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Some Notes on Packing

Some Notes on Packing


Last week I packed a suitcase for an 8-day trip, then the first leg of my flight was canceled and rescheduled for two days later. I couldn’t be bothered to un- and repack, so left my suitcase as is, by the door, for two days.

But what seemed like the right amount of clothing for eight days looked like far too much for six days. Why? Because when you’re packing for a long trip, you’re not just building in more days of clean shirts and underwear, you’re preparing for the greater chance of encountering chaos. If meteorologists with access to big data and powerful algorithms can’t reliably predict the weather more than 7 days in advance, how can you pack simply and well for a week-plus-long trip? (This is especially true if your destination is Boston, not Los Angeles.)

Because I travel somewhat regularly for work, I would like to have packing down to more of a science, a la Joan Didion in 1979 – this is the packing list she kept taped inside her closet door:

2 skirts
2 jerseys or leotards
1 pullover sweater
2 pair shoes
nightgown, robe, slippers
bag with: shampoo
toothbrush and paste
Basis soap, razor
face cream
baby oil

mohair throw
2 legal pads and pens
house key

But I lack Didion’s comfort with the “anonymity of costume”; I also lack leotards. There are times, yes, when the limitations of a suitcase offer something like the surprise rewards of formal constraints in poetry, and I’ve put together rather inspired outfits from items I’d never think to pair at home. See the hotel-room Instagram above; the multi-colored shirt somehow matches the plaid skirt (there must be a color in common somewhere), but what kind of makes “the look” is the burgundy tights, as opposed to the expected black. But other times, most times in fact, I find that whatever I’ve packed is exactly what I don’t want to wear.

What’s the best strategy to guard against this latter inevitability? Overpacking is one approach, creating a capsule closet of options in my hotel room, but as the week stretches on, the illusion of choice is stretched too. The other approach is to underpack, leaving extra room in the suitcase to accommodate new purchases. That’s more fun but also riskier, as there may be no time to shop.

As it happens, I’m still living out of that same suitcase; my trip has been extended by another four days on the other end thanks to Winter Storm Juno. (If you haven’t yet, this would be a good time to read Ben Lerner’s 10:04.) Now it’s a nine-day trip, so I’m glad to have the extra underwear and sweaters, leading me to a new packing tenet: always overpack in winter. And remember plaid is a neutral.

Elisa Gabbert
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About The Author

Elisa Gabbert

Elisa Gabbert is the author of The Self Unstable (Black Ocean, 2013) and The French Exit (Birds LLC, 2010). She lives in Denver.

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