“Good grief, what happened here?!?”
I stared aghast at what remained of my gray cardigan, recently purchased for our upcoming trip and washed for the first — and last — time. I’d scrupulously followed the instructions on the label, yet the once-long, flowing garment was now short and boxy, with arms that would be snug on a ten-year-old. As directed, I attempted to “reshape and dry flat,” but after every tug, the cardigan simply sprang back into its preferred chunky-child size. I could almost hear it snickering at my futile efforts.
When you’re living out of a single small suitcase for months at a time, every garment has to pull its weight, fitting over and under various other layers. Tight clothes are impractical, and that goes double for us at the moment, when we’re about to depart on Our Mediterranean Comfort Food Tour. Serious eating will be taking place, and while I’m hoping my weight won’t skyrocket, I doubt that my arms are going to shrink back to the size they were in fourth grade. RIP gray sweater.
Whenever Rich and I set out on one of our big journeys, such as the one that inspired my book Adventures of a Railway Nomad, our Luggage-Free experiment, or Our Most Unplanned, Disorganized Trip Ever, people ask me all sorts of questions about what we're taking along. So let me start by saying that we’re not going luggage-free this time; for months on the road, I like a few more creature comforts than I can fit in my pockets. But I am keeping baggage to a minimum: just a single small roll-aboard, plus a roomy shoulder purse, mainly for sweaters, maps, and water bottles. I keep valuables zipped safely inside my travel vest.
Rich and I take the same amount of luggage whether we’re going away for the weekend or many months. We pack a few changes of clothes, a spare pair of shoes, a rain jacket, loose trousers for sleeping and yoga, basic toiletries, and essential electronics. We’ll do laundry frequently (although not every night, as we do with luggage-free travel) so we don't need tons of clothes. Comfort is the top priority, although we maintain what we hope is a reasonable level of stylishness as well.
For Rich, this always means choosing a signature hat for the trip. Fedoras and Panamas are an integral part of his personal style, and a month ago, he began scouring Seville’s hat shops in search of something new.
As we strolled around from shop to shop, Rich and I discussed a riveting show we’d just watched called Minimalism: A Documentary on the Important Things. “So much of our lives are lived in a fog of habitual behavior,” says author Dan Harris in the film, against a background of Black Friday madness. “We spend so much time on the hunt, and nothing really does it for us.” Later Shannon Whitehead comments, “The status quo in the fashion industry right now is driven by fast fashion. Maybe when our moms were shopping for clothes, or our grandmothers, there were four season a year…Now we work in a cycle of 52 seasons per year. They want you to feel like you’re out of trend after one week so that you will buy something new.”
“Can you believe it?” I said. “They’re trying to manipulate us into buying stuff we don’t really need.”
And then the irony struck us.
“What would you think if I took my old coffee-colored straw hat?” Rich asked.
“Works for me.”
So the question of Rich’s hat has been settled.
As for me, the most vital issue is always, “What's going on my feet?”
As for my clothing, I am bringing a variety of garments in neutral blacks, grays, and whites, with some summery blues and greens, and a pair of wine-colored trousers for a pop of color.
By far the heaviest things I carry are my electronics, toiletries, and prescription meds.
Beyond that, I will be tucking in miscellanies, such as a sleep mask, spare eyeglasses, socks, and underwear, but I suspect that you are already familiar with such items and don’t need detailed instructions from me regarding how to pack them. If you do want to get down into the deep details, I have a Packing page on this website, where you’ll find such articles as Packing Extra Light, How to Choose Great Travel Clothes, Rich’s World Famous First Aid Kit, and much more.
The best way to pack light is to remember that you don’t have to prepare for every single contingency that might conceivably arise. If the president of Albania invites us to a black tie gala, or we get tickets to a Rolling Stones concert and feel edgier attire is required, we’ll have the fun of shopping for it on the spot. I’ve learned that just when I start thinking I should have packed a sun hat, some enterprising local is standing there offering an armload of Panama knockoffs.
Yes, I’m still bitter about the gray cardigan, and when I get back to the States a major department store has some ‘splanin’ to do. But I have no doubt that somewhere along the route, a perfect replacement is just waiting for me. I look forward to making its acquaintance, and have vowed not to wash it until the trip is over.
Do you have any great packing tips or luggage disasters to share? I'd love to hear them!
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bradmundo the magnificent
4/18/2019 06:16:03 pm
do you burn your clothes after the trip? Or do they just rot off?
4/18/2019 07:23:07 pm
Nonsense, Brad, these clothes are survivors. By the end of a long trip I may not want to see them again for a while, but unless I get really cheap stuff, they last just fine for the whole journey and are ready to go again another day if called upon. The white shirt I'm talking is a veteran of many long trips. The manufacturers like us to think of clothes as disposable, but often they last a very long time.
4/18/2019 06:28:54 pm
I got hooked on backpacks 35 years ago on my 1st trips to Europe (when single) I read a Life Nomadic before I read your books. I bought a jr high student-type backpack at a Goodwill store. I sometimes need help getting it up on my shoulders, but there's always someone ready to help a 68.y.o. I've traveled for up to 2 weeks by air and motorcoach. It's heavier if I take my laptop, but never too heavy for an overhead. The top handle is a real help.
4/18/2019 07:25:34 pm
Thrift stores are a great way to supplement your travel wardrobe, Joan. I've gotten some gorgeous and durable clothes from the Goodwill outlet in our CA town. And as you say, a good resource for backpacks and other luggage, too! So glad you brought it up — a valuable tip!
4/18/2019 06:37:07 pm
4/18/2019 07:27:44 pm
Black is such a great travel color, Andrea, and looks great on you. It's usually the cornerstone of my wardrobe, too, but this trip I decided to experiment with some more summery colors; I'll let you know how that goes. As for Rich's hat, I totally agree; it's a winner!
4/18/2019 10:42:15 pm
I so agree with your list to take. My husband and I both take about the same amount of clothes and stuff and it is so handy to just have the roll-aboard to deal with. Intermittent laundry takes care of freshness. Agree about being tired of these things when we get home, but have lots of other choices there. Enjoy your trip and I'm sure walking will compensate for the calories.
4/19/2019 07:44:24 am
Sounds like we are kindred spirits, Phyllis! I love traveling the world with just a small roll-aboard, and I try not to stuff it too full. The first time we traveled for three months I had to jettison some items the first week, as I could barely get the zipper closed each morning. Less is more!
4/18/2019 11:27:36 pm
I like the clothes and the traveling light. I think I would go with a pair of sandals for the summer instead of slippers. However, I hardly ever wear slippers but I wear socks unfashionably with my walking shoes and sandals sometimes and even in summer.
4/19/2019 07:49:18 am
Footwear is one of the most personal travel questions, so while I always mention what I'm taking, I know everybody is going to have different ideas about what's most comfortable and practical. For me, slippers represent coziness at home and abroad. For many, the freedom of sandals is much more important. I have some friends who insist the #1 criteria for shoes is being waterproof. That's why I love hearing from my readers, Kitty! Thanks for your comments!
4/19/2019 02:26:38 am
On a recent trip to Portugal with my daughter I was in need of something much cooler than the slacks I had planned on wearing. She had just the thing; a spiffy little navy striped tee-shirt dress. The only problem is that she is 5'2" and I am 5'8". The saving grace is that my legs are still my best asset because trust me there was plenty of leg showing! It took a little courage for me to venture out but I loved the feeling of the cool breeze on my legs and embraced the newer/younger looking version of myself.
4/19/2019 08:01:32 am
Way to go, Kim! What a liberating wardrobe choice. I'll bet you looked terrific in that little tee-shirt dress. And how lucky you are to have a daughter willing to loan out her clothes — and that you fit into them! Thanks for sharing that lovely travel moment.
4/21/2019 04:21:53 pm
I think you forgot the corkscrew/bottle opener - or am I just being foolish? Agree with you ability to travel light but I do treasure an old-fashioned camera. Lightweight gilets with lots of zipped pocketss are the great invention for the travel.
4/21/2019 06:26:16 pm
Carolyn, lots of people we know advise traveling with bottle openers, and I agree in principle. But Rich and I have found over the years that we generally imbibe our wine in bars, cafes, and restaurants — where there is rarely a shortage of corkscrews — rather than on our own. Our rental apartments and hotel rooms usually come with corkscrews as well, in case we want to vary from our usual custom. As for the camera, I did carry one for years, but have found my photos are actually better with the iPhone. The less I have to fiddle with, the better the focus and lighting come out, and the fewer shots I miss. Nowadays when I travel I always have my iPhone tucked into my 17 pocket vest, ready to go at any moment. And yes, absolutely, the gilet or vest is truly the great invention of our travel era.
12/22/2022 11:08:40 pm
Thank you for the wonderful content. Continue to post!
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TO I'm an American travel writer based in Seville, Spain.
Wanderlust has taken me to more than 60 countries. Every week I provide travel tips and adventure stories to inspire your journeys and let you have more fun — and better food — on the road
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