Author Ava Pennington
Author Ava Pennington

packed for life

With our 40th wedding anniversary approaching in a few days, I thought you might enjoy this personal account from the day Russ and I were married…


“There’s no room!” I squeezed back the tears, but my husband of just a few hours stood resolute.

Romantic contemplations of “happily ever after” dissolved as I stared at the four open suitcases. How could we live happily ever after when we couldn’t even agree on how to pack for our honeymoon?

The wedding reception had passed in a blur of activity. We said our good-byes and prepared to leave for the romantic island of Bermuda. After a brief stop for our luggage, we would take a taxi to a hotel near the airport in preparation for an early morning flight. My life of wedded bliss had begun.

Then it happened. Our first argument as a married couple—married for less than eight hours.

“We’re not lugging five suitcases on a one-week trip.” Russ pointed to his own bag. “I fit everything into one suitcase. Why do you need four?”

I needed four because I was young (20 years old), had zero travel experience with no clue how to pack, and because I was a woman going on her honeymoon!

My luggage included three suitcases and a matching makeup case with a mirror inside the cover. (Do they even make those anymore?) Each case contained everything needed for our dreamy get-away, each article of clothing gently folded and packed to ensure it would emerge in pristine condition. And no, none of the suitcases had wheels.

“The makeup case doesn’t count. And I need everything in the other three suitcases.”

“Combine them. We can each carry two bags.” Russ looked at his watch. “And we need to hurry—we’ve got less than twenty minutes before the taxi arrives.”

I sat on the floor surrounded by the suitcases and looked at him. Instead of Prince Charming, I saw an ogre of fairy tale proportions. I had carefully chosen each garment and painstakingly nestled it in its place for our journey. Now he expected me to toss everything in one or two suitcases, and who cared if I looked like a wrinkled mess during the most important week of my life?

I began the arduous task of consolidating my luggage. Piece by piece, refolding, rerolling, and repacking. To my naïve surprise, I had more than enough space in the two remaining suitcases for everything I needed. And it turned out I even had enough room to pack souvenirs for the return trip.

Crisis averted. But it wasn’t really a crisis. Life would throw many events in our path much more serious than that. Still, I learned something that day (besides the fact that I was an absolutely clueless traveler).

Someone once said, “men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” And I love the book by Bill and Pam Farrel, Men are Like Waffles, Women are Like Spaghetti. We’re most definitely different!

My version? Men are “one suitcase” people, and women are “two suitcase” people. Our married life became much easier when we accepted our differences. So, 40 years later, I smile at hubby’s comments about the weight of my purse. Because when he asks, I’ll have a nail clipper, tissue, aspirin, his sunglasses, or any one of numerous other items he couldn’t fit in his pockets.

In the past 40 years, each day has opened to a new journey. Our life has taken a multitude of twists and turns, mostly good, and occasionally not-so-good. Still, regardless of our circumstances, my suitcases have always been packed as I travel this journey…the journey of a lifetime.

What differences have you noticed between you and
your spouse?

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  1. kimberly moore

    I laughed as I read this because I’m planning a trip with my daughter to NYC for her birthday. My husband says we should be able to fit all we need into two carry on bags and save the $25 bag fee. I explained our trip is in November and we would be packing boots and coats. He said to wear the heavy things!! So yes, I’ve learned over the past 25 years that men are from Mars! Thanks for sharing that mine isn’t the only one from there!

  2. Ava Pennington

    Your comment made ME laugh, Kimberly! Glad to know I’m not alone!

  3. Ellen

    My memorable honeymoon began with my husband forgetting what hotel he booked for our wedding night. At 2am we had to find another hotel. And one month later, we got not only the bill for the original hotel…but the one we ended up staying in that night. Welcome to marriage and flexibility and grace. It made for memorable conversation years later, but as far as our wedding night…took us quite a few years to laugh about it and share it with others.

  4. Ava Pennington

    So funny, Ellen – we went to the wrong hotel, too! And took a cab at 1 AM to the right one!

  5. Carol Ceglia

    I’m glad I am not the only one who packs too much. after 45 years I have improved, but there is still room for more improvement. Thanks Ava for sharing your experience.

  6. Ava Pennington

    Thanks, Carol. Glad I’m not alone!

  7. Jennifer Allong Bratt

    Thanks for that Ava, you made me laugh out loud!
    I’ve been travelling since I was 19 years of age and I still carry too much! I need this I need that; where I’m going I can’t borrow from anyone (besides which, I hate borrowing things from people)! Every reason for what I’ve packed, would be needed! I’ve come a long way since but I am still learning.

  8. Pam walsh

    So true Ava! Having traveled with a husband and 4 children for the past 35 years I know they do not understand. As a person who likes choices in clothing and shoes to wear depending on how my feet feel that day I always need a large suitcase. I may come back with clothes I haven’t worn but at least I don’t have to go shopping for things I forgot. I’m also the one to pack the snacks and have gotten real good at knowing just the right time to offer them to my travelers.

  9. Donna

    Too funny, Ava! Honeymoons tend to show what’s ahead – hopefully love and good humor prevail. By the way, I’m ashamed to say I’m still an abysmal packer! I need a couple of steamer trunks just for a weekend jaunt. (I blame the Girl Scout motto – I really took to heart “be prepared”!)

  10. Ava Pennington

    Thanks, Donna. Hopefully, I’ve gotten better at packing in the past 40 years, but I know I still over-pack!

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