After the hassle involved in packing, that holiday better be the stress-buster it was advertised to be…

The movies are to blame for making an advanced and complicated art like packing look so simple. Especially in all those scenes when angry wives and estranged lovers suddenly leave home after a huge fight. Zip zap zoom — and they're done in four minutes. Slam! goes the lid of the box, and they march out of the house, fully packed for a new life.

How come there's never a scene where they're going crazy searching for a place to fit a gigantic umbrella, just in case it thunderstorms wherever it is they are angrily zooming off to?

In real life, packing is a prolonged ritual that demands you take at least a week off beforeyour vacation; for a holiday you richly deserve to go to away from your stressed out life, to forget things…and when you reach your destination, you find that you have forgotten many things.

The toothbrush is one such object. Most holidayers I know begin their first day of a vacation rushing to shops that open early to buy a new toothbrush and paste. But what about the ones that hotels thoughtfully provide, you are asking. Aha. Those brush-and-paste sets neatly fitted into recycled match-boxes. Well, this is when you realise why they call it toothbrush and not ‘teethbrush', as the amount of paste and size of brush is designed to clean just one tooth.

That's why a lot of people are simplifying their vacation plans by travelling only as far as their drawing room TV, and switching on the Travel and Living Channel. This way, they can go to Machu Pichu or Madagascar or Masai Mara, and if, while watching a crocodile swallow a buffalo, they panic that they forgot to pack their digestive tablets…they can sit back and relax, because it is all right there in their medicine cupboard. Just one room away.

In a pickle

But for all those bitten not just by giant tropical mosquitoes but also by an incurable wanderlust, travel magazines and Sunday supplements are full of tips on how to pack for a trip. But I want to tell the author of “Packing Without Tears” that even if you use a container made out of reinforced concrete, covered by liquid-proofing used in US space missiles, pickle WILL leak, but only onto your fresh new white linen blouse inside your bag. Pickle loves travelling as much as you do; pickle loves wandering off on its own to forbidden territory. So my advice is, never pack a fresh new white linen blouse in your bag.

And while travel broadens the mind, one thing that seems to shrink in size in the course of travel is the suitcase. The 3ft x 4ft compact valise that so neatly held a stack of dhobi-pressed clothes suddenly behaves very oddly at the destination. It simply spews out clothes like a tiny angry volcano, and at the end of the vacation, there will be at least nine pieces of clothing still lying around, unable to get back in. “So why don't you just discard your clothes?” advised a much-travelled person to me once. While discarding clothes is great advice if you're on your honeymoon, it can be traumatic if you've packed your best togs just for the trip.

Meanwhile, there are very good inventions that you must look out for in stores, to aid travel. One is the travelling iron. I recently got one –a foldable one that sat inside a neat pouch no bigger than my camera case. No more emerging from my room like a crushed piece of face tissue while on an important business meeting abroad! I unfolded the handy little invention in my hotel room, eager to plug it in. Well, the next hour was spent ringing housekeeping , yelling for another plug to plug into the plug—as my sensational travelling iron was Indian-born, and didn't fit in easily into their culture.

Having proclaimed myself to be a travel writer, packing is all about how to beat the 20-kg limit firmly stamped onto my airline ticket. But I am glad to say I cleverly found a way to always travel very light and still have anything I want within just-ask-for-it distance. The trick is: I always travel with a handy space-saving device. It's called a sister. Expandable carrybags, dispensible socks, rollable dancing shoes, collapsible sun-hats, inflatable pillows, throwable binoculars, heatable pancakes, contractable fishing rods, stretchable camp-cots — name it, and my sister's probably got it somewhere in her backpack. On our last trip to Bali, walking through a rainforest, I decided to test her preparedness for an emergency. “Eeeeeee!” I screamed in mock terror, hopping and clutching one foot. “Do you have anything for a snake bite?” “Sure,” says my never-say-no sister, whipping out two different jars from her backpack. “Cobra, or rattlesnake?”

Emotional baggage

Meanwhile, our great Indian railways never say never to extra baggage. That's why most Indians never leave home without it, “it” being anything from a kerosene stove and kadais to make hot onion bajjiseven while on holiday, to a “holdall” which, as its name implies, holds all important household items like bedding for a family of six, checked lungisfor the menfolk to wear at night, four meters of clothesline and clips, a mini-bucket for bathing at stations, four plastic mugs, Pond's talcum powder, the bathroom mirror, a traveling pujaset with mini God pictures and battery operated diyas, a handy harmonium for singing bhajans during the journey, Ludo and Snakes and Ladders, and not to forget the handy travel-sized six-kg Indian masala grinding stone. That's when you realise why India's only hope for another gold medal in the Olympics continues to be in weight-lifting.

Indu Balachandran is a travel and humour writer. Email: indubee8@yahoo.co.in