August 10, 2017

Christa Miller’s Packing Nightmare Turned Out To Be A Blessing In Disguise

The actress's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink travel style used to derail family excursions, until an involuntary stint at packrat detox saved her vacations...and her marriage.
Christa Mille photograph by Catie Laffoon

By Christa Miller

Packing for trips almost ruined my marriage. I simply couldn’t do it—it was always a disaster. Don’t get me wrong, I doubt my husband was going to leave right away—the kids were too young. But the future was touch and go, and I didn’t blame him. Let me explain…

Vacations are supposed to be great, right? They are about connecting as a family or a couple, or—my personal favorite—they’re about drinking and eating as if you’ve made the decision to just let yourself go. But I always managed to suck the joy out of vacations. A month before a trip, I would start panicking and obsessing about packing. Looking forward to it was out of the question—it was just a burden. My husband would say, “Relax, you can buy anything you need when we get there.”

Wrong. Huge mistake. Not helpful. I wanted my things. All my clothes, beauty products and makeup, all of it. Please know that as a rule I wear little to no makeup, have a simple beauty routine and rotate through the same three outfits over and over. But what if it rained? What if I got too cold? Too hot? What if curly hair suddenly became a thing? It was a bottomless rabbit hole. Side note: Any and all sexy time with my husband ended two weeks before every trip.

Why? Two weeks out, I would remove every piece of clothing and every single product I owned and display them in my bathroom so I could look at them and be overwhelmed. I would follow that up by packing nothing for 12 days. Then I’d say fuck it and throw everything into two giant suitcases that required Sherpas to get them downstairs. (I forgot to mention I like to pack things on hangers, so I can hang them easily…which adds roughly 80 pounds to every suitcase.) Oh, and when we arrived at our destination, the first two days were spent unpacking, the last two days repacking. So for every week-long trip, there would be a middle two and a half days when I would be “there” and ready for fun.

Eventually, when I’d ask my husband where he wanted to go on our next trip, his blue eyes would go dead. I started to hear the word “staycation” a lot. It was a dark time.

Recently, I was going to London with my daughter Charlotte, who was 16 at the time. (My husband “passed” on this trip.) Before packing, I asked my very, very cool friend Cynthia Rowley what she was going to pack on her three-week trip to China and Australia. “Only a carryon,” she told me! What?! Keep in mind, she is a designer whose job it is to look put together. I immediately realized she was probably a psychopath. Sad, sure, but I still loved her.

The packing for a week in London with my daughter went as expected. And then the life-changing event happened: The bags never made it. We had the clothes we were wearing plus my daughter’s carryon (she didn’t inherit my craziness, thank goodness). On the way out of the airport, though, I felt strangely happy I didn’t have to lug two heavy bags. With a few loans from Charlotte, I cobbled together a cute outfit for a dinner party that night. The next day, I went to Neal’s Yard in Notting Hill and told them my bags never arrived. They sent me on my way with sample supplies of cleansers and moisturizers. Charlotte and I may have even taken a bath together in our socks to “clean them,” and laughed the whole time.

Next night? Still no bags and a fancy dinner party at my elegant friend Laura Bailey’s house. No problem—I took a shower, steamed a rolled-up dress of Charlotte’s and paired it with my plane boots and it was fantastic. Coincidentally, Laura was about to leave for a two-week vacation in Marrakesh. And, you guessed it—a carryon. Laura, unprompted, told me, “The chicest people dress simply, wear the same things and maybe just add some fun jewelry.” Wait, did she just basically say that over-packers are unsexy, insecure, dork-losers? I could be reading into it, but I heard her. All I needed to pack was some cool gold hoops? My world was turning upside down. And Laura loved my dress.

Suddenly I wished my bags would somehow go back to Los Angeles on their own, but sadly, they eventually arrived. But, victory moment, I didn’t unpack. I ended up wearing jeans and two dresses seven different ways. I didn’t need anything. I’m not sure if I’m cured, but you know…one day at a time. My husband and I are coming to the Hamptons soon. I’m confident, but honest with myself. We leave in about a month. I walked by my giant hair dryer and my vanity mirror this morning. They whispered “take us with you…you need us…” I hesitated, but kept walking. I kept walking.