Maximum-value packing: getting from here to there in one attractive piece

close shot of suitcase buckle

This past trip to Tacoma was significant in more ways than just initiating me into the TEDx experience: for the first time in too long to remember, I got from here to there (and back!) with something resembling ease.

Some of my new-found attitude can be traced to exactly that: attitude. While I will likely never be worry-free, I've whittled it way down just by acknowledging I'm the worrying kind. I know it sounds counter-intuitive, but just giving my worry a little bit of voice, rather than my old way, of ignoring it and/or telling it to STFU when it got loud-ish, has made all the difference. Because when I pause to listen, (a), I feel heard, which takes care of a lot of the problem; and (b), I actually take steps to deal with some of the wacko problems that come with being me, which, in turn, makes many of them go away.

Worry #1: What will I wear?

On the surface, this always seemed nuts, as I had more than enough clothes to wear right there in my closet, most of which I really enjoyed wearing. But they were rag-picker clothes, the wardrobe of one who views value shopping as sport, and clothes as a mode of expression.

I cannot believe it took a twentysomething straight male to point out the glaringly obvious, but when I read this post by young Jesse Thorn on the dangers of buying thrift-store ties, it all fell into place: thrift-store acquisitions, however mint and spiff, are the pieces other people let go of because they couldn't make them work. They can be fantastic sources of cool accent pieces, but the odds of finding cornerstone wardrobe items are razor-thin.

During the Great Purge of '09, I unloaded everything ill-fitting, irretrievably stained/torn, etc. That removed some of the stress of packing; I no longer had to worry about bringing this sweater I always wore with that shirt to cover up the blotch/rip/etc. But after my trip to DC this year, I had a packing revelation when I realized the stress I was enduring over whether to wear the cute navy-blue thermal tee on the plane or save it for an out-and-about day could be completely eliminated with the purchase of identical cute navy-blue thermal tees. I immediately went online and purchased six. They did not arrive in time for SXSW, alas, but man-oh-Manischewitz, packing for Tacoma could not have been easier, style-wise.

The corollary to this is anti-worry is equally "no duh!" simple: most everywhere I travel to sells everything I need. Last summer, a friend's mother died while I was in town on a jeans-only trip; amazingly, I found an Actual Department Store that sold clothes, and bought some appropriate pants that would not embarrass me or her family. A Christmas Miracle in July.

Finally, there's a gigantic bonus-extra to this wardrobe methodology: dressing daily is equally mindless, with the same fantastic Style Quality Control. Gretchen, I should have listened to you sooner!

Worry #2: What if I miss the plane?

I am the daughter of one of the world's most frequent flyers. Literally. My father is now deceased, but in his day, he was one of an elite group of lifetime AAirpass owners, a privilege for which he paid $250K (a pittance! a pittance, I tell you!). Said AAirpass entitled him to fly first-class on any American (or partner, back in the day) flight for the rest of his life, which he did for almost 20 years, sometimes six days per week. On a whim, he told us, he once checked with the airline to see where he stood in the pantheon of all-time big American Airlines frequent flyers. There were two people ahead of him and they were both professional couriers.1

For a guy who could get on almost any plane to anywhere, he was notoriously nuts about getting there early. I've already missed as many flights in my life (one) as I believe he missed in his (not owing to acts of God, anyway). I used to fry my circuits every trip over getting there in time, until I finally arrived at the magic number: two hours. Yes, I get to the airport two hours before every flight, no matter how early the flight is taking off. It is absolutely insane, but in a perverse stroke of irony, it keeps me from losing my mind.

I look forward to the "me" time, and, occasionally, will treat myself with trashy magazines at the airport. Which brings me to my final worry...

Worry #3: Everything is so expensive!

I am not exactly cheap, but I'm not exactly a carefree spendthrift, either. It chaps my hide having to exorbitant prices for staples like water, wifi and trashy magazines. (Okay, those cost the same everywhere, but I almost never buy magazines for full newsstand price.)

I used to carry my cheapskate mentality when I traveled. Then I discovered a miraculous new modus operandi: plan for what you can, and let go of the rest. As I do in my talk about communicating, I advocate a 99-to-1 ratio of planning to letting-go. I generally plan for snacks and sundries at least a week in advance, and with checklists, to coincide with the last regularly-scheduled trip to the store.

I also finally dedicated a Dopp kit and attendant Ziploc quart bag to traveling supplies. They are fully loaded and ready to go at all times (except now, when I just realized I rotated my toothbrush out, and, like a good Mormon, need to replace my stock).

Now that mostly everything is in there, I feel better about not cheaping out on the stuff I either left behind or want to treat myself to because I am at the airport two hours before a 5am flight. Good for me, good for the economy!


I travel nowhere near as often as Dad, or friends like the Chris-es Guillebeau and Brogan. If I get to that point, and a part of me really, really hopes I never do, at least by air, I'll adapt further.

But these small things have made a mighty difference, both in how I anticipate a trip and how I enjoy it once I'm there...


1For you doubters, here's a little story about some litigation around the fabled lifetime AAirpass. While it goes without saying my dad was scrupulously honest about using his own AAirpass, we did joke about how he should have gotten one with initials-only, rather than first-initial-plus-middle, so that I might continue to fly as C.A. Wainwright after he'd passed on to that great Admirals Club in the sky. Well, I joked, anyway.

Image cropped from photo by David Masters via Flickr, used under a Creative Commons license.