It's 10 a.m. on a Saturday morning and you're sipping a cold brew, scrolling through Instagram, eating your favorite cereal. The world feels pretty calm — until you realize you're supposed to be on a plane, well, tomorrow. In less than 24 hours, you need to be at the airport for your flight to paradise and you haven't even started to pack, let alone figure out what you're going to wear. Cue the stress. For some of you (OK, most of you), this scenario sounds very familiar, and you're wondering one thing: Why do I wait until the night before to pack for a trip?
I constantly find myself throwing together last-minute lists and outfits and calling my friends with pressing questions like, "What are you bringing for shoes?" and, "How are we dressing for dinner?" less than 20 minutes before we're supposed to meet up at the airport. More often than not, I end up packing everything I own and lugging an extremely heavy bag around for the duration of the trip. The worst part? It doesn't seem to matter how far in advance I book my flight or what type of trip I'm going on. It could be a week-long beach vacation, a weekend trip to Chicago, or a month abroad, and I'll still be grabbing things on my way out the door in a truly unorganized fashion.
I just want to know: Whhhhyyyy I'm like this? Why do I procrastinate, and what does it say about me? So I spoke with Courtney Glashow, LCSW, owner and psychotherapist at Anchor Therapy in Hoboken, New Jersey, to see if there's an answer.
Turns out, Glashow says someone who packs for a trip the night before is fairly comfortable with being a little disorganized. This kind of last-minute traveler "may arrive to the airport with the amount of time suggested by the flight agency and no more," which is a nice way of saying that if you're doing this, maybe you're the kind of person who doesn't leave much time to get through security, check your bag, or grab a snack before departure. Glashow says you also might not be as annoyed if your travel plans change due to delays or cancelations.
Glashow warns, though, that the procrastinator's attitude may lead them to forget important items when packing, like their passport or other important travel documents, which could be the only "fault" of having this personality type.
There is nothing wrong with someone who procrastinates, as long as they are completing their tasks on time.
Forgetting important documents before jet-setting to Mexico isn't ideal, and wastes the time and effort you put into planning your whole vacation. But that doesn't mean you have to change who you are before you board. Glashow puts it like this: "There is nothing wrong with someone who procrastinates, as long as they are completing their tasks on time," or, you know, making it to the gate before take-off.
So what about those individuals who pack weeks in advance and check everything off their list ahead of time? Are there any benefits to that, besides of course, the fact that you're not freaking out at the gate because you can't remember if you packed clean underwear, let alone any underwear? According to Glashow, someone who packs for a trip well in advance may do so because they feel anxious about flying or traveling in general. They may prepare their items and suitcase ahead of time because it "helps ease those anxious feelings" about traveling. This anxiety isn't necessarily bad, though. It helps keeps you in control.
There are a lot of perks to taking the week before a trip to pack and prepare. For example, a person who packs in advance may pick out their outfits and when they're going to wear them on the trip in advance. (You have to make sure your look is picture-perfect for Instagram, right?) It saves space in your suitcase and keeps you from having to bring an overweight bag up the narrow staircases of your hostel in Amsterdam.
OK, so now that it's clear that there are pros and cons to people's preferred travel prep, what do your last-minute tendencies reveal about you? Whether you're a procrastinator or prepped and ready to go a more than a week in advance, there's a reason why you act and perform the way you do.
Personality is just a sum total of three things: our emotions, thoughts, actions, and tendencies.
Dr. Lara Fielding, a licensed behavioral psychologist and author of Mastering Adulthood: Go Beyond Adulting to Become an Emotional Grown-Up, says that prior experience with traveling is a major factor in our packing behaviors. She also offers a counter point that packing behavior doesn't necessarily reveal a ton about our personalities. Instead, it reveals a deeper relationship between us and an activity or experience.
"Personality is just a sum total of three things: our emotions, thoughts, actions, and tendencies," she says. "Over time, these three things interact to form our personality. So, I wouldn’t actually say that packing early or late is related to personality type." It's simply just a behavior that can give you insight on your thoughts or emotions about traveling.
You may find that you have some anxieties or negative feelings that have created some of your habits over time. (For example, maybe you had a trip that didn't go according to plan.) That's normal and OK. Glashow and Fielding say there are ways you can address what's going on so that you don't keep stopping at Procrastination Station.
First, Fielding says to ask yourself an important question: "What does the habitual behavior protect me from feeling?" Does packing at the last-minute help you avoid nervousness? Notice that, and then "honor and validate the difficult feelings you're avoiding." Pushing them away doesn't help you conquer them or change anything for the future.
You should "practice self-compassion and take baby steps in your behavior," Fielding advises, by setting goals for yourself that are attainable and lead to more successful outcomes. Maybe start packing a day earlier, or create a list of things that you want to bring. This is a very proactive part of the process.
If you find that you want professional help, then there are also options. Glashow suggests cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), "in which a professional therapist can help you change a behavior," might be good to try if making these types of big changes by yourself is intimidating or difficult.
All in all, there is one important takeaway from understanding your last-minute tendencies, and that's what works best for you. Procrastinating isn't always ideal for certain situations or people. But that doesn't mean that it's wrong, or could even be defined as a "bad habit."
According to Fielding, ask yourself this additional question: "Is this working for me to be my best self, and [helping me] show up as the person I want to be?" Only then can you truly understand why you're like this, and if your travel habits are successfully bringing you from one bucket list destination to the next.