Send 'Em Packing

I’ve always been proud of my ability to travel lightly. Then I read about Rolf Potts, and was amused to see all of the blogorrhea that he has recently inspired.

An intrepid fellow travel writer, Potts is challenging himself to travel around the world without a single piece of luggage. (Don’t worry, deodorant and toothpaste made the cut.) For six weeks, he says, he will explore 12 countries on five continents, and cross the equator four times, all with just the clothes that he’s wearing on his back.

The trick is that in addition to wearing cargo pants, socks, underwear and a tee-shirt under a long-sleeved pullover, he’ll top it all off with one very special garment — an 18-pocket jacket from Scottevest , the company that’s sponsoring the journey. The pockets will be stuffed with a spare t-shirt, extra socks and underwear, toiletries, and the accoutrements of modern-day journalism (iPod touch, foldable external keyboard, pen and paper, digital camera).

This is not for me. It’s a fun stunt, but aside from the hassles involved — imagine unloading all of that stuff every time you go through airport screening! — I’m just too concerned about my appearance to wear the same pair of pants day after day. (“I’m guessing I’ll wash the cargo pants about once a week,” offers Rolf.)

But that doesn’t mean I’m an overpacker. I know people who still bring along their “travel” umbrella, hairdryer, iron, or alarm clock. One friend says toiletries are her snag. She buys expensive lotions and potions and then can’t bear to decant them into 3-ounce bottles lest she waste any. Thus, she carts the whole payload with her wherever she goes. Instead, I save samples of expensive gunk I get while trolling department store aisles, and save them for my trips.

All of my overpacking friends — and indeed, they’re usually women — have their reasons: I pack at the last minute so I just throw everything in; I can’t decide what to bring so I just throw everything in; what if it rains/snows/is too hot/is too cold/I have to dress for evening. . . I’ll just throw everything in.

Even before baggage fees got everyone in a huff (frankly, I’m not sure why), I avoided checking luggage as often as possible. I didn’t like the seemingly inevitable idea of one day not finding my belongings at the carousel.

But since I also hate the idea of schlumping around an airport with a variety of bags hanging off of me, I’ve indulged in quality luggage that looks as good as it is efficient.

For something like a ten-day trip to Japan, I opt for a British tan leather carry-on rollerboard that always garners compliments. For something like a recent trip where I went to four cities in France in four days, I carry a Tumi tote.

On this French trip, one associate commented as I came down dressed for dinner: “How do you pack so many different outfits into that small bag?”

So many different outfits? Here’s what I brought for that trip. I wore black lightweight wool pants, a bright pink blouse, a black sweater., and black shoes I packed two dresses, two other blouses — one pink and white, one pink and black — one white skirt, two scarves, and two additional pairs of black shoes. (Okay, shoes are my weakness — and they’re heavy!) Considering that I always wear the same outfit going home as coming, that left enough variety to don something different each day and still change each evening for dinner.

And what happens, anyway, if you didn’t pack correctly for the weather or the occasion? That’s the best part! If you’re a city traveler, especially, you go shopping. I’ve done this plenty of times and in addition to expanding my wardrobe, such purchases extend my memories of the trip. There’s the blouse I bought in Nice (made in France!), next to the sweater I bought in Milan (made in Italy!). I can’t help but think of those trips when I see them hanging in my closet.

Nah, packing light is easy. It’s not buying too many goodies that’s hard. ###

  • Impressive, given how pulled together you always look. And I speak as someone who’s traveled with you! Your last line contains my weakness: the return trip.

  • Dara Van Naarden

    Love the piece, but I feel the need to defend my gender. I take pride in knowing how not to overpack (hooray for packing lists!). In fact, my husband and I defy the apparent stereotype: I have to help him halve the clothes he’s laid out on the bed so that we can ensure tightly-packed luggage that will not require the checked-luggage (or shall I say “lost luggage”) system.