Earlier this month, I returned from a 2-week getaway to Europe. The trip was perfect – great scenery, delicious food, lots of history and wonderful traveling companions. Only one thing wasn’t quite right: my clothes. While the forecast was for heat, I stubbornly thought it would be cold and packed accordingly. After living with the “wrong” clothes for half a month, I’ve started to think that packing is a lot like life. You do your best to prepare, sometimes you miss the mark and then you adapt.

Preparing, Planning and Packing. 

One week before our departure, I hauled out my mega suitcase from the closet beneath the stairs. With only one suitcase, I needed to pack carefully. I wanted to bring exactly the right group of easily-washable, mix- and match- clothes. Some people travel with only a carry-on to Europe for two weeks. I can’t do that, but packing such a large suitcase should be easy, as long as I had a plan.

I was the paragon of strategic packing. I neatly grouped my clothes by category on our guest bedroom bed: t-shirts, pants, workout clothes, outfits for dinner, etc. Sitting in tidy piles, my wardrobe looked calm, cool and collected. My outfits would be versatile. Shirts and pants would be interchangeable. Everything would go with either my black or nude shoes. I didn’t bring any shorts because I couldn’t bring it all. Being strategic means making tough decisions.

I packed a few wool sweaters, a leather jacket and some pants. I threw in a down vest. I knew I’d be grateful to have it when the temperature dropped. In my experience, Europe can be dreadfully cold in the middle of summer, but on this trip I would be ready for it.

I checked the weather forecast a few times. It called for warm weather, but I didn’t believe it. Every time I’ve been to (northern) Europe, it’s been chilly, freezing, even in the summer. They said it would be in the 80s, but I know 80 degrees there must feel colder than 80 degrees at home.

I have a history of not bringing enough warm clothing on trips. I’ve frozen in Alaska, South Africa, Russia and Scandinavia. I’ve survived by wearing the same turtleneck sweater and down jacket every day. I never have enough warm things along. But not this time.

I’ve learned from my mistakes. My suitcase was proof of that.

Reality is Different

After about 24 hours of traveling, we arrived in Geneva, Switzerland. It was warm, hot even. I knew it would cool off. I’m not a novice; Europe is a cold place.

The Swiss women looked effortlessly chic in their summer dresses, ponytails and flat sandals. I wore my long-sleeved, dark taupe dress to dinner. It was dark out, so nobody could tell I was dressed for the wrong season. I was a little warm, but hey, I wasn’t cold. And I knew colder weather was on its way. It had to be.

Day after day, the heat continued. Not just warm weather, but heat that made me hide from the sun and drip sweat. By 11 AM in Switzerland, I wanted to get inside – it was in the 90s. In Austria, I almost didn’t go on a bike ride along the Danube River because of the heat.

And then I saw an article in the newspaper one morning – the parts of Europe we were visiting had been hit by a massive heat wave. Vienna was having its hottest summer in 40 years. My wool sweaters? Not helpful. Ski vest? Laughable. Leather jacket? Just silly.

You Adapt

I did have a few things that were good for hot weather. But I quickly ran out of clean clothes. I had some laundry done at the hotel. That was a mistake – the laundry bill was larger than the value of what was washed. Also, my navy skirt and white jeans both came back a size smaller. From then on, I got good at hand-washing clothes in the sink and hanging them to dry on the luggage rack in the closet.

Finally, on the last day of the trip in Budapest, it was cold and rainy. I could wear some of the cozy things I had packed. They were clean and I felt fresh as a daisy.

Packing is Like Life.

On this trip, it struck me that packing is a lot like life. You do your best to prepare. Sometimes your preparation is spot-on. Other times, it’s an epic fail. Then you try and adapt the best you can.

All we can do is try again. And realize that as much as we try, we probably won’t get it just right the next time either.

But that doesn’t mean I won’t try. In fact, I just learned about some plastic clothing capsules one can buy that keep your clothes neat and organized in a suitcase. Dresses in one, t-shirts in another, etc. I’m going to give those a try.

But packing capsules or not, I’m going to start believing the weather forecasts for where I’m going. It turns out those meteorologists know a lot more than I do.