Packing for a trip is one of the all-time greatest opportunities to get completely spun up and anxious about something. Like anything from dance to public speaking, that anxiety dissipates with experience. The trouble is that choosing what to bring on a trip involves a lot of variables, from weather and rainfall to surprise invitations. I’ll need the gown and court shoes in case I’m invited to meet the Queen, and in that case I should definitely also bring the snorkel, the hard hat, the riding boots, and the sexy anteater costume.
Men tend to have an easier time choosing what to wear because men’s fashion includes fewer options. My husband can buy his clothes in folded stacks at Costco. Traditional men’s clothes come in a narrower range of colors. They really only have three sleeve lengths, a few different shapes of collars, and either pants or shorts. I just looked at Utilikilts and even they only come in 8 styles, all the same length. Women’s clothing, on the other hand… I can go out and find a skirt or dress in every possible skirt length, from floor length (with or without train) to micro-mini, in ½” gradations. I can wear a tube top, halter top, tank top, tee, button-down, wrap, peasant blouse, Empire waist, cap sleeves, ¾ length sleeves, long sleeves, angel sleeves, and I’m boring myself at this point so I’ll stop. Every time I go on a clothes-buying expedition, I find at least one garment I can’t figure out how to put on. I’m not always clear on which part of the body it’s designed to cover… The main reason it’s harder for women to pack for a trip is that it’s harder for us to make sense of our wardrobes at home.
At home, we tend to get wound around the axle about exactly what message our clothes will be sending. Is this too formal/informal, sexy/prudish, cute/boring, professional/casual? Which of these three pairs of black pumps work the best? Does this make me look fat? The more clothing we keep around, the more combinations, until the total potential number of outfits is simply dizzying. Most of it is like plastic sushi, only there for display purposes and to make the pick of the day look better. Having excess in your wardrobe is a completely different matter when you’re bogarting more than your half of a closet at home, versus when you’re defying the laws of physics by trying to carry it all up a flight of stairs in a suitcase.
These are the criteria I have in mind when I plan what to wear on a trip.
I have a different list of reasons why something won’t make the cut.
I lay everything out in complete outfits on my bed. Pants in a row, tops in a second row, socks and undergarments stacked on top of each set. I can tell at a glance if I have enough of everything and if it coordinates. I can also tell whether I’ll want any accessories. Using a checklist has had varying levels of effectiveness for me, because I can sometimes manage to check something off while the item is in my hand, get distracted, and set it somewhere else. Or, I’ll wander off before the checklist is complete and then forget to check it again. Laying out complete outfits is good Kanban, and it often reminds me of other things, like sunblock.
We just went to Europe for three weeks, and including what I wore on the plane, I brought two pairs of boots, four pairs of pants, one pair of thick tights, two sweaters, three long-sleeved shirts, a t-shirt, a cardigan, a sleeveless shell, a set of thermal underwear for pajamas, and a bikini. For outerwear, I had a light rain jacket, a stocking cap, gloves, a buff, and a pair of rain pants (actually lined warmups). I only wore the t-shirt on the single day it was warm enough. The sleeveless shell was meant for the plane transition from our hot SoCal weather to Hamburg, and it packed light, but I wound up wearing it during the trip one day when we completely ran out of clean laundry. I panicked, splurged, and packed one bulky tunic-length, cowl-neck sweater for our business dinner in Hamburg. Then I wore it at least three times and was extremely grateful to have it. I really, really wanted to pack a sundress, talked myself out of it, and never for five minutes felt warm enough to have worn it. My experience has been that I always wish I had brought more warm layers and never find an occasion to wear the hot-weather stuff. I figure a souvenir t-shirt would be available almost anywhere if the weather becomes unpredictably hot, and that’s a backup plan I’ve never had to engage yet.
Beginners always worry about Not Looking Like a Tourist. You know what makes you look like a tourist? Going to tourist attractions. Riding specialized modes of transport. Using maps. Looking up and around at sights that local people usually ignore. The other thing that makes people stand out as tourists is body composition. By that I (also) mean height. I’m 5’4.” That makes me really short at home and fairly tall in Europe. I’m sometimes a head taller than adult Mediterranean men. My husband is 6’2” and he’s constantly ducking under door frames, hitting his head on light fixtures, or crouching while walking through passageways. The point I’m trying to make is that nobody will notice or care what you’re wearing unless you are truly dressed in an outlandish, surreal manner, and even then, it’s unlikely anyone would bother you about it. We find that we get better results when we dress in business casual, but there are plenty of locals everywhere in the world who go out in jeans, sneakers, and t-shirts, or athletic gear. “Looking like a tourist” helps you meet other travelers.
I’m not always happy with what I have to wear on a trip. Sometimes I feel under-dressed and wish I had room for nicer evening clothes. I get tired of wearing the same things day after day. The upside, though, is that you can set up a slide show by outfit and make it look like you had a few really fast-paced, fascinating days jam-packed with activities!
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I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.