We couldn’t wait to take this trip! We would travel to five different countries in Europe over fourteen days, spending 2-3 days in each place. Each person would pack a carry-on roller bag so we could travel light.
It was a gorgeous morning in Paris and our family of five had just left our tiny flat to start our day. We walked down four flights on the narrow, crumbling staircase and out onto the street where the smell of warm croissants and ripe cheese filled the air. We bought our breakfast and while my husband checked our map, the kids sat on the grass by the Canal Saint-Martin to watch the locals stroll down the quaint streets. I looked at my watch. “We have to hurry. We have a scheduled time to go up the Eiffel Tower,” I reminded the family.
My daughter noticed it first. A thick, dark, slippery substance on her shoe. Like any good mom, I inspected it closely and then sniffed it deeply. Grease, maybe? Oil? We stood up and all three of the kids had this black ooze on their bottoms, soaked right through their clothes.
Oh no! The mess! Oh no! The time!
We furiously packed up our baked goods and raced back up the narrow, crumbling staircase to our tiny flat and furiously ripped open all five suitcases rummaging and digging through countless items looking for new clothes, socks, new underwear and shorts for each child. We pulled out everything for everyone to get to what they needed and we left a tornado-sized mess in our tiny flat as we flew through the streets of Paris, cursing the chaos.
We had a fabulous day climbing to the top of the tower and devouring our Nutella crepes.
Upon returning to our flat, I was about to shove everything back everywhere when I stopped myself for a moment and thought about my frustration.
Five people, five suitcases, no space, no time.
Five people, five suitcases.
Five suitcases, fourteen days.
I grabbed a paper and made a grid:
Day # — City — Activity — Anything Special?
Day 3 – Paris – AM Louvre + PM street festival near Notre Dame
Day 4 – Paris – Walking – Covered shoulders/knees for Sacre Coeur, overnight train to Rome
Day 5 – Rome – Walking – Covered shoulders/knees for Vatican
Day 6 – Rent Car, Leave Rome, drive to Tuscany – swimsuits/towels/goggles
Day 7 – Tuscany – Wedding Ceremony – dresses, suits, shoes, jewelry
When I was done with my list I had mapped out all fourteen days. I dumped out every bag and covered every surface in this tiny flat.
I called each person into the main space, one at a time, to organize their clothes by day: Here is our plan. What will you wear tomorrow at the Louvre? The next day walking around and taking the train? The next day at the Vatican?
In suitcase #1, I packed two outfits for each person, plus something warm to wear when the sun went down.
In suitcase #2, I packed for our day in Rome plus three days in Tuscany which included fancy blue clothes for my sister’s 25th Anniversary Vow Renewal and swimming in our villa’s pool.
In suitcase # 3, I packed for Florence, Venice, and the Italian Coast.
Suitcase #4 was dedicated to our ferry ride from Italy and our week in Croatia. Of course, there were almost no clothes in this suitcase since they were all packed in other suitcases, but we kept our snorkel kits here, water shoes, inflatable tubes and travel guide for Croatia.
In suitcase #5, we kept all our dirty laundry rolled tight and ready to be washed when we came across a washing machine and clothes line.
Before I zipped everything closed, I added more columns to the list:
Day # — City — Activity — Anything Special? — Which Suitcase? — Overview of Outfits
Then I jotted down some more info:
Day 3 – Paris – AM Louvre + PM street festival near Notre Dame – Blue – N’s Pink Dress, L’s white shorts
By identifying which days were in which suitcases, we only opened one suitcase on its dedicated day, not five. This was before the days of packing cubes, so I placed all parts of each person’s outfit in layers and then I rolled it like a burrito. Not going to lie, there were some groans, but it was short-lived because everyone was happy to get their clothes bundle every morning and not have to search through their whole suitcase for socks or a clean shirt. And, as a happy side effect, I removed the delays in the morning when all of us were pushing for space and digging furiously through our suitcases trying to decide what to wear.
This story of reframing the problem to spark a new solution is about how we changed the way our family moves around the world with luggage. However, reframing and sparking has become a standard tool in my problem-solving toolkit in other parts of my life.
Whenever you are aggravated or frustrated, try writing down just the facts and all assumptions involved and let your mind flow freely to think about it differently. Or come up with a couple of new ideas for the problem and call a friend to walk through the scenarios. You may be surprised that you have everything you need inside to solve your issue! If you have reframed and sparked new ideas, let me know!