The freedom of lists

by Steve Brock on May 29, 2014

Packing Checklist


Sometimes you’ll have the most fun when you start by doing the least fun kinds of things.

I just read this article: “How to have a hassle-free trip” by Christopher Elliot, special to the Seattle Times in the NW Traveler section, May 25, 2014. Here’s part of it:

“The smartest travelers plan ahead and have a fondness for checklists. Did you pack the right clothes? Remember all the power cords? Your passport?

Lists are your friends. Smart travelers know when to wing it and when not to. Sure, your friends and family might poke fun at you for keeping a list for everything, but they’ll thank you when you’re the only one with a power adapter in France. Travelers who keep lists are far less likely to get into trouble on the road.”

Oh so true.

Planning and list taking seem like what I do at work. My vacation or leisure travel is intended to get me as far from work as a pork chop is from a kosher meal. But here’s one of the many paradoxes of travel: The better you plan the more freedom you’ll have to play on your trip. Put more time in up front and you have less to deal with when you’re on your journey.

Lists work the same way. I love David Allen’s book, Getting Things DONE. Ostensibly, it is about productivity. But it is also about creativity, meaning, the more productive you are at getting your tasks done, the more time and mental space you’ll have for the more important creative ideas. And one of the keys to this is making lists. Get things down on paper and you don’t have to use up precious short-term memory worrying about them. Or better, get things down to a routine and you hardly have to give them a second thought.

For business travel, I will lug the same carry-on bag for an overnight trip that I use for a month’s worth of travel. Do I need all that space for a single change of clothes and overnight toiletries? Nope. But everything I need for travel is in that bag. I have a separate shaving kit I keep in it along with a back-up change of clothes, extra phone/camera chargers, an umbrella, vitamins and snacks – even laundry packets, sewing kit and a clothes line (which I’ve never used on a business trip…yet) are in there. Sure, I probably lug around a few extra pounds every trip, but I never have to worry about forgetting something. And that’s the key.

You may not need to keep a bag all set to go like I do if you’re only traveling a few times a year. But you can still keep lists. If you have to rely on your memory for items on a trip, you won’t be free to enjoy the experiences. Moreover, you’re likely to forget an essential. So as uptight as it may seem to some of you “just go for it” travelers, I tell you this: Lists and habits can be liberating. They actually add to, not take away from, your freedom.

In one of those quirky serendipitous moments reading a book that has nothing to do with travel, I came across this off-hand line in The Mystery of Christ by Robert Farrar Capon p. 119. He’s a priest counseling a woman through the grieving process following the loss of her husband. He suggests she try a certain experiment where she has to mentally pack up some misgivings she has and leave them alone. Here’s part of his advice to her:

“…This is a game, for heaven’s sake. And, like all games, it has to be taken seriously or it’s no fun. Either you go by the rules, or you’re not playing at all.”

We think of fun as fun, not serious. But sometimes the most fun comes when we take some aspects of life seriously. Like playing by the rules.

Or keeping lists.

Now go make that list.

Then forget about it and have some fun.

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