A Look On The Lighter Side: My miraculous trip to the Holy Land

I have never been one for traveling light. My philosophy has always been, if one steamer trunk filled with clothing is good, then two will be better. Which works fine if you’re traveling by steamer.

It also works well enough if you’re traveling by car — say, to grandmother’s house for Thanksgiving. I never minded how long it took me to pack my bags, load the car, and unpack everything at the other end, because no matter how grueling the experience, or how long the process, it would have been even more grueling and taken even longer for me to winnow everything down to half as much.

At least this way, I could be assured that the baby’s pacifier, or the toddler’s firetruck, was in there somewhere (if only I could find it!)

But lately, I’ve hit a wall with this strategy, for two important reasons. One, I am taking a 10-day tour of The Holy Land (otherwise known as Israel), and you can only fit so much luggage onto a plane. And two, I somehow blew out my knee a month ago, and can only hobble around with the help of a cane and a knee brace.

This means that I must have my hands free — one to use the cane, and the other to wave around wildly while balancing. Which, in turn, means that instead of the ginormous purse I always carried on one shoulder every day (and which kept slipping off, and needing to be caught with that hand before it could hit the ground), I must use a hands-free contraption: a fanny pack. A small one at that, containing next to nothing.

Suddenly, I found myself wrestling with my oldest and wiliest enemy: myself!

Do I need a second pair of glasses, in case the first pair breaks or gets lost halfway through the day? What a waste it would be, traveling all this way (for all this money) and not being able to see what I’ve paid for! On the other hand, then I would have two pairs of glasses to drop, or break, or lose track of, instead of one. And so it went, with everything.

When I got to the ticket counter at JFK, no one was more surprised than me to find that I had underpacked! The bag that can weigh 50 pounds came in at 40! I was so shocked, I startled the ticket agent. “Is that a bad thing?” she asked me.

“No, no, it’s just unbelievable,” I replied. “Look at my husband!” His face told the story: After living with me for more than 30 years, he never thought he’d live to see the day I packed less than I was legally allowed.

As for traveling around Jerusalem, it turns out that I take only the most crucial of items: The room key; my cell phone; a little bit of money; and some sunscreen. Everything else? Expendable.

And I learned another amazing lesson on the flight here. I had gotten hold of everything I could possibly need, packed into the brand new backpack purchased specifically for this trip, and stuffed under my seat as my “tote” carryon.

Unfortunately, the airline seats were so close together I hit my head on the seat-back in front of me before I could even reach the backpack. I had to survive the flight without water bottle, chewing gum, or Xanax.

That last was especially crucial because its discovery had been so important to me.

I have been a white-knuckle flyer all my life. Nothing could ever convince me that I wasn’t marked for death, every instant that I was in the air. So as soon as I found out there were drugs that allowed me to leave my anxieties behind, it changed my life. Suddenly I became one of those people for whom an airplane trip was just another option, instead of a nightmare to be dreaded for weeks.

Then a funny thing happened. The day of my flight to Israel, I was so worried about my knee, and about whether I’d be able to complete the trip — or even get on the plane at all — that I was completely distracted from the need to take my pre-flight medication. I only realized my omission after we had taken off, and the vial was tucked away — unreachably — in the bag under my seat. By then I was so tired, and so sleepy, that I made it through the entire flight without a single panicky thought!

It’s obviously a miracle.

About the author

Judy Epstein

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