Hello, Budget Travel Readers!
Traveling as a dance host to 40 countries in the past 10 years, I've learned how to pack everything I need for formal, semiformal, casual, and expedition gear—and how to get it all into one rolling case and a backpack!
Dance hosts must be prepared to show up at the cruise ship dock and be ready for that evening wearing an unwrinkled tuxedo, a blazer and tie, or, on Cunard ships, even a white dinner jacket. I can carry my wardrobe aboard and be completely unpacked, enjoying the ship, while my fellow hosts pace their cabins, waiting for their cumbersome suitcases to be delivered.
But often I like to arrive in my country of departure a week ahead of time, or I might stay for another week in my city of debarkation, backpacking, traveling on buses, subways, and trains, and staying in hostels. This requires hauling minimal luggage and a whole different style of duds!
Often my monthlong cruise, with an extra shore week or more on each end, will stretch to six to eight weeks in length. I can pack for the entire trip, from studs and cuff links to hiking boots, and get it all into my Timberland rolling Ute and my L.L.Bean Escape backpack! [PHOTO]
Here's how I do it:
I use lightweight travel bags with zippered mesh covers, sold by L.L.Bean and Eagle Creek, to organize and store enough clothes to last eight days. [PHOTO] The bags allow me to roll and compress my tux, dinner jacket, blazer, and trousers, as well as casual shirts, into incredibly small spaces. Dress and collared shirts go into an Eagle Creek press pack [PHOTO], which holds at least 10 shirts; I pack two tuxedo shirts, three dress shirts, and five collared polo shirts. [PHOTO]
I take three pairs of dress trousers: a striped tuxedo, a black, and a khaki, and I take two pairs of nylon hiker pants, one of which has zip-off legs, along with a bathing suit and padded bicycling shorts and gloves (I often like to go biking in the different ports, and I wear them on the trainer in the ship's fitness studio as well).
One mesh bag holds eight to 10 collarless shirts, rolled and packed tight, for workouts, hiking around town, or port visits. Another holds eight pairs of underwear, five pairs of dress socks, and five pairs of athletic socks (which are quarter-length, ankle-high, and take up little room). Three bow ties and six color-matched ties go over the top, folded into thirds to prevent creasing.
One rule for everything: no cotton! All the shirts are some type of microfiber or polyester blend, as are the dress trousers, the socks, and the underwear. Jeans are out of the question. Cotton just does not pack small, wrinkles way too fast, absorbs sweat, and takes too long to dry. I previously used worsted wool formal wear, but on a recent trip to Singapore, I had custom tailored jackets and trousers made from microfiber specifically for traveling and dancing. They are lighter-wearing, pack tighter, and don't wrinkle. My blazer is an L.L.Bean Traveler, also made from microfiber. Cummerbund? I threw it away. [PHOTO]
I pack a flattened Panama hat, purchased in Ecuador for $10, for sun protection. [PHOTO]
Which footwear to choose is important because shoes take up a lot of room—especially since I wear a size 14! I pack my dance/formal shoes, which are relatively thin and light and are worn only onboard the ship, and I wear sturdy dark-colored hiking shoes while traveling. The hikers double as sneakers for workouts and as port shoes, and they even look reasonable at museums and in restaurants when worn with dress trousers.
I use one belt, a black nylon web with the D-rings also made of nylon. It goes with everything, and there is no metal to set off airport or ship detectors.
My rolling Ute has about 15 years on it and is beginning to show its age, although the large inline-skate-style wheels have never failed me and track well even over rough terrain. The worst wear seems to be the nylon corners wearing out from brushing against airport conveyor belts. In situations where I need to navigate long stairways, subways, or gangplanks, it converts into a backpack; I put my smaller backpack on my chest, and the larger Ute goes on my back. This setup is actually pretty balanced and comfortable, but I wouldn't want to climb mountains this way! [PHOTO]
My Escape backpack is not large, but it carries everything I need to survive for a few days of travel if needed, and it is a good size to use around cities, hiking, and on a bike. It is narrow enough so that it doesn't interfere with arm and shoulder movement, and it has a decent waist-belt support to carry most of the load. I use it as my carry-on, and often it packs in quite a bit of weight, so the waist-belt support is important. Usually it holds my 10-inch Toshiba netbook (fits into a built in sleeve), grooming kit, sunglasses, two shirts, two pairs each of underwear and socks, guidebooks, novels, notepad, pens, calculator, nylon fork and spoon, cap, cuff links and studs, camera, iPod, earphones, Magic Jack (for Internet calls with the netbook), passport, and food. I stick plastic bottles in the side pockets and fill them at a water fountain after I pass through airport security lines.
In addition to wearing the hiking shoes and one of the pairs of nylon pants to the airport, I wear a full-zipper fleece jacket and a breathable rain jacket with a hood. Both of these can be lashed onto the backpack if necessary, but there have been several times when I was awful happy to have them available on the plane or while camped out at the terminal—good luck getting blankets these days!
If I'm traveling to a cold climate, like when I went to London a week early in January to board a world cruise, I pack a set of microfiber long underwear and gloves. That basic layer, along with my regular clothes, fleece, and rain jacket, makes all the difference and eliminates the need for a heavier winter jacket.
When I'm off the ship, I make sure everything of value is in my backpack—and that stays with me. Always. Everywhere. In Singapore, staying at a hostel, the pack came into the shower stall with me, hanging inside the door. Backpack sizing is important if this is your mode of operation—you don't want too big or too little. For security, I always make sure both zipper tabs are in the lower right corner, making it hard for someone to get into the pack from behind me without my noticing. (Once in Valparaíso, someone unzipped my pack on the street and took my toiletry bag—go figure!)
So bring on Egypt, Budget Travel! I'm packed and ready, and won't even need the tux for this trip!