POSTED ON JANUARY 30, 2008:
The Idiot's Guide to Packing
This simple and easy activity is overrated, no doubt
A Walking Mess. No doubt you'll be doing long bouts of standing, walking or sitting, so find things that move and breathe well.
I have a weekend getaway quickly approaching. Technically, it is two weeks away, but I'm so wasteful with time that if I don't begin programming my brain, I will relive that packing incident. As a child, we took a weekend trip where all there was to do was go swimming. Well, I forgot my swimsuit. Stranded in the middle of nowhere, I was swimsuit less in place with only a pool to offer a young child some amusement. I was bored.
Sometimes a longer vacation requires going out and buying some new things (or in my case, all new things), but this isn't one of those times for me. A week-long vacation in some remote tropical spot triggers the urge for some vacation-related items, but I am preparing for a weekend in Las Vegas, which doesn't require brand new gear. I will spend as little money as possible in order to save money for... Would you have guessed gambling? Well, you'd be wrong, my friend. When in Sin City, I walk my money right past the slot machines and card tables and right into the registers. Sure, I might sit and let those sevens and cherries spin, but only in an attempt to win more money to spend on fancy schmancy designer goods.
What's great about a weekend in Vegas--besides the loose morals and debaucheries of the city--is watching the people. Boy, are there some looks in that city! The overwhelming majority of these people (because certainly the Strip performers have their own unique look) are on vacation. This means they had to pack a suitcase and put some thought into what they would pack. They didn't pick up a random pile of clothes off the floor and throw it into a duffle bag, but actually made conscious decisions about each day's outfit. Yes, they may have thrown in additional pieces here and there, an extra outfit or two for back up, but they knew once the bag was zipped, there was no turning back. They committed to these outfits while on vacation.
So why does it always look like people packed items from the backs of their closets that haven't been acceptable in years? I'm being completely unjust to the Vegas crowd. Vacation anywhere-here in the states, abroad, probably to the moon and you'll find that people pack the most random, most peculiar looking outfits they own when they leave town. Something about leaving the comforts of their own stomping ground makes them pull out the fanny packs, visors, horrible shorts and white tennis shoes with strangely colored socks. This isn't clichéd or overgeneralization--look around the next time you're in a tourist hot spot. Something about packing for a vacation caused people to pull out such weird commodities. The idea of needing to have comfortable footwear turns into bulky athletic shoes. Fear of being pick pocketed means wearing strange purses. And, the vacation creed of "relaxation" means wearing what's comfortable, which is often atrocious.
Whether you're traveling by plane, train or automobile, it's good to set a limit on your travel bag. In an attempt to be a better-dressed traveler, you may go to the extreme by packing everything you own.
Don't Be a Pack Rat
Save energy from packing and unpacking by taking only what you need, plus a bit of cushioning. Six outfits are reasonable for a four-day trip. 14 outfits are not. And I know because I am that packer.
But maybe not this time? Could I really be advising that a person try this? For a weekend getaway that involves flying, it might be a smart idea to fit everything into a carry on piece of luggage. Here's a piece of convincing logic: there is a (slim) chance your luggage could get lost. I once spent three days walking around Rome in a pair of sweat pants and flip flops because of lost luggage. I learned two valuable lessons: NEVER board a plane dressed like a bum and always keep spare clothes in your carry on. And, if you can, keep everything in something that can fit in the overhead compartment. This also saves time checking luggage and waiting at the baggage claim. Let your vacation begin immediately.
The great thing I've discovered is that your luggage can be fairly large. Most flights allow one personal item (a purse for instance) and one carry on that does not exceed 40 pounds or 45 linear inches. I'm not going to weigh a shirt or pair of jeans, but I'd guess that you could fit a great deal of them and stay under the limit. Shoes are probably the heaviest and because we're going to eliminate athletic shoes, weight is a shoe in (no horrible pun intended). If your luggage for a three or four day trip exceeds 40 pounds, you may just need to stay home. Or drive because obviously that eliminates most packing restrictions.
Let's start with the guys. I know men can hit the below 40 pounds mark. Unfortunately, it may be severely under packed. So you may not put together outfits in your head, but you might start the packing process earlier than 20 minutes before departure time. Enough underwear is always important; bring only the right toiletries (remember to check your liquids), and then begin building your vacation wardrobe. It's basic stuff really: jeans, t-shirts, polos, hoodies and jackets. Take into consideration there might be somewhere that requires nicer attire, like dinner.
Don't assume shops have the things you forgot to pack. I assumed Rome would have something to buy and wear, but when you're hauling ass through ancient ruins all day and shops close early, you learn a harsh lesson that you're wearing these sweatpants again tomorrow.
Hey, ladies, it's your turn. The best vacation staple is a dress. If you're able to find a good fabric that doesn't wrinkle, a dress or two goes a long way. Sometimes a getaway means going all day long, bouncing from one thing to the next. With a dress, you're prepared for the entire day. It's great for wearing as a cover on the beach, it's an easy piece to wear shopping (quick to throw on and off in a dressing room), it's good for walking around a crowded city or a natural setting and it goes from day to night. Carry a cardigan or a jacket for changes in temperature or to be more modest. For instance, some tourist locations have religious connections and have dress codes, so having something to cover up may be essential.
It's not so much dress season right now, but that doesn't mean breaking out the tracksuits, another catastrophic weekend getaway staple. No doubt you'll be doing long bouts of standing, walking or sitting, so find things that move and breathe well. Sweat stains or wrinkles head to toe are two hazards to avoid.
Yes, I'm a Tourist
Always include comfortable shoes. It seems that no matter where you travel, whatever your vacation goals, there's always a lot of walking. I like flip flops, some people prefer something with more cushioning or support. Remember to cool it on the socks and shorts. They make socks that look practically invisible to the outsider but make your feet covered, though they never, ever look good with sandals.
Break in new footwear before leaving town. Walk around for a long time, making sure every part of your foot is comfortable. Ensure there are no spots on your heels that will rub raw, that the high heel won't start to kill the arch or ball of your foot. And realize that flip flops worn in an urban area create nasty feet by the end of the day. The grime of a city works its way into the foot bed and in between toes in the most disgusting ways.
The one weekend getaway destination that this packing advice may not apply is a trip involving snow. Those downed goodies require a brief stint at the good old baggage claim. And lastly, whether you're traveling with just a loved one or your 10 closest pals, don't dress alike. Don't get matching t-shirts; don't get matching hats. Don't agree to wear the same color. These things simultaneously announce "please pick pocket me or mock me." Well, unless a camera drapes your neck, which is just something a weekend away needs.
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