I am an excellent packer. And I certainly should be, given the number of times (and years) that I have needed to pack.

But the story I’m about to tell you isn’t really about packing. It’s more about the lessons we can learn when life doesn’t go quite the way we planned.

First, a bit of background.

Long ago, I adopted a policy that has served me well, both in travel and in life. Basically, it’s a firmly held belief that the mark of a good outing — whether it’s a walk in the park or a marathon run on the rocky road of life — is how little you take along.

Think about it. Baggage (of all kinds) demands attention. It weighs you down. It makes you crazy. The more of it you carry, the less fun you’re likely to have.

So I try to pack light and have as much fun as possible. Maybe you do, too. Aren’t we smart?

Recently I planned to fly to Los Angeles to spend a few days with my oldest and his wife and their 4-month-old, Jonah.

I like my oldest and his wife a lot, but the main attraction was Jonah. It had been only a few weeks since I last saw him, but babies change fast. One minute they’re in diapers. Then you blink and they’re shaving and begging to borrow your car. I was hungry to hold him.

Maybe, while packing, I got distracted thinking of Jonah. It’s easy to blame kids for stuff. I used to blame my three for making the house a mess. But they grew up and moved out and the house is still a mess.

Packing for LA, I did my usual. I filled a small, carry-on suitcase with four changes of clothing (one per day, plus an extra for accidents); a spare pair of shoes; and a minimum of travel-sized toiletries stuffed in a quart-size bag that would allow me, I hoped, to get through security without being strip searched.

That was it. Plus my purse. And ticket. And ID. And laptop. And cell phone. And e-reader. And chargers to keep them charged. And a sweater, because airplanes are flying ice buckets.

I did one last check, threw in a pair of warm socks, zipped it all up and was good to go.

My husband dropped me off at the airport. I waved goodbye as he drove away, then I headed for the security line. That’s when it hit me. I had left my cell phone on the nightstand by the bed.

In a panic, my mind raced to think of options. I could text my husband from my laptop. But he was driving and wouldn’t see the text. Or I could beg a stranger to let me use their phone to call him. But even if he answered, there wasn’t time for him to drive home, get my phone and drive back before my flight left.

I had never thought of myself as a cell phone addict. But there I was, a junkie in withdrawal.

My son was planning to pick me up curbside at LAX. I’d told him I’d call when I landed to say where (out of a zillion possible locations) I’d be waiting.

Instead, I texted him from my laptop and he texted back: “No worries, Mama. I will find you.”

Have I mentioned he’s a really good boy? He said he’d meet me at baggage claim. And there he was, grinning like a mule eating briars. I was almost as happy to see him as I was when he was 5, the day he got lost in a mall for the longest hour of my life.

For four days, I was phone-less. I kept reaching for it only to find (argh!) it wasn’t there. But slowly I began to realize something important. Less time on my phone gave me more time with Jonah and his parents. To me, no random, useless bit of cell phone trivia will ever be worth watching Jonah smile and seeing my boy and his sweet wife take such delight in him.

The next time I leave home, I hope I’ll remember to take my phone. But I will keep it shut off until I really, truly need it.

The mark of a good outing isn’t just how little we take along. It’s how well we choose to spend one of life’s most precious gifts — time with those we love.

Contact freelance columnist Sharon Randall at P.O. Box 416, Pacific Grove, CA 93950 or randallbay@earthlink.net.

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