Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Packing Light

I used to pack an obscene amount when I travelled. I always worried about contingencies. What if it rains every day of a two week trip? Alternatively, what if there's a heat wave every day of the trip? I would pack for both and then have a month's worth of clothes for a two week trip.

When I was fifteen I left the country for the first time on an eighteen day trip to Europe. If memory serves, I took five big bags. I had so much that in the tiny Parisian hotel room I was sharing with two other girls, there was not enough room for my luggage and I had to leave two of my bags in the hallway.

Many years later in life, while backpacking around China, I realized I hardly needed anything to travel. I was away for several months with only what I could carry one my back. It was incredibly liberating. I love the feeling that I can make do with very little.

For this ten day trip to Alaska, I have only brought what I can fit in a carry-on suitcase. The suitcase is full, but I do not need to expand the bag or sit on it to close it. Honestly, I could have brought less too, but I need options since the ship has what sounds like a pretty strict dress code.

Including what I'm wearing on the plane, I have packed:

2 pairs of jeans
5 tops
1 sweater
1 velvet blazer
1 dress
10 pairs of underwear
11 pairs of socks
3 bras
1 bathing suit
1 bathing suit cover up
1 pair of pyjamas
1 pashmina wrap
1 pair of flip flops
1 pair of shoes
12 AA batteries (for my camera)
toiletries and makeup
5 pairs of earrings and a bracelet

I plan to wear each top twice, mixing the look up with the blazer, sweater, wrap, and jewelry. I'm sure you realize that choosing pieces that match with everything else allows you to pack lightly, but I think it's important to recognize that choosing a color palate is important.

I know mixing brown and black is all the rage now, but I'm not feeling it. I choose either black or brown as my base neutral and work from there. You can see that everything I picked for this trip is black, grey or white. This is allows me to bring only one pair of shoes and and one set of accessories. In my everyday life, I normally wear a lot more color than this, but for a week and a half, I can deal with being drab. Besides, I have a bright blue wrap to add color and my jewelry adds color too.

In the same way that I base my clothes off a brown or black palette, I choose to either bring silver jewelry or gold jewelry so that I can mix and match pieces. On this trip, this isn't so much a factor because I'm not bringing necklaces that need to coordinate, but in general, I find the principle helpful.

What has really freed me from bringing everything but the kitchen sink when I travel is the awareness that if I really need something and didn't pack it, I can just buy it there. Even if I'm traveling to a remote developing nation, chances are, if it's something I REALLY need, they'll have it. And you know what, in all my travels, and I travel quite a bit, I have only ever not brought something I needed twice.

Once, I went on a long weekend trip to Pennsylvania Amish country and I was staying in a hostel because I was traveling alone. I forgot to bring a towel. (Hostels usually don't provide towels.) The first night, when I realized my mistake, I dried off with my dirty clothes when I got out of the shower. It wasn't my favorite thing in the world to do, but I lived. Then the next day I went to a store and bought a towel. It was ugly and brown and scratchy, but it got the job done for the next few days. No biggie.

Another time, I was in Africa and was bitten by something and was having a terrible allergic reaction to it. It was actually pretty frightening. My entire face was swollen and burning. (I was traveling alone then too.) I didn't have any benadryl, but I was able to stay calm and look on the internet for the name of the active ingredient in benadryl. (Benadryl is just a brand name and therefore can be called different in different parts of the world.) I wrote the name of the medicine down on a scrap of paper and took it to the pharmacy. Turns out, they didn't have benadryl, but they gave me some other type of antihistamine and again I lived to tell the tale.

Moral of the story, even if you do have to buy something, chances are it'll cost you less to buy it than it will to check a bag on an airplane. Even if you're not traveling by plane, schlepping around a bunch of luggage is a pain in the butt and makes you more likely to leave something behind. Though I'm not a minimalist in my everyday life, I like to travel like I'm one.

Do you pack a lot or a little?

1 comment:

  1. I am a chronic overpacker. I didn't do the five bags to Paris thing when I went but I would have if my husband would have let me. I'm trying to create outfits before I pack so I can cut down on the stuff I need. The color palate idea is a good one and I do that too!


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