and returned to the line, and we all averted our eyes: We don’t know her. She’s not with us.

“Crap,” I whispered to J. “We need to rethink this. Here, hold my coat so it looks like I have less stuff.” The problem was my ‘personal item,’ which United Airlines defines as a ‘shoulder or laptop bag,’ and which I define as a gigantic embroidered and sequined straw beach bag. I’d lugged this bag, along with a dangerously overstuffed wheeled case, on two flights so far, but it seemed this last leg—our flight home—might be my downfall.

J. gamely handed over my coat, also conspicuously large, with its heavy folds of tapestry and wide fur cuffs. When our boarding group was called, he guarded me as I tried to slink past the angry airline guy. “Pretend we’re talking,” he said. “Pretend we’re both looking at my boarding pass. Act natural. Don’t make eye contact.” At this rate, not only were they going to flag my luggage, they were going to take us into custody as suspected drug mules.

Somehow, by the grace of airport gods, we made it on the plane without being stopped, and J. managed to cram my too-big bags into the overhead bins while a stewardess shot him dirty looks. I felt a quick whoosh of victory: Checking bags is for chumps! I am a packing WIZARD. J. plopped down and stared at me.

“You’re horrible at packing.”

I was offended. We’d been in Florida for exactly four days, and I’d worn every single thing I’d packed, except for the following:

  • 1 caftan
  • I pair of shorts
  • 2 shirts
  • 2 pairs of underwear
  • 3 necklaces

I wore each of shoes I packed—two pairs of heels, two sandals (one gladiator, one studded), my traveling booties, and one pair of sneakers—and every single one of the 14 bangles I brought. I also wore both bikinis (one black, one emerald), both headscarves (one vintage, one Missoni), both pajama sets (and the silk robe), and my running clothes. So, if you think about it—and I thought about it, a lot—I did not overpack. I just packed for multiple outfit changes day. And that’s called being prepared.

“It’s called being crazy,” J. said when I pointed this out to him. J. is a man who travels with the crappy mesh drawstring bag he got for free when we ran a half-marathon a few years back. For him, packing is a game—how little can he possibly bring, how small his bag looks in comparison to mine, how amazing he is that he is able exist for a week with two pairs of underwear, a toothbrush and a t-shirt.

I’ve taken to packing when he’s not around, dragging my own suitcase down the stairs before he can feel how heavy it is, wearing a knit scarf in 80 degree weather just so I can prove that, yes, I did need to bring it. It’s a battle, both of us tossing jabs at the other: ‘I’m only bringing one pair of pants for eight days!’ ‘My suitcase is so light I can lift it over my head with one hand!’ ‘I can’t believe you thought you’d actually wear a sweater! In Florida!’

I talked to my friend Christy—married to Jeremy for a year and a half—about our weird packing issues, and she immediately chimed in.

“Jeremy will be like, ‘I have three shirts and two pants,’ and I’ll find myself negotiating, well, do I really need more than one bra? Maybe I can make my one-a-day contacts last for two days…  It’s like a point of pride. It makes packing so much more stressful because I feel like I’m going to be judged against this man who can carry everything he needs in his backpack.”

This was starting to seem ridiculous. When did it ever become a crime to over-pack? And when did packing lightly become such a badge of honor? Is there some sort of competition going on that we don’t know about, all men vying to be the most low-maintenance? At this rate, J. and Jeremy were going to showing up at airports with stuffed cargo shorts and a handful of Zip-Loc baggies. I was about to dive into my story about how well I’d packed for Florida, when Christy continued:

“Jeremy was appalled that for a 10-day trip to Europe I would have more than one carry-on,” she said. “We’re not even talking checked luggage. We’re talking carry-ons. He was basically going to take an oversized backpack.” I recoiled in horror. Not checking a bag? For a 10-day trip to Europe?! How is that even humanly possible? I made a quick mental note: Never discuss packing with Jeremy.

When J. and I landed in Philly, my wheeled suitcase and huge sequined straw bag safely stowed overhead, it seemed as if our latest packing battle had ended. We’d made it out of the state without having to check any bags, and that was low-maintenance enough for me. I was excited to breeze past the baggage carousel, to nod at the poor crowds gathered around it, to wink at J. as we walked by: “Oh, I’m so happy we don’t have to deal with all that…”

But that didn’t exactly happen. It didn’t happen because J. and I had to speed-walk away from the gate—“Just keep walking. I’ll tell you what happened later,” J. said to me—and we didn’t pause or look behind us until we made it through the sliding doors of the airport. Apparently, my suitcase had become lodged in the overhead storage bin, and when J. yanked it out, the door came with it, clattering on his head. We’d broken the plane. He’d set it back in place, but it would surely fall again, and we wanted to be home when it did.

J. looked at me again, his face still flushed. It was time to admit defeat. If packing was a war, he had won this battle. But just as I was about to announce that, fine, maybe bringing the caftan was a little much, he spoke again:

“Those overhead bins were definitely smaller than the ones on the first flight.”

I looked at him. “Yes. Yes, they definitely were.” And I grabbed my sequined bag, fur coat, wheeled suitcase, and we headed home.

Do you and your groom tend to get into it when it comes to packing for a trip, or do you have some sort of harmonious system figured out that you can share with the rest of us?

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