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An Introduction to Packing

updated February 21, 2017
One medium-sized suitcase, lightly filled, is the key to a rewarding vacation

More trips have been ruined by over-packing than by all the hurricanes, overbookings, and surly waiters of the world, combined. A light suitcase is the key to an enjoyable vacation, and proper packing ranks with the advance study of history and culture, as the two most important steps of travel preparation for trips to anywhere.

Except on a cruise (which involves other considerations), pack light! Take no more than one medium-sized suitcase per person, partially empty, and you assure the success of your trip. Take more, and you become a fatigued beast of burden, a prisoner of porters and taxicabs, the unhappy bearer of unwashed clothing or of items never used.

Come to peace with yourself. Realize that you will not in all probability be invited to a garden party or to the opera on your trip, or to meet the Queen, and that it is not necessary to include an outfit for every conceivable and far-fetched occasion. Nor is it necessary to bring pharmaceuticals, Kleenex, band-aids; the entire world has become well-developed, and even Kathmandhu has a 24-hour drugstore.

About the only paraphernalia you will ever need to bring on a trip--items that perhaps can't easily be obtained once there (although they're really available everywhere)--are transformers for your electrical devices (like hair dryers) or adapters for foreign sockets, or perhaps coffee immersion heaters.

Don't bring another thing! If you have taken too little, you can always remedy the deficiency while abroad--namely, by shopping for more--but you will obviously not want to discard excess items that you have unnecessarily brought. Light packing is the key to an enjoyable vacation, and a prime example of the need for careful preparations in advance of your departure.

How to be a successful packer

A light suitcase means freedom. To emerge from a train or plane with bundles and boxes in every hand, means porters, means taxicabs, means that the first hotel you pass must be the hotel in which you'll stay. To jaunt along with a light suitcase is to avoid all these costs, to use buses instead of cabs, to make your hotel choice slowly, carefully, and without desperation. With all the decrease in fatigue which a light load entails, you can simply walk out when the man at the hotel counter quotes too high a price--and seek another hotel.

Don't sneer at this freedom. The travelers whose arms are bursting from their sockets with weight become prisoners. It costs them dollars simply to get from train to hotel; it costs them tiring effort to shop around and to choose.

A light suitcase means spiritual freedom, too, and an ability to concentrate on the attractions and activities of your destination, in preference to mundane, daily needs. With too many clothes, and too many parcels, you'll spend hours unpacking and arranging your apparel when you check into a hotel. You'll spend hours packing them away again as you prepare to leave. You'll awake on the morning of departure, spend frantic and precious time in packing and wrapping, and finally collapse in sweat on your outgoing plane or train. Moreover, you'll have a disorderly, bursting suitcase--cluttered with dirty and unwashed clothes.

Remember, too, that these problems increase as the trip continues. However heavy your suitcase may have been as you left home, it'll be twice as heavy as you go along. At every stop of your trip, you'll pick up mementos, gifts, books, papers, tapes, souvenirs. Unless you've had a one-third-empty suitcase to begin with, you'll be festooned with extra parcels and packages near the end. You'll loop them over your shoulder, you'll squeeze them under your arm, you'll carry some with your little finger--and you'll approach each new city and each new hotel search in a mood of desperation. The first hotel you examine will have you at their mercy.

Make the right decisions and buy the lightest quality suitcase available. You'll then fill it with the skimpiest set of clothing your courage will allow. Having done that, you'll then remove half these clothes from the suitcase, and depart on your trip. You won't, for instance, take eight complete changes of underwear. You'll realize that three are enough; that there are few less-than-a-week laundries at your destination, and that you'll have to wash out those t-shirts yourself, in any event. You'll recognize how depressing it is to cart a suitcase of dirty clothes from city to city.

After many years of disregarding my own advice, I've finally settled on the wardrobes listed in this Encyclopedia for travels in both cold and warm-weather seasons. Click the category that applies to your own trip.

For men in warm weather

For men, a packing list can be rather severe, and still perfectly sufficient. If you seek comfort and economy on a summer trip, then this is all you need take (in addition to a normal-weight suit worn on the plane):

  • 3 pairs of drip-dry undershorts or briefs
  • 3 drip-dry undershirts
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 1 sweater
  • 2 drip-dry sport shirts or synthetic knits
  • 2 drip-dry dress shirts
  • 1 pair of dress shoes
  • 1 pair of rubber-soled walking shoes
  • 1 light bathrobe
  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 1 sports jacket
  • 1 pair of durable slacks
  • 1 pair of jeans or chinos
  • 1 raincoat
  • 2 neckties
  • 1 bathing suit
  • Toilet and shaving articles
  • For men in winter

    The following should be adequate:

  • 3 pairs of shorts
  • 3 cotton t-shirts
  • 3 pairs of socks (of which two should be heavy woolen ones)
  • 2 handkerchiefs
  • 1 heavy sweater
  • 2 sport shirts (including one flannel one)
  • 1 Drip-Dry white dress shirt
  • 1 woolen bathrobe
  • 1 pair of heavy warm flannel pajamas
  • 1 pair of dress shoes
  • 1 pair of heavy walking shoes
  • 1 pair of lined waterproof boots
  • 1 tweed sports jacket
  • 1 pair of heavy slacks
  • 1 winter suit
  • 1 heavy coat, water-repellent
  • 2 neckties
  • Toilet and shaving articles
  • Foe women in warm weather

    The following items (chosen with the help of a female adviser) seem sufficient for women traveling to warm-weather destinations, on any sort of trip other than a cruise:

  • 4 pairs of cotton panties (to be rinsed out as you go)
  • 4 pairs of socks
  • 2 bras of nylon or other quick-drying material
  • 1 cardigan sweater
  • 1 pair of jeans or solid-color, all-purpose pants
  • 1 pair of sandals
  • 1 pair of good, sturdy walking shoes (low heels)
  • 1 pair of dress shoes
  • 1 wash 'n wear daytime dress
  • 2 blouses or 2 synthetic knit shirts
  • 1 all-purpose outfit (which can double for afternoon and evening wear)
  • 1 pair of pajamas (or nightgown)
  • 1 lightweight robe
  • 1 bathing suit and bathing cap
  • 1 all-purpose rain-proof travel coat
  • Non-valuable jewelry, scarves and accessories
  • Cosmetics and toiletries
  • Your "traveling to the destination" outfit--a comfortable ensemble for the overnight flight
  • For women in winter

    Winter means special packing problems. It can be cold where you''e going, and you must be prepared with heavy, sturdy, woolen clothing. And that means that you must be even more stern with yourself. Because your bulky winter clothes will weigh far more, you must take far less. You simply cannot afford to fill your suitcase with any inessential item. Here are my suggestions, again aided by outside advice:

  • 4 pairs of panties
  • 4 to 6 pairs of stockings or socks
  • 2 bras
  • 1 heavy woolen cardigan sweater
  • 1 long-sleeved pull-over sweater, preferably something you can combine with the cardigan, if need be
  • 1 pair of heavy corduroy or woolen slacks
  • 1 pair of all-purpose, nasty-weather snow boots
  • 1 pair of good sturdy walking shoes
  • 1 pair of dressy high heels
  • 1 pair of warm bedroom slippers
  • 1 woolen or wool-knit daytime dress
  • 1 Wash 'n Wear-Drip Dry cotton blouse or 1 washable cotton-knit shirt
  • 1 Wool-knit or silk-jersey dress which can double for afternoon and evening wear
  • 1 pair of heavy warm flannel pajamas
  • 1 very warm robe
  • Jewelry, scarves and accessories
  • 1 super warm coat, rain-proofed, and preferably with detachable lining
  • Your "traveling to" the destination outfit
  • Packing miscellany 

    Whenever possible, carry all liquids in plastic bottles. They are flexible, provide more room, and prevent accidents. If you must take along a glass container, such as a perfume bottle, avoid spillage by sealing the cap of the bottle with a layer of wax.

    Roll into scroll-like shapes whatever is rollable: underwear, slips, bras and so forth--all the items that don't have to be wrinkle-free. In that manner, these items can be placed along the sides of your suitcase easily, or into the most unusual cracks and crevices (which you'll discover while packing). For items that do wrinkle, a layer of tissue paper placed above and below the garment will prove to be a surprising wrinkle-preventer.

    Finally, conserve space. Don't let anything go to waste. A hand-bag should be jammed with small articles, shoes jammed with socks, and so on.

    Since you will probably be doing your own laundry, take at least one plastic bag, with a zipper, for carrying wet clothes or wash cloths from town to town. Also recommended is Woolite, the cold water soap. Take as many packets as you think you'll need--one packet will do for a full washbowl of laundry. Since many foreign hotels do not provide soap, you'll need to carry it along. Towels, however, are provided everywhere. Avoid bringing the clothing that requires a fancy cleaning-and-pressing job. Unless you do, you'll spend substantial sums for cleaning and laundry, you'll be continually inconvenienced, and you'll end up--in our worst nightmare--lugging a suitcase full of useless, dirty clothes.

    The suitcase itself

    For carrying these clothes, you'll want to buy the lightest suitcase available: one made of fabric. Cloth luggage is really quite durable, comes in several varying sizes, and is feather light. Equally important, they're the cheapest on the market and yet offer the greatest amount of space. You'll value the expandable nature of a fabric suitcase when you start to cram in all the "odds and ends" you couldn't resist picking up along the way. Try, too, to be a one-suitcase traveler. If you've a couple and feel that one suitcase per person just will not do, then, instead of getting another valise, buy a "valpac" (a fold-over, portable wardrobe) as your third piece of luggage. With a valpac, you simply hang up your clothes inside, and instantly have a suitcase with a convenient carrying handle. Most valpacs also contain extra inner pockets for shoes, underwear, or other soft goods, and they have a great deal of useful extra space on the bottom and along the sides.

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