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Packing After 50: It’s a Whole New Trip

From clothing to necessary gear, gone are the days of ‘traveling light’

By Mary Kay Jordan Fleming

Somewhere between 50 and way-past-50 is an invisible catapult that launches unsuspecting mid-lifers into the Land of Complex Travel and Colossal Luggage, when they’re able to travel. We will never travel light again. We can’t.

Credit: Adobe Stock

It wasn’t always this way.

At 23, a friend and I went to Europe for three weeks carrying only metal-framed packs. Young, fit and spontaneous, we posed for photos back-to-back in our matching backpacks — our eyes filled with hope, our hearts bursting with adventure and our knees supple with cartilage. Boy, do I miss that cartilage.

With our passports, francs and travelers’ checks stashed into money belts and rolled clothing in our nylon packs, we were Rick Steves before Rick Steves. Besides clothing, we packed my friend’s German dictionary, my French phrasebook: dogeared to Où est la salle de bain? (Where is the bathroom?) and Fodor’s Europe on $10 a Day. (It was 40 years ago; please don’t do the math.) Our emergency kit was a roll of toilet paper.

A Longer List of Items to Pack

At my current age — which I know you calculated even though I begged you not to — my travel emergency kit contains knee braces, stretch bands, a heating pad, Ziploc bags for ice compresses and a copy of my living will.

My cosmetic case alone is bigger than the backpack that toured the Swiss Alps. Do you know what that means? The products I need now just to moisturize myself every day occupy more cubic footage than everything I needed then to stay alive for three weeks on another continent.

The pharmaceuticals needed to sustain me in my questionable condition have also multiplied: vitamins, allergy pills, antacids, muscle relaxants and enough ibuprofen to stun an elephant. I’ve upsized my daily pill-minder box several times, nearly to the size of a tackle box. Ditto for my husband’s medications, which include a cooler full of eye drops.

The only consolation is knowing I’m not alone. A friend toured Italy and needed five different orthotics and a knee brace for all the walking.

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