We’re leaving for a trip tomorrow. There are three ways to go about this.
Freaking out is a common reaction. Most people manage their anxiety about change and transition by trying to over-plan and overpack. Just bring everything you can possibly carry, and most eventualities will be covered, right?? This attitude guarantees that you’ll have the maximum weight and bulk to drag around, which multiplies the hassle and planning time that you’ll need. The longer you spend worrying and fretting about what to bring, the more ideas you have of more stuff to cram into the suitcase.
The way I used to pack was basically, Look around at every single thing I own, exclude as few things as possible, and try to bring it all. Like, okay, I probably don’t need to bring the furnace but maybe it will fit? Do they have ovens where I’m going?
Harness this overthinking energy. It’s a rational, logical way to deal with uncertainty, and that rationality can be used more efficiently.
Start with the minimum. What if I just went in the clothes on my back, and all I had was my wallet and phone? Worst case scenario, my outfit would get smelly. Maybe I’d wash it and I’d have to borrow a towel to wear while it was being laundered. Second worst case, maybe I’d have to stop somewhere and buy a new shirt and pants. If that happened, I could bring the new clothes home and install them in my regular wardrobe rotation.
My hubby once grudgingly spent $80 buying a simple fleece pullover at a gift shop on a motorcycle trip. It was LUDICROUSLY overpriced. He loves it, though, and he’s still wearing it nine years later. It’s amortized down to less than $9/per year of ownership, and it still fits and looks great.
All we’re doing is taking that “WHAT IF?????” feeling and welcoming it, taking it seriously. Okay, what if?
What won’t happen is that we won’t vaporize or suddenly find ourselves in the eighth dimension. We won’t swap personalities and find ourselves suddenly in a different body. We won’t forget the names or faces of everyone we’ve ever known. All that happens is that we go somewhere else for a while, sleep in a different bed for a while, meet some new people, and, if we’re lucky, eat some different food a few times.
This is my method.
Pack four outfits and one extra pair of shoes.
Literally, that’s it.
I don’t fold them or roll them, either. I lay out the four distinct outfits on my bed, so I make sure that they match and I have the correct undergarments. In the past, I’ve often forgotten to pack socks, and this “stack for each day” method has helped with that.
Next, I take one garment at a time and lay it in the suitcase, matching the shoulder seams and waistbands to the edge of the bag. Pant legs, skirts, et cetera, are laid out flat, stacked one on another. When they’re all matched up, I fold over all the legs and skirts. Socks, underwear, and swimsuits get stuck in the corners and along the edges. Then I zip it closed. The extra shoes and my shower kit go in another compartment. It takes five minutes.
I’m able to do this because I just pack my regular wardrobe. These are the clothes I wear all season long. I know they go in the washer and dryer. I know they fit. I know they mix and match because I plan ahead and buy things that go together. I don’t tolerate singletons and I remorselessly ditch any odd garment that isn’t earning its space in my closet. My clothes serve me, period. I’m not a museum curator and I don’t run a boutique. I don’t owe a piece of fabric anything, anything at all. I’m not going to be the defense lawyer for something if it isn’t already obvious why I should bring it. No threes, no maybes, no almosts. Just four outfits.
If my trip is longer than four days, then I simply do a load of laundry during the trip. I’ve done it at hotels, I’ve done it at campsites, and of course I’ve done it at my parents’ house.
I have had a couple of trips over the years where the weather suddenly turned, and it was much hotter or colder than the forecast. The way I deal with that is to allow one extra garment for the off chance, like a tank top or a layer of thermal underwear. It’s not the end of the world.
What about all the other stuff? All the special travel gadgets and pillows and what-not?
I like to buy travel doodads for the same reason that I like to buy kitchen utensils. They look cool! Then I inevitably realize that I don’t need them and I never use them.
My priority when I travel (and remember, priority is singular) is to bring only one bag that fits under the seat.
To that end, I bring only what I feel that I really, really want during the flight. I wear a heavy cardigan because I always feel cold on a plane. Wallet, obviously. Phone, tablet, charger, backup battery, headphones. Light snack. Hand lotion and lip balm. That’s it. Why would I need more than that?
The thing to remember is the reason for the trip. MY STUFF is never the reason for a trip! I’m traveling to be with specific people and to go to a specific location. I’m only there for a limited window of time. I can worry about MY STUFF when I’m home again, assuming I want to spend my precious life thinking about and stroking material objects. I want to channel my feelings of elevated adrenalin and remember, That’s excitement!
Now it’s time to chill out and pack. Remember, everything can be bought 24/7 and objects are consumable. Bring the minimum, remind yourself what you’re doing on the trip, and, yes, chill out and pack.
We’re going to World Domination Summit for the third time. At our first event, we had the opportunity to buy tickets for 2017 while we were still sitting in the auditorium. We took one look at each other and launched. Now it’s a core part of our vacation planning. This is a life philosophy thing. Plan your desired vacation first, then your desired retirement, and build the rest of your lifestyle around those poles.
How do you afford that vacation?
There are tricks to it!
The first thing is to focus on what you personally enjoy doing, and to realize that this may not look anything like someone else’s dream vacation. For instance, my husband and I usually go somewhere rainy on vacation, because we live on a Southern California beach where it’s summer nearly every day. Why pay more to go through TSA and fly to an island with lots of sun and sand when we can just do that at home? We’re willing to ride a bus and camp out in a tent in the rain because it enables us to travel longer. We like going to museums, exploring local grocery stores, and visiting historical sites. We don’t spend money on booze or dance clubs or shopping because we don’t care about those things.
On this particular vacation, we’re staying at my parents’ house. We’re able to roll WDS into a family visit. Granted, we’re almost never there, but there really is something special about being able to hug your parents in their kitchen on a regular workday.
We paid for our plane tickets with reward points. This comes about because our first financial priority is to maintain good credit, and because we systematically earn and burn those travel miles.
Here’s the thing. None of that constitutes a ‘trick.’ Anyone can fantasize about the perfect vacation, learn how to use points and miles, or cajole a friend or relative into playing host for at least a little while. The tricky part is that whole thing about building your lifestyle around your vacation.
We save 35-40% of our income.
That’s part of it. We simply refuse to spend money in ways that we find boring, unfulfilling, or unnecessary. We live in a studio apartment and we don’t own a car. The money we saved the first two months of car-freedom more than paid for this WDS trip. That doesn’t even begin to include what we saved by lowering our rent and utility bills for the year. I don’t spend money coloring my hair, getting manicures, or going for “retail therapy” because I see that as stealing from our vacation fund. We both went to Morocco for a day for $65, money that I could have easily spent on a single pair of shoes or pants that I never even wore.
Another part of “affording that vacation” is to build the idea into your life and make it a part of your identity. Travel is part of what my husband and I do as a couple. We decided to define ourselves that way, and make sure that other people see us that way. It’s fun to teach other people how to travel on a budget. A lot of the things we do on vacation have filtered into our daily life, such as our habit of having strategic planning meetings at breakfast. If more of your ordinary days feel like vacation days, then eventually it feels like you’re on vacation all the time. What that means is that you’re creating an intentional life. You see the potential in each day and the special things about your current location. You look at the world with an attitude of open wonder and adventure.
That’s what makes money and savings feel somewhat irrelevant.
I don’t feel “deprived” by not having cable television or a wine budget because those things don’t interest me, especially not in comparison to the awesome things that money can buy on vacation. I love the sense that we’re nearly always in vacation planning mode, that we always have a new trip to anticipate and research and plan. What amazes me is that people feel like they can “afford” routine daily and monthly expenses that I see as both extravagant and dull.
The other thing about “affording that vacation” is that it gave us the ability to make a radical decision. We live in a studio apartment that is, in point of fact, smaller than some of the hotel suites where we have stayed on vacation. We jokingly refer to it as “going back to the room” to remind ourselves that it’s temporary, and that it’s a choice. We deliberately live a minimalist lifestyle full-time because it provides the leverage for more interesting things. All we really do at home is to cook dinner, sleep, shower, and store our stuff. Why pay for the biggest, fanciest place we could possibly stretch to afford when we’re gone most of the day anyway?
What we want to be doing, as often as possible, is exploring the world. We like to be close to nature, watching the sun set or watching a crow toss food wrappers out of a trash can. We love the feeling of having hours to lounge around, deep in conversation, and we do that most weeknights. All of these are cost-free; they’re mindsets that anyone can adopt and fit into any lifestyle. Peace of mind, close connection, a feeling that the clock is turned off and that the next moment is full of potential. You can afford all of that if you choose to look at it that way.
As long as I’m making a contrarian stand, I might as well toss out there that a house most likely isn’t an asset, either, but that’s a topic for another day. An “asset” is an economic resource, something valuable that produces income. If a thing generates expenses, then it is not an asset, it is a liability. The concept that a car may actually be costing someone money, that it might not qualify as an asset, is something that can really be upsetting. Let’s explore it, though. At the end of the thought experiment, anyone who owns a car will still own it, and nothing has changed except for a bit of a brain workout. Let’s go. Why is a car not an asset?
When I owned a car, I was utterly shocked to realize that it was costing me a quarter of my net income. A friend of mine who drives a low-mileage pickup truck disputed my figures. Look, I’m sorry, but I didn’t have a very high income at the time. Almost everything I earned went to the three categories of rent for my cruddy apartment, my car, and my student loans. There are probably a lot of people in my situation, who have never thought about how much it costs to have a car in their life but who could technically be getting to work by other means.
Note: Driving your car to your workplace to earn an income does not make the car an asset. The job is the asset.
There are only three ways that a car could ultimately be an asset, which I would define as bringing in more money than it costs. That would have to be more than a break-even rate, too. I imagine a car could be an asset if it 1. Earned its own income, such as a classic car being used in commercials, but does this even happen? Would that income actually exceed the total cost of the car, including purchase price and lifetime carrying costs? 2. Sold for far more than its original purchase price plus lifetime carrying costs, but does this ever happen, either? Like a, um, what do you call them, a Maybach or something? 3. Enables the owner to earn more money than could be earned through other means. I don’t think this is true of 80% of ride-share drivers, for instance, because it looks like most of them aren’t calculating externalities such as depreciation of their vehicle. They also aren’t paying themselves for the time they spend waiting or driving the unpaid legs of their trips.
The reason most people think of their vehicles as assets is that the thought of trying to get through life without one just seems hopeless or extremely annoying. Never put people in a position where they feel that they are going to lose something or have something taken from them. It’s the same with personal finance or fitness - people feel that “giving up” an inefficient habit is not worth the gain of being debt-free or more agile. It’s hard for us as humans to realize that letting go of one thing can be a significant upgrade, a tradeoff for something better.
I claimed that a car is not an asset, because it depreciates in value and because it incurs significant carrying costs. I also claimed that a bicycle is an asset. Let me back that up.
When I was 22, I got a windfall at my $9/hour job, a retroactive pay increase of $400. I sat on that money for about two months as I decided what to do with it. Then a sale came up at a local bicycle warehouse. I bought the new bike that I still own 20 years later. I had been paying between $30-$35/month for a bus pass, and I wanted to cut that expense from my budget. At just $30/month, the cost of the bike would be fully amortized in 13 months. That bike was my main source of transportation for the next three years, and sporadically in the following years, depending on where I was living. My bike became an asset because it allowed me to save money I had previously been spending.
There are other reasons why I regarded my bike as an asset:
At that time in my life, on $9/hour, I could not afford to own a car. I wouldn’t have dreamed of paying to join a gym. My bike, which paid for itself, was a major life upgrade. I felt stronger and safer, and I had more time and slightly more discretionary income.
After I originally sold my car in - I think it was 2007? - I got my old bike tuned up and started riding it around again. I paid off my credit card balances. I paid off one of my student loans six years early. I bought a new couch. Then I went on vacation to Cancun. I’ve remained free of consumer debt for over a decade now, and I’ve gone on yet more vacations, just longer, more often, to more interesting places, in much nicer hotels. Car ownership was draining a quarter of my income, and after I eliminated that expense, I was finally able to start saving for retirement in earnest.
I got married in 2009, paying for my share of our wedding in cash, and we both drove my husband’s pickup until it died a little after 200,000 miles. We switched to a sedan and got a great rate on the loan, because my credit score is over 800. It was still a loan, though. We sold it back to the dealership after the big emissions scandal, and due to that weird situation, we essentially drove it for two years for just the cost of the gas. The improvement in our cash flow since we’ve been car-free has meant an escalation in our retirement planning. We save and invest 35% of our income, a number we couldn’t pull off while our practical, economy car was bleeding off $700/month in total costs.
I got my old bike tuned up again. My hubby and I have started riding around and exploring our neighborhood together. It feels like we’re dating. More than that, it feels like we’re on a date on a vacation! There’s just something indisputably romantic about riding bikes on a bike path together. I can’t say I ever felt that way when we were spending our weekends driving through freeway traffic to go to the warehouse store. I know neither of us ever felt that way when we were commuting in freeway traffic to get to work. Riding our bikes is helping us to save thousands of dollars for our retirement, stay fit and mobile as we get older, avoid the worst annoyances of standard commuting, and even feel more connected and affectionate with each other. For all these reasons, I continue to claim that a car is not an asset but a bicycle is.
“I could never do that” is most people’s automatic response when hearing about an alternative of some kind, whether that’s getting rid of their TV, waking up at 5 AM (same), or not eating dairy products. Nobody is asking; generally people are just talking about something that they do, not campaigning for other people to do it. Living without a car is definitely, definitely on that list. For those who are curious, it’s not really all that complicated. Resolve how you’re going to get to work, and that’s almost all of your trips. Shopping and errands take different strategies than the work commute. This can be an interesting game in its own right.
The first secret behind car-free errands is to realize that many errands are really just excuses for something to do. Going straight home every night can feel boring and restrictive. Errands can be set up to include fun stops, like picking up some ice cream. In fact, I think the majority of the time we’re looking for reasons to swing by the drive-thru. Guess what? They don’t let you through the drive-thru unless you are, in fact, driving thru. Gotta go inside. If the treats and fun side trips are a hidden motive behind errands, those can be rewards for using an alternative mode of transport, whether that’s a bike, unicycle, donkey cart, or the city bus.
The second secret behind car-free shopping is that so much of it can be either eliminated or delegated. For instance, I refuse to buy any garments that are dry-clean only, so we never have to go to a dry cleaner. We order a lot of things online and have them delivered. Judging by how many different delivery services come through our apartment complex, more and more people are doing this, and it seems pretty efficient. It’s also possible to special-order various products, from groceries to books, that a conveniently located store doesn’t currently have in stock. Occasionally, we’ve been known to have groceries delivered. This feels like a true luxury, and it’s definitely cheaper than the carrying costs we were paying when we still owned a car.
The idea here is that we’re only making side trips when it’s fun, when we want to. We refuse to be daily freeway commuters, and we also refuse to spend our precious free time on evenings and weekends circling around looking for parking. When we go out, it’s an excursion.
Another very important strategy behind car-free shopping and errands is to consolidate them. We have various hubs where we group errands together, and most of these trips can be delayed until we have enough of them to make a real outing of it. Examples:
Movie theater/favorite casual restaurant
Movie theater/mall/chain bookstore
Independent bookstore/nicer restaurant/specialty dessert place
Grocery store/pharmacy/haircuts/UPS Store
Bike shop/bookstore/REI/nicer restaurant/indie movie theater
For many errands, there are multiple options. We may be going to one place because we’ve always gone there, because it was close to our old apartment or our old job, or because it’s close to our hidden destination of frozen yogurt or whatever. We can often find an equivalent, or a different location of the very same chain, that’s closer to another stop we need to make. Finding these places is a big part of the fun. Often we run across hidden gems, expanding our sense of possibility and enjoyment of where we live.
Another aspect of car-free shopping and errands is to choose what type of car-free option to use. My husband and I go places on foot, by bike, on the bus, and using ride-share services. We choose which way to travel based on what we’re trying to do and what time of day it is. For example, we rode our bikes together to get breakfast on Saturday at the cafe near my gym. On Sunday, we took the bus to the movie theater, walked to a restaurant to get dinner afterward, and caught a Lyft for the trip home. The local bus is cheaper, but it only runs once an hour at that time of night. We’ll eventually ride our bikes for more of our trips, as we get fitter, because our increasing physical strength will start to redefine what we consider to be “biking distance.”
A bicycle is the most efficient way to get around for anything within a 7-mile radius. I confirmed this for myself when I first bought my bike twenty years ago. Not only could I beat the bus home, but I sometimes made it home before my evening bus would have made it to the stop by my work. Almost all errands involve items that can easily be carried in a backpack or panniers (which are special bags designed to hang off a rack on the back of your bike). An easy pace on a bike is about double a fast walking speed; I can speed-walk to my gym in a sweaty 35 minutes, or bike it in 15-20, including the time messing with my lock and helmet. There are only a few occasions when a bike is less efficient: When picking up very bulky or unwieldy items, like a garden rake; when combining a trip with bus travel, if the rack on the front of the bus already has two bikes on it; and, for us, if we’re trying to bring our dog somewhere. The existence of affordable delivery services and ride-sharing make these anomalies something of a moot point.
If you want to cut back on how much you drive, because driving is really a very annoying chore when you think about it, you can do it gradually. Test out one errand or one trip through an alternative method. If that didn’t work out so well, try the same errand a different way, or try something else. Then start keeping track in your mind of every time someone cut you off, honked at you, or stole your parking spot. Remind yourself every time you have to clean out your car, buy new tires, or send in your quarterly insurance payment that these are just part of the price you pay for car ownership. Or you can look at some of my vacation photos and see where else that money could be going!
See you at the beach. There’s plenty of room for you to lock your bike at the rack right next to mine.
We sold our car over a year ago, and we’re laughing. That was $700 a month that we now have available for other things. Most people will immediately shut down any exploration of that topic, because not having a personal vehicle is too radical to even think about. For the curious, this is the sort of strategizing to do.
The first thing we did was to look at our pain points. A “pain point” is any persistent area of stress, annoyance, or frustration in your life, such as losing track of your keys or running out of dog food. We determined that commuting on the freeway every day was the single biggest annoyance in our life. For us, it was worth doing anything possible to rearrange our lifestyle and avoid a freeway commute. We were able to do that very quickly by finding a rental house within walking distance of my husband’s workplace. That gave us about a year to feel what walking everywhere was like while still retaining our vehicle.
Walkable neighborhoods are not always all that easy to find. It’s a sign of privilege. We’re able to afford to live in a safe neighborhood with lots of shops and services nearby. Of course, walking in your neighborhood automatically starts to improve its safety! Each individual person who dares to go out, carrying a phone and video camera, helps the other residents to feel safer and more comfortable going out. (Martial arts training is not irrelevant to this discussion, and neither is dog ownership). In my opinion, car drivers’ assessment of the safety of a given neighborhood is often off-base and unduly paranoid. I’m much more afraid of car drivers than I am of pedestrians!
What about anchors? An anchor is anything that keeps you in a given situation. When my husband and I first got married, we had two anchors: His golden-handcuffs job, and my stepdaughter’s school. For other people, anchors might include home ownership, a spouse’s job, a probation officer, proximity to a certain doctor or hospital, caretaking for an aging relative, military service, owning a storefront business, or anything else that makes a permanent location strategically important. These anchors actually make it much easier to plan around going car-free, or at least ditching one vehicle. You know exactly where you need to be for the foreseeable future, so you can feel more confident in your other decisions.
There are a bunch of ways to transition to going car-free. Some households have multiple vehicles and are paying insurance even on “project cars” that aren’t running. It’s possible to do this if you have a big garage, a big driveway, a lot of street parking, or more than one property. In SoCal, where we live, most neighborhoods will have as many as five cars associated with one house. Street parking is almost impossible to find, and sometimes people are even living in converted garages. It makes sense when there are five or six working adults sharing a house. It makes less sense when it’s one married couple! Count up everything that needs insurance and ask whether any of them can go.
Getting rid of a vehicle frees up the monthly, quarterly, and annual expenses associated with it. Our “$700/month” figure includes car payments, insurance, gas, oil changes, maintenance, parking, bridge tolls, car wash, and every other car-related expense that we no longer have. If we had owned two vehicles, it would have been much higher. Getting rid of a vehicle might also generate a lump sump of cash, which could be used to pay down the loan on the main vehicle; pay off credit card debt; put aside for an emergency savings account; buy a motorcycle, scooter, or electric bicycle; or, what the heck - go on vacation.
We live in a walkable neighborhood, and the reason is that we chose it when my husband got his current job. He got the offer, we had twelve days to relocate to a new city, and we moved our stuff into storage and stayed in an AirB&B while we scouted the rental listings. Another valid point about going car-free is that we downsized from a suburban house with a garage to an apartment. Not only did we eliminate that $700/month of car ownership, we also significantly cut our rent and utility expenses. We were able to painlessly escalate our retirement savings.
Going car-free is about more than just the money. It’s a straightforward fitness strategy. My hubby just turned 50, and I’m cruising through my forties, so we have to start taking our health and mobility more seriously. He rides the bus for most of his daily work commute, using his folding bicycle to get between bus stops. (That was strategic also, because standard bikes are not allowed inside his building, but he can carry the folded bike and store it in his office). I ride my bike to my gym, adding 20 miles a week to my fitness program. The initial cost of a bike is amortized when you weigh it against what you would have spent on a car, higher rent, a gym membership, or other fitness equipment that you might have bought.
Our overall lifestyle was constructed from the ground up. We have a status meeting every week, and we sat in a cafe and talked out our ideal life. That made it easier to imagine ourselves living in a one-bedroom apartment instead of a three-bedroom, two-bath suburban house with a two-car garage and a car payment. In one way, it was an extreme, radical move, but in another, it was really straightforward. We spent two weeks downsizing our stuff and relocating, and then we were done. My hubby sits on the bus and reads the news for half an hour instead of being tailgated by road-raged caffeine junkies. I ride my bike and get a free warmup before my martial arts classes. Our retirement accounts are filling more quickly than they ever have before.
The result of going car-free is that we’re both fitter and more relaxed, partly because our finances are in such great shape. Because we were willing to downsize into a tiny living space, we can afford to live at the beach. It’s fair to admit that we’re in a position to go to a car lot, take out a loan, and drive home with a new car any day of the year. Most changes are not permanent. We didn’t really risk anything by making a radical lifestyle decision. There was much more risk involved in spending a higher proportion of our income, with comparatively less in savings. We originally agreed to reevaluate after one year, and we already have. We’re in no hurry to ever own a car again. It’s fun and freeing and helps us feel like a team. Plus, we never have to set aside time to “clean out the garage.” Think about it. Maybe going car-free for a while would work for you, too.
You know you live in Southern California when you realize you don’t have any shirts with sleeves.
You know it’s autumn in SoCal when you have to wear socks.
We moved suddenly in March. Like every time, we went through all of our stuff while we were packing, because there’s no point in buying boxes to pack stuff we know we’ll never use again. Everything went either to Goodwill, a charity rummage sale, or our half-day yard sale. This included any and all clothes that didn’t fit, had problems like stains or holes, or that we just weren’t interested in wearing anymore.
The result of this clothing purge was that I moved with one long-sleeve button-down shirt, three long-sleeve t-shirts, three cardigans, and five sweaters.
The plan was to wait until the weather turned in autumn and then go out and buy whatever I needed. Changing regions tends to mean a change in microclimate. We moved in early spring, and we found that it was cloudier, cooler, windier, and more humid near the coast than it was in the hot, dry city we were leaving. I could have bought more cool-weather clothes then, but I wanted to feel like I understood what the weather would be like first.
Planning a wardrobe, as opposed to the entropy method, involves the experience of wearing the clothes. Not how cute they are, not what we had in mind when we bought them, not how much we wish they suited us. The experience of actually wearing clothes in the time dimension! HOW do they FEEL? HOW do they FIT? HOW do they LOOK? Today?
When am I going to wear this?
Where will I be?
Who will I be with?
What will the weather be like?
What will I wear with this thing?
One person will need to plan around a dress code at work. Another person will need to plan around bending, lifting, and carrying toddlers. Someone else will need to plan outfits that merge well between work and social events. Those points are for those people. My points are different.
My two big factors are:
I walk anywhere from 5-12 miles a day;
I have trouble regulating my body temperature.
Thus, I plan my outfits around comfortable, flat shoes and extra layers. I want to plan my outer garments and my footwear first, and then coordinate other clothes around that. In fall, my look is a boots-and-jacket look. In winter, it’s hat, scarf, coat, boots, sweater, thermal underwear.
(We don’t really have a winter where I live, but my family and my in-laws both get snow).
Let’s say that autumn lasts for three months. Before that, it’s too hot to wear long sleeves and long pants. After that, it’s too cold for shirts and blouses without an extra layer. My seasons are going to be sleeveless, long sleeve, and sweater seasons. I need clothes to wear for twelve weeks. What do I do with my time during those twelve weeks?
On weekends, I want something cute and casual for going out with my husband. We’ll probably go to the movies, get some burritos or falafel, and maybe hang out at the bookstore or go to the dog park. He’ll only notice if I wear something strange, so this “look cute” rule is for me. Do I need twelve separate outfits, so that every single weekend I’m wearing something totally different? Do I need thirty-six separate outfits, so I have something different for every single Friday, Saturday, and Sunday? *snort*
Excuse me while I fall about laughing.
I probably need four casual outfits. That means I have something different each weekend, and then if I start the cycle again, I’m wearing each outfit three times that season. Right? Four times three equals twelve? On the off chance that someone at the mall is stanning me, it’ll be a month before they see me wearing the same top. On the casual, lounge-around day of the weekend, it doesn’t matter what I wear. Isn’t that the entire point? Comfortable, familiar, low-maintenance.
What else do I do with my time?
I go to two meetings every week. They’re both Toastmasters meetings, one at my husband’s work and the other in our old city. I like to dress up a bit for these outings, something business casual. These are the types of outfits I also wear when I travel, go to a book signing, or most other social events. Basically 80% of my wardrobe is in the range of business casual. It has to be machine washable, go in the dryer, and not require ironing or the wearing of pantyhose. I buy my business casual stuff in a narrow range of colors; my pants, skirts, and sweaters are always in solids. (Black, navy, gray, white [not cream or beige], red, purple, and maybe hot pink). Bright colors and patterns are for casual or more transitory items, like sundresses, halter tops, and tank tops.
What about the other 20%? That consists of workout clothes, t-shirts, a couple of pairs of shorts, sundresses, and dresses that I only wear for special occasions. This is the opposite of many maximalist wardrobes, when people find it impossible to let go of special occasion clothes even though they never wear them. All my clients except for one have had at least fifty shirts! It’s totally okay to have only one go-to dress to wear to weddings or surprise invitations. If you really desperately need something you don’t own, first consider whether this is really your type of event. Second, just go out and buy something when the specific occasion comes up. Not the “what-if” occasion but the real-life actual occasion. That’s why I no longer own an interview suit.
Let’s say I need four business casual outfits. By ‘outfit,’ I really mean ‘top’ or ‘blouse,’ because nobody is going to remember whether I wore pants or a skirt and what color they were. I can wear the same range of stuff to both meetings, because their membership doesn’t overlap, and nobody but me will know what I wore to the other meeting. If I wear a different top each time, it will be a month before I cycle through again, and I can wear a different necklace or combination of garments if I like. With these four outfits, I can take off for a long weekend trip and have a full travel wardrobe.
Boy, was that a revelation and a surprise to me. All the pinboards I saw with travel capsule wardrobe layouts? They didn’t have to be for the trip. They could actually represent a person’s entire seasonal wardrobe!
One of the factors I consider when planning a wardrobe is how much laundry I have to do and how often. I’m never going to stop at four changes of clothes, because that would mean I had a laundry emergency every three days. That also means the clothes wear out faster, which means I’d have to shop more often, and that’s simply not happening. I am, though, going to stop at a certain limit. I don’t want a bulging closet, I don’t want to fret when I choose what to wear, I don’t want to haul suitcases that are heavier than necessary, and I don’t want to spend money on extra clothes that I could be spending on travel or upgrading my electronics.
Let’s just say I can add four casual tops and four business casual tops, which will probably last for the next three years, and keep what I still have from previous years. I have pants in black, navy, and gray. I have blue and black jeans. I have a black skirt and a navy blue skirt that I can wear with tights. I have several t-shirts that I can wear with a cardigan when I’m working at home. If I buy eight tops, and it isn’t enough, I can go out and buy a few more. After the first month I’ll have a sense of what I really need, rather than what I imagine or fear I might.
We sold our car back to the dealership in March. Living in Southern California without owning a car has been much easier than we had anticipated. We’re leveling up our skills by setting out on a backpacking expedition without organizing transportation from the airport to the park. Yes, it’s those crazy Denhams doing the wing-it method again.
My husband and I are very efficient with our travel anxiety. That is to say, we worry about completely different things. My major area of worry is cleaning our place top to bottom before we leave. His is wanting to be at the airport three hours early. My second worry is what we’re going to eat, and his is figuring out how to find our destination on the map.
On this trip, we have a couple of extra complications. None of the campgrounds accept reservations, and we haven’t booked a way to cover the 45 miles from our hotel in Jackson Hole to our desired campsite in the Grand Tetons, Colter Bay. I think we’ll be fine because if the campsite is full, we can always just get a backcountry permit. He thinks we’ll be fine because we can just take a Lyft.
We’re both wrong.
We have no trouble getting a shuttle from the airport to our hotel. There’s one waiting outside. We inquire whether the shuttle service might take us to Colter Bay the next day, and take their business card just in case our ride-sharing plan doesn’t work out. Prescient.
When we check in, almost two hours late due to our plane being stuck on the tarmac, we find that we’re only about a mile from a natural foods store. We’re able to walk there and pick up the next day’s lunch and some tea and trail mix before they close for the night. We’ve brought oatmeal packets for breakfast and freeze-dried meals for lunches and dinners. If all else fails, we have enough calories for the week, but we’re hoping to supplement our meals with fresh produce from the campsite general store.
The next day I am exhausted and refuse to follow the plan of waking up at 6 AM to get to the campsite as early as possible. Whether this is a disastrous mistake or not would be hard to say.
For all my skill with travel logistics, I’m so useless, slow, and dopey in the morning that I’m surprised nobody has left me behind yet.
We dress quickly and haul our forty-pound hockey bags down the hotel stairs. No Lyfts answer our call. This makes sense, because a Lyft driver would be stuck with a 45-mile return trip and basically zero chance of picking up fresh passengers. We’re left with the shuttle service we used the previous night. They quote us $120, which is fine.
We could have rented an economy car for as low as $108 a week, assuming no surge pricing, but we would have had to pay insurance and gas as well. Since we got rid of our car, we also got rid of our car insurance. I once paid for supplemental insurance on a rental car, and it cost equally as much as the daily rate for the car. That’s when I actually carried my own car insurance. We don’t have roadside assistance anymore, either. We’re heading into bear country, probably on non-sanctioned terrain, so who knows what fine print we might be activating. We have basically no trust when it comes to businesses that make so much of their revenue off the dingers and add-ons and surcharges.
There are externalities to renting a car, just as there are to owning one:
Picking it up and dropping it off
Gassing it up before drop-off, which in this case would mean an extra 16-mile round trip, or paying a surcharge
Risk of collision. Greater than zero probability, non-trivial amount of hassle for out-of-state travelers
In comparison, there are side benefits to hiring a driver:
More experienced driver operates the vehicle
Knows where everything is in the area
Can offer advice and recommendations
Points out wildlife and scenic attractions
Shares local gossip and cultural context
In case of collision, driver does the paperwork
Ditto traffic citations
(I have a thing about jobs that allow the employee at least some agency, like having control over their schedule or not having a dress code).
We need to pick up some bear spray, and the driver obligingly swings by the outdoor store (which would not have been open if we had woken up on schedule, just saying…) It’s a breathtaking $40, but it costs $50 inside the park, and that’s still a lot cheaper than a new cranium or a skin graft.
When we arrive at the entrance to the National Park, there’s a $30 fee, which we pay. A short time later, we arrive at the Colter Bay campground, only to find a sign that says FULL. Uh-oh. There are two men in uniform blocking the road and waving people on. The shuttle driver is understandably nervous.
WELCOME TO THE PLACE OF UNCERTAINTY!
We ask the driver to wait while we go to the campsite office. Not only is Colter Bay full, but… every campground for forty miles is full. In other words, the entire National Park is full. Yay. We ask about backcountry permits, my hole card. It turns out that I have completely misunderstood how this works. My impression has been that if you are backpacking, and you have a permit, you can put your tent down anywhere that makes sense. The purpose of the permit is to limit the number of people inside the park at any one time, while also providing a record of your presence in case you fall into a crevasse or something.
Ignore everything I just said, because I am ignorant and my brain is full of… soggy bow tie pasta.
Evidently, in Grand Teton National Park, a backcountry permit allows a limited number of people to camp within the confines of a primitive campsite, many miles away from where we are currently standing. We could get the permit, we could go, but we’d have to hike ten miles in (and out), and we’d be on our own in grizzly territory. The other option is to drive 25 miles and camp in the nearby National Forest, where the rules are different.
My husband turns to me. “We’re screwed.”
This is totally, 100% my fault. I’m the one who did the “research” on this. At this point, I’m the one with more backpacking experience in multiple states (and countries). I’m the one who insisted on lounging around like a primadonna when we should have gotten up early like we planned. This is the moment in the Place of Uncertainty when I start the internal wail, “I WANT MY DAAA-AAAA-AAAAAD!” (A dad who would have exactly no sympathy for a problem created by my sleeping in and lack of punctuality).
We trudge back to the van, preparing to negotiate with our mostly-patient shuttle driver.
One of the three women from the information booth runs out after us. She wants to brainstorm with us a bit more. Once we put it out there that we are backpackers who arrived in a taxi, we have buy-in. We’re morons, but we’re sympathetic morons. At least we have novelty value.
It turns out that we’ve all been speaking at cross purposes. What we want is known as a “hiker-biker” spot, which is available to us because we don’t need to park a car. This is a totally different beast from the “backcountry permit” we were requesting. Somehow the part about “it’s just us and these backpacks” fell through the cracks. Jargon. The website also uses the term “walk-in,” which I assume means the same as “hiker-biker” rather than the occult meaning of a spirit taking over someone’s body. Which, hold that thought while I take notes, because that would make a rad horror film. “Walk-In of the Woods.”
We go back to the driver to keep him updated, and my husband trots off to talk to the campsite road block crew. I run after him, struggling to keep up in my new boots.
THE SIGN IS GONE.
Check-out time is 11 AM, and some of the campsites that were full when we arrived are now available.
We’ll never know now whether we would have had a simpler time by arriving an hour earlier or arriving half an hour later.
We merrily book our campsite for six days, planning to check out the morning after the eclipse. Campsites can be booked for 14 days. We can’t know for sure, but it’s highly likely that if we had waited even one more day, we wouldn’t have been able to get in. We pay $30 a day, which is pretty darn cheap for a vacation.
We send the driver home. He’s added an extra $20 for the side trip to the outdoor store and the half-hour wait at the campsite. We tip him an additional $20, for a total of $160. We confirm that we can call someone to drive back and pick us up on Tuesday.
The campsite at Colter Bay! We have wi-fi. We have electrical outlets. We have showers with no shower timers. We have laundry facilities. We have campfires. The general store has actual fresh cruciferous vegetables - and guacamole - and cashew ice cream. The only thing that qualifies this trip as “camping,” besides sleeping in a tent, is that a mosquito bites me on the butt the minute we walk into our campsite.
We have a magnificent time, a topic for another post. We see the eclipse in a cloud-free sky. We pack up to go home. We give the unused $40 bear spray to a lucky contestant who is checking in. We try to pay a couple of guys $100 to ride back to town with them, but one is going the wrong way and the other only has two seats. The shuttle driver shows up about two hours after we call. The trip back costs $150. Total: $310.
Would we have saved money by renting a car rather than paying a shuttle service? Probably. It depends on the insurance question and the gas mileage. Would there have been any rental cars available? Who knows? Would we have been able to get a campsite at Colter Bay if we had brought a car? No, definitely not. I’m going to claim that we broke even. Considering that the hotel and the plane tickets only cost us reward points, we’d rather splurge and not have to bother with the rental car hassle. Oh, and there’s that whole thing about no longer paying $600/month to own our own vehicle…
We were able to do this trip for a bunch of serendipitous reasons. I stumbled across an article about the eclipse about a year in advance, and since my husband happened to be sitting right there, I asked him what he thought about it. The date fell near our wedding anniversary, so we agreed that a trip to see the totality would be fun. It was too soon to book tickets, so I set a reminder to buy them in January. On New Year’s Day, we spent about an hour planning the trip. We were able to book plane tickets AND the bookend hotel dates using reward points. Get this. I got THE LAST available room at the Hampton Inn. That was how we determined the start date of our trip. We had no idea that Jackson Hole, Wyoming in general and the Grand Tetons in particular would be such a popular viewing location for the totality. It’s basically unfair that we were able to get in. That we paid for it with points is… well, that part is gloat-worthy.
So, we did it. We took a taxi to the wilderness and back again. We’ve been car-free for six months. We have no plans to buy a replacement vehicle at this time. It’s unlikely we’ll rent a car, either. Now that we’ve pulled off this caper, we’re broadening our expectations of what we can do and where we can go, leaving the driving to someone else.
The “wing-it method” is what we call taking off on a trip with no plans. We did this on our trip to Spain last year. Landed in Barcelona with no transportation, no lodging, no food, no propane for our camp stove, no reservations for anything, no recommendations, not even any friends, acquaintances, or internet contacts. There was a stressful ten minutes while we figured out how to take a bus to the nearest campsite, but other than that, we were able to navigate a foreign country with our novice command of the language for two weeks. We didn’t even get deported. This ability to tolerate being in the Place of Uncertainty for even brief periods is vital to enjoying travel when things keep going wrong. Like our vacation.
It started with the first leg of our flight. We boarded the plane, only to find out that there was a mechanical failure with the de-icing equipment on the wing. We sat out there on the tarmac for an hour while it was repaired. This was actually pretty great! I like it when they discover these issues on the ground, the nice hard ground, and fix them without making us all get out. The same thing happened once when my plane ran over a screw and got a flat tire. Our only plans for the rest of the night were to get groceries for our camping trip, and we were still able to do that before the store closed.
The next issue was getting a campsite. We went to the Grand Tetons to see the eclipse in its totality. They don’t take reservations unless there’s a group of at least six people, so we were winging it. I had done the research and I figured we could always get a backcountry permit if they were out of campsites. WELL! We got up there, every single campsite for FORTY MILES was full, and ‘backcountry’ does not mean what I thought it meant. I understood it to mean that you could just find a spot and throw down your tent, which may or may not be true in other countries or in National Forests, but emphatically is not true in a National Park in the US. Especially not in grizzly bear territory. We had a literal taxi waiting for us (topic for another post) while we tried to figure out what to do. It turned out there was a miscommunication of terminology and that we were eligible for a ‘hiker/biker’ spot because we didn’t bring a car. It also turned out that campsite checkout happens at 11 AM, and a few spots freed up while we were standing there trying not to hyperventilate. We got our spot and tipped the cabbie an extra $20 for waiting.
Then we walked up to our campsite, threw our packs down, and a mosquito bit me right on the caboose before I even had time to put on bug spray.
We spent a week camping, a last night in Jackson WY, and then flew home for one night, before turning right around and going to Las Vegas for our wedding anniversary. At some point we’ll have a personal relationship with all the Lyft drivers who are willing to go to the airport.
We were physically in the jetway, lined up and ready to board, when the pilot came bustling out. He came back again about two minutes later. Then he came out again. OUR PLANE HAD BEEN STRUCK BY LIGHTNING and the flight was canceled. In 35 years as an air traveler, I have never had to do this, but we all turned our conga line around and walked back out of the gangplank. We wound up being delayed four hours. This is by no means uncommon, and it’s hardly our longest delay, but it sucks when the flight was only 45 minutes and it’s possible to drive a car to your destination faster than the next plane could arrive. I’m never sure, but: is that irony?
The hardest part for me of having a flight delay is that there are rarely food options in an airport terminal that are acceptable to me. LAX in particular is trapped in the 80s. You can get anything you want as long as it’s pizza or a burger, coffee or beer. Honestly it’s easier for me to find food in a mall food court. We were scheduled to land in Las Vegas at 5:30 PM, meaning we could have checked into our hotel and had dinner on our normal schedule. Instead we landed at 9:30 and wound up eating at 11. What would have been “dinner and a show” was swallowed up by a long evening in our home airport terminal. But hey! At least it’s Vegas, where dinner at 11 is not much of an ask.
That weekend, every single time I tried to book a show, it was already sold out. We did have some nice dinners, though.
Travel is a luxury. We have to remind ourselves of that, even when all the logistics are going wrong. Either it’s fun or it’s a story. When you’re traveling with someone you like, you have time to chill out and enjoy each other’s company. Sometimes lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of time. Sometimes, when things go wrong, you even get $200 in future flight vouchers out of it. We wing it because it keeps things interesting, and also because so much of the time, winging it is the only option.
I drag the bathroom scale into the kitchen. No way am I going to fit if I try to stand on it where it normally waits, tucked in a corner. I tap it with my boot. I’m impatient to step on and see how high the number is today. I gasp with incredulity. One hundred and eighty-one pounds! I’ve never had a weigh-in this high in my entire life! I call out to my husband; I have to tell him right away. This is what it’s like to feel proud and excited about a high weigh-in.
I may have cheated a little. It’s possible that I have chosen to weigh myself at the end of the day, after a large dinner, fully dressed, and wearing my new mountaineering bots. Oh, and maybe my fully packed expedition backpack.
Once upon a time, I was obese and chronically ill. The idea that I might one day look forward to climbing a mountainside while carrying forty or fifty pounds of equipment would have been more than a cruel joke; it would have been inconceivable.
Now I’m actually a little disappointed to weigh less than I thought I would. I want to show off my Herculean strength with impressive numbers indicating how heavy a pack I can carry. Since I’m traveling with my husband instead of my various backpacking friends, he insists on carrying the tent, the mess kit, the stove, and the first aid kit. Just because he’s twice my size he thinks he should hog all the cool stuff.
Once upon a time, I used to carry a thirty-five pound backpack everywhere I went. It was me. It was myself I had to carry. Every step I took, every stair I climbed, every minute of the day, I had to do it under the strain of this extra weight.
In fact, due to my body composition, what I had was probably at least fifty pounds of fat, some of which made way for at least fifteen pounds of muscle.
I’m strong now and I love it. I can put on my pack, pick up my husband’s with one arm, and walk across camp with ninety pounds of gear. My knees don’t even hurt.
We’re getting older now, as is everyone, and we like it when we see other backpackers a generation older than us. They’re our role models. We realize anew on every trip that if we want to continue to do this into our eighties or better, we can’t quit. We can’t ever quit.
When I’m thirty-five or forty or fifty pounds overweight these days, it’s my luggage. It’s a giant black canvas duffel bag filled with a backpack, two-man tent, sleeping bag, air mattress, pillow, space blanket, four changes of clothes, two sets of thermal underwear, three jackets, solar charger, gloves, hat, scarf, towel, pocket knife, head lamp, lantern, stove, mess kit, water filter, trekking poles, and even a folding chair. In other words, cool stuff I chose carefully, stuff I wouldn’t want to leave behind. That’s the difference. I got fat by accident and I didn’t enjoy it. My metaphorical backpack is one I felt stuck with. My actual backpack I can take off or put on whenever I want.
I just got back from my fifth trip this summer, and the fourth flight this month. Even though I have various systems in place, I still feel really keyed up every time I pack for a trip. I can choose to interpret this keyed-up feeling as excitement, or as anxiety, and either way, the result will be that I'm physically restless and looking for things to do to keep me busy. Distance running is always a great way to dump that excess adrenalin. With time constraints, another way to do it is to make packing into a game.
What's the game? PACK... THAT... BAG!
How do you score?
Bring everything you need: 100 points
Fit everything you need in carry-on baggage only: 100 points
Fit all your carry-ons under the seat in front of you: 100 points
Get to your destination at the time your travel partners wanted to get there: 100 points
Add one point for every minute you were early.
Subtract 1000 points per travel companion for being the reason you missed your flight.
Subtract 100 points for each bag you need someone else to carry.
Subtract another 100 points for each bag you need someone else to lift into the overhead bin.
Subtract 100 points per bag for exceeding the airline's weight allowance.
Subtract one point for each item you brought that you did not use on the trip.
Add one point for every item you forgot that did not significantly affect your trip.
Subtract one point for every item you purchase or add during your trip.
Subtract 10 points for each item you tried to smuggle into someone else's bag.
Subtract 10 points for any item that leaked or got damaged due to your poor packing job.
Subtract 10 points for each item that you lose or leave behind.
Let's do a run-through, using a real trip that I really went on before I learned to pack like a minimalist. I was going to New Zealand for three weeks. I would be staying with a family in their home, where I would have access to a washer and dryer. I packed 18 changes of clothes and 7 pairs of shoes.
I started with two suitcases. The handle snapped off of one, so I repacked almost all of the contents into one bag. In the airport parking lot, the handle snapped off the other bag! When I checked it, it was overweight, and it got slapped with a huge sticker. It evidently popped open at some point, because when I retrieved it from the luggage carousel, half my bra was hanging out... Score so far: -120 points for overweight bag and two damaged suitcases.
During the trip, I bought souvenirs: a gift for my mom, a gift for my roommate, two dozen postcards, and several items for myself, including books. I kept every plane ticket, brochure, receipt, plastic shopping bag, and even food packaging as memorabilia. The postcards would not count, since I didn't technically bring them home, but I'm guessing I had at least -50 points from all that.
I gained so much weight during the three weeks that I couldn't button my pants on the trip home. How many points is that??
Now, I'll compare these decidedly amateurish results with my most recent trip.
Fit everything in carry-on baggage, under the seat in front of me: 200 points
Brought everything I needed: 100 points
Got to airport when hubby wanted to be there: 100 points
Brought items I didn’t wear: -6 points
Total: 394 points
In comparison, my hubby forgot he had a wrench in his carryon bag, earning a free bonus secondary search from TSA, which is its own punishment and thus has no negative point value. He also bought six items, so we have a matching -6 points for extra stuff.
Total: 194 points
He’s doing better, though; the first time we went on vacation together, he brought an entire duffel bag full of shoes. Men and their shoes, I tell ya.
Overpacking stems from 1. Lack of systems 2. Anxiety 3. Inexperience and 4. Indecision. Systems that are well designed can defeat anxiety, inexperience, and indecision. Build the system around these pain points. If you trust your car to run when you fill the gas tank, if you trust your refrigerator to keep your food fresh, if you trust your grocery store to stock food, you can also learn to trust that you put the right things in your suitcase. Try to have a sense of humor about this.
The worst-case scenario if you under-pack is that you will arrive at a social event wearing inappropriate clothing. Either you're underdressed, overdressed, stained, torn, smelly, or mismatched in some way. Self-consciousness makes this scenario humiliating and awkward for all concerned. A sense of humor and adventure can make the identical scenario hilarious and endearing. For instance, I once arrived at a party wearing an animal nose and white gloves, like a cartoon character, only to find out after I walked in the door that everyone else had changed their minds about this theme. Cry or laugh? Be a cautionary tale or walk with your head held high like the legend that you are? All the best characters have animal noses.
What do you really need to pack in a suitcase? Clothing, toiletries, medication and/or medical devices, a snack, enough entertainment for the duration of travel, small bills and coins, and chargers for all your devices. How complicated is that? Not very.
How many days is the trip? One outfit per day, plus extra socks and underwear just in case. If you're traveling for more than four days, just go to the laundromat or use the hotel laundry facilities.
How many hours of travel will there be? Divide reading, viewing, and listening material by number of hours. Double it if you need a security blanket. Personally, I can read about 50 pages an hour, 30 for dense technical material and up to 100 for YA or pot-boiler suspense fiction. Thus, a 4-hour flight with an hour of gate time is just barely enough time for me to read through a typical 250-page book. I used to bring a book per day plus two for a buffer, and it took about 15 years to finally admit to myself that this was unnecessary.
Stop worrying so much about the STUFF you plan to bring, and start focusing more on the EXPERIENCES you are going to have. Who are you going to be with? Where are you going? What are you going to see? What will you learn? What is different (and better) than your neighborhood? What will you do? You can play with your clothes and accessories and books and suitcases and handbags at home. You can worry about whatever you want back at home. For this brief window of time, you're GOING SOMEWHERE! Make the most of it. Keep reminding yourself of why you're on this trip. Do it often enough, and you may even be able to make it ten minutes without thinking about your physical belongings. That's what I call winning the game.
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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.