How to pack for the apocalypse (coronavirus diary, part 2)

I get stressed out packing for a weekend vacation. How do I chose what to pack when I know it may be months before I'm able to return home?

By Mike Best March 21, 2020

T he Uber was scheduled to arrive at 4.30 in the morning. My son and I had just a few hours to fill three suitcases with everything though we would need for our trip to Malta. But this wasn’t a usual trip. We had no idea when we would be back, or even what kind of state of London was going to be in when we returned. I was telling Sasha we would hopefully be back by the end of spring break. But some part of me felt like we were abandoning a life we had spent years building.

Margot and I had only made the decision that morning. We would buy a couple of tickets on one of the last flights out of Gatwick, in a last-minute dash to Malta before the airports completely shut down and the island nation isolated itself from the rest of the outside world. We have never been to Malta, and Margot had only started her job there two weeks ago. But we had decided it was better to see this thing out as a family. By noon it was decided: tickets bought, arrangements made for a couple of friends to move in, and the situation discussed with our son, and also with the cat.

When Margot went over just a couple weeks ago, it all seemed pretty straightforward. She would return to London on the weekends, and we would join her for the school holidays and summer break. We’d spend some time exploring the ancient Mediterranean island and its surrounding regions… a new adventure. There would be scuba-diving and photographing ancient monuments. Funny how quickly everything has changed for us - for everyone.

Now it was time to pack. But what do you pack for the end of the world?

I promptly, and quite irrationally, began tidying - even though I knew our cleaner would be by in the morning and the clock was ticking to try to figure out what we needed to bring. I stacked up the dishwasher, washed down the counters. A clean work surface to think.

I guess there is a logic to it. ‘It’s like camping’ I thought, and started going through each room one-by-one, tidying up as I went along and grabbing what I thought I might need.

The kitchen.

I packed up a bag of granola bars, fruit, water, snacks for the plane (in retrospect I wish I had packed a decent kitchen knife. When have is the last time you stayed in a serviced apartment that had a decent cook’s knife?)

On wife’s reminder, grabbed the coffee maker - good call.

Must not forget coffee maker. One cannot do the apocalypse on instant coffee.

I knew on landing we would be escorted straight into quarantine and there was a very real and terrifying prospect of there not being a coffee maker of any description. That was not acceptable. Even in a crisis, we must maintain standards.

Ok onto the pantry. Damn, catfood nearly empty. With panic buying already setting in across London I didn’t want to chance it, so I made a quick drive up to the Pets at Home superstore. Fortunately, it hadn’t felt the same panic-buying impact as Tesco’s and Sainsbury’s and I was able to grab a large bag of Science Plan and head back home where I checked in on the teenager.

It seems he’d decided that for the end of the world what he would need was his Nintendo Switch (which he reassured me is charging)… and maybe or two comic books. I asked him how he felt about spending the next 6 weeks in the same pair of underpants. Begrudgingly he started going through his closets.

Back home, I locked up the car. In retrospect, I should have remembered to leave a set of keys for our friends to turn over the engine once a week. I make a note to plan that better next pandemic.

The dining room.

Not much to see here. I shuffled through some drawers, then remembered a pack of cards and a miniature game of Battle Ships. I also found a flashlight, which I thought might come in handy if the power went down (I’m probably overreacting I thought, but good to have).

The lounge.

‘Hmm, nothing here either’. Wait! I almost forgot my guitar. Not something I would normally pack for a weekender. I ran out to the garage, jammed open the door and pulled my guitar case out from behind the bicycles and lawnmower. Speaking of music, I thought I better also grab the Bose portable speaker. Thank god for miniaturization. Imagine stuffing a couple massive 1980’s sub-woofers into your carry on bag. So far so good.

The bathroom.

Next up, time to stack up toiletries. I decided, capriciously, to not bring a single roll of toilet paper. I made a quick gamble that the Maltese, being an island nation, would be much better at estimating their bog-roll consumption. Plus, I thought I could always nick a roll from the aeroplane’s lavatory if I changed my mind. Sorted shaving kits, hair brushes, contact lenses, medications.

Remarkably, I had two small bottles of hand sanitizer at the back of one of the medicine cabinets; remnants from my normal (as opposed to a pandemically inspired) germaphobic days taking the tube through Central London when I still worked in an office).

Woohoo halcyon days!

As it turns out, I have since found little use for them while in quarantine, so I have posted them on e-bay for £54.20. Drop me an offer if you are interested.

I grabbed some beach towels, just on the off-chance we would get anywhere near the seaside this spring, and then headed for the office.

The office.

This was going to be a bit harder. There is remote working, and there is zombie-apocalyptic remote working. I gathered up my laptop, a tangle of cords, switches, and all the usual gubbins I would stuff in my bag to head down to work in the cafe. Ah, working in the cafe. Will that even be a thing by the time we return? I packed a power bar and power adaptors (unnecessary as it turned out, as being a former British territory, Malta unusually uses the crazy UK power plugs).

What next? Computer speakers, no. Headphones, yes. Keyboard, no. Spare monitor… yeah probably that would good idea. I find having that extra monitor does come in handy. I spent a half-hour digging around trying to find its original stand and making sure I could hook it up to my laptop. By then seriously doubting my judgement, I gathered it up in bubble wrap and stuffed it into the suitcase.

My camera kit is pretty much always ready to travel anyway, so I grabbed that and whatever cords, tripod, chargers and batteries I thought I might need.

After rummaging through a number of drawers, I pulled out a few other bits-and-peices I have come to realize from experience I might need: mini sewing kits, scissors, nail clippers, a mini screwdriver… and of course The Leatherman. It’s a favourite of survivalists and IT geeks everywhere. It actually has come in handy many a time when I have been travelling (one just needs to remember not to stow it in your carry-on camera bag as it tends to distress the airport security guards).

I’m also going to do a whole other post on the topic of filming yourself while doing facetime, so I won’t go into too much detail here, but suffice to say (call me a geek) having some way to hold onto your phone while you chat to your partner or co-workers while eating your morning cheerios really is essential, so I packed my tension arm and mobile phone holder. I have not regretted it. With all the necessary electronics squared away it just remained to pack some clothes.

The Bedroom

By this point my back was really beginning to spasm and seize up from all the stooping and lifting, and I started to feel it was actually me that was going to be spending the next 2 weeks in the same t-shirt. Fortunately I figured I wasn’t going to need a lot as we are heading into spring Malta so it is already already getting warm, and by the summer it will soar into the 40’s.

Still, the moment I realized half my clothes were still in the laundrey was upsetting. There was no way they were going to be washed in time. Time to grab black garbage bag and stuff in all my smelly clothes working on the assumption that where I was going would have a washing machine (thankfully it does). After some last minute checks for documents, passports, carry on stuff, I thought, finally, was it. A hot bath to settle my back, a can of beer and then bed for three hours of fitful sleep before heading to the airport.

In what seems like moments later the alarm goes off. I think about how I’m going to miss my bed. And my pillow. Pillow. Gotta stuff that in. You might laugh but these days I find I can sleep on a brick if I have my own pillow.

I managed to wedge that into the suitcase (fortunately still just under the allowable weight. I got the teeanger to haul it out all out to the hallway. I fixed myself on last decent coffee and some toast, before the uber driver arrived to take us to Gatwick. I left out some money for the cleaner, a note for our houseguests, and said good-bye to the cat.

"A pillow packed into a suitcase"
Remember to pack your pillow.

So far quarantine has been ok, more on that next time. I really glad I brought my pillow.


Hmm... my friends would love this

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