Fashion & Beauty

A Poor Packer Confronts Her Suitcase

September 1, 2015




IF I THINK I’ll need a desk, I take it,” said my former boss, the late, great travel journalist Stephen Birnbaum, referring to his inability to pack lightly.

I understand. Even after careful consideration days if not weeks ahead, I inevitably find that I pack too much and then suffer the consequences of lugging around a heavy, bulging suitcase (even if it is on wheels). So, imagine my packing panic in light of a planned two-week vacation in France at the end of September –- with not enough time in between stops for laundry. OMG.

Determined to mend my ways, I’ve consulted the experts, some more official than others. My BFF Linda (see Two Homes, Two Styles), who can pack for a month in a carry-on, doesn’t sympathize with my dilemma.  She did send me Joan Didion’s packing list in the title essay of her 1979 collection, The White Album. The famous journalist and writer kept it taped to the inside of her closet door for when she had to leave town on the spur of the moment for a reporting assignment. Although it isn’t particularly applicable to my trip this fall, I did love that Didion packed a bottle of Bourbon and, instead of makeup, just face cream, powder and baby oil. More realistic was Linda’s suggestion that I read a story and watch a video on the rolling method of packing clothes. If you’ve ever surfed the web trolling for travel advice, you’d know there’s a great debate over whether you should roll or fold.

Leslie Wilmott, founder of Smart Women on the Go, employs both methods, according to a recent Washington Post story.  She rolls her knits but layers pants and shirts and then folds them inside one another, separating each layer with a dry-cleaner plastic bag. In a video that I watched, she suggests packing underwear in a zip-top plastic bag. The Post story advised packing a stain remover in case you spill your vin rouge over your blouse blanc.  I was about to buy one endorsed by Martha Stewart Living, when my husband, one of those annoying people who pack the night before and still always look put together, pooh-poohed that idea. “Remember, you pack it, you carry it,” he reminded me. So much for chivalry.

Reading random comments on various travel sites also yielded some excellent, common-sense advice:

• Choosing a neutral color scheme for the entire trip allows you to do more with less. Every piece of clothing that you bring should mix and match with multiple other items.

•  A general rule of thumb for deciding how much to pack for 10 days is: undergarments and socks for each day, no more than three pairs of shoes (including the ones you are wearing on the plane), one bottom for every two or three days of the trip, six tops, one jacket or sweater, one dressy outfit, and then some well-chosen accessories.

• Don’t think of it as “outfits for 15 days,” think of individual pieces that will work well and are versatile. You only need one dress-up outfit, for example, just wear it multiple times.

Finally, I took another look at a video of D.C. dermatologist Tina Alster’s advice on packing for a four-day business trip in a carry-on.

Dr. Alster is also a fan of using dry-cleaner bags – she wraps her shoes in them. One ingenious tip is using one of those fancy cloth bags — the ones you accumulate when you buy an expensive pair of designer shoes or a handbag — for stashing your dirty laundry. Another useful piece of Alster advice is to use one cosmetic bag or plastic bag for liquids (three-ounce sizes of cleanser, makeup remover, sunscreen, of course) and one for dry items (Band-Aids, Advil, dental floss, mascara, eyeshadow, eyeliner).

Armed with this wisdom, I’m ready, I think, to face the packing challenge. I’ve checked the weather (no matter the Fahrenheit or centigrade, the mantra of the experts is “layer”). I’m narrowing down my travel wardrobe colors to black, navy and beige (not particularly hard for a woman who loves neutrals anyway). I’m trying out the rolling method with the T-shirts and sweaters. Still to come: test the folding method.

Less than three weeks before D-Day. Can I put this advice into practice? I’ll probably still be tempted to take my version of the desk. Stay tuned for my after-action report.

–Janet Kelly

3 thoughts on “A Poor Packer Confronts Her Suitcase

  1. mary k. roma says:

    Try Janet’s dry cleaner bag suggestion. I learned it from my travel-aholic sister-in-law and have been doing it for years.

    I also love to use zip-loc bags. They take up much less space than cosmetic bags and you can see where everything is.

  2. Jim Kelly says:

    Better said, “You pack it, you ROLL it”.

  3. Nancy says:

    Hey Janet – I’m right there with you. Literally. I’ve been creating the wardrobe and toiletries lists in my head for a month, and trying to figure out how to pack (roll or fold!) and in what. I’m not too confident I won’t also bring a desk, and maybe the chair that goes with it. On the other hand, what if you deliberately choose not to bring something you end up having to buy because you really need it? Then you have two of the same thing. What do the husbands have to say about that?

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