Today we were enjoying our coffee while watching an enormous red transport ship glide by. The behemoth was deep in the water, piled several stories high with grimy containers stamped in several languages bound for parts unknown. It was so big that it obscured our living room view of the new Freedom Tower that soars above Lower Manhattan. Tim groaned, “Those big containers remind me of what’s next for us.” I knew immediately what he meant and matched his mood. Morning bliss ruined. The packing clock ticking.
We have been in the United States for months, living in a series of HomeAway.com vacation rentals in California and New York while introducing my book, Home Sweet Anywhere. Thanks to our generous readers and a willing press, the book found an audience right away and is enjoying an energetic launch, which means we can get back to our peripatetic home free life. It also means that we must once again face a reality which confronts us every time we depart for one of our long adventures: packing.
During three years of this blog’s life I’ve addressed just about every issue that confronts people who live a home free life: international insurance, the Schengen Agreement visa problem, handling money, asking the right questions, how to find an apartment, how to check into an apartment, how to keep from killing your spouse, shopping, repositioning cruises, cooking, dining and certainly drinking. But the most-asked question is the one I’ve never answered: what do we pack. So here it is, the suitcase saga and how we have solved it, more or less, with three years of experience.
Choose the Right Suitcase. Don’t be fooled. A great big suitcase will allow you to take more stuff with you, but you’ll pay for it. Here’s a little algebraic formula: big suitcase + overpacking = expensive airline charges x chiropractic bills. No kidding. If your bag weighs over 40 pounds, you’re in trouble with many airlines from the start and can incur horrific charges. Your back won’t thank you, either, so get used to this idea. We have two 32-inch rolling duffel bags and whatever won’t fit into those plus a carry-on doesn’t get invited to go on the trip. I do carry my computer with me separately over my shoulder because, besides Tim, it’s my most prized, useful possession, but everything else is in the cases.
Forget About Fashion. People who are fashionable have closets. I do not have a closet. Therefore, I am no longer fashionable. I rotate the things I do have until I want to burn every garment the moment I come off the road. This is one of the prices we pay for being home free. I suggest that you pick a couple of colors and an accent color and stick with it. We have both been wearing black so long that we think we are attending an endless funeral. I wear black, grey, white and splashes of red almost all the time. Boring but workable. Besides, black makes us all look skinnier!
That’s not to say that you couldn’t plan your entire wardrobe around brown or blue or green, but it’s important that you pick some scheme and stick to it. That way your jewelry, shoes, socks, scarves and other accessories will work all the time. For me, donning my brown and beige stuff when I’m near our California storage unit is a big thrill. Isn’t that pitiful?
About Lingerie: I pack two pairs of modest pj’s, so if the ship’s steward brings the coffee neither of us is embarrassed, or if I get locked out of my apartment the cops won’t lock me up for indecency. I don’t have room to carry a robe, so I use a super soft, long, black knit sweater. It doubles for a light wrap when the weather is cool and I’ve slept many times in it when I was freezing in Ireland or Portugal. It’s just about my favorite garment. The rest of this stuff is elementary. Three bras, five panties, two tights (I have a pair of fleece ones for winter), five socks, some knee-highs and a pair of panty-hose.
About Accesssories: I do believe I’ve mentioned my freakishly large feet on some occasion. But in case you weren’t paying attention, I wear an 11 ½ AAA. Yes, you heard it here. It’s awful. So buying shoes along the way is not an option for me. I take flats, sandals, running shoes, comfortable pumps, flip-flops (also my house shoes), and if it’s winter, ankle boots. Every one of them is BLACK, of course. I take a large purse and a small one for dining out or special events. Guess what color they are? I sometimes buy a cute canvas one at an outdoor market along the way if it’s summer. I never take a hat because they’re fun to buy and not usually expensive. Jewelry is pretty easy. Nothing terribly expensive, nothing heavy. Simple is better, and you’ll want to pick up things as you go along anyway. Scarves – as many as you like! You’ll want to buy these along the way, too. A belt.
About Cosmetics, Medicine, and Sundries: We take as few cosmetics as possible because that stuff is available just about everywhere we have been. Sephora is universal, and certainly drugstores carry all the lotions and potions a person can use. Prescription drugs should be taken along, and although we have been told that one can fill prescriptions abroad we have never really tried it. I also take an extra pair of eyeglasses and the prescription, just in case.
About Electronics: We have IPhones, a laptop each, a Kindle each, an HDMI cable so we can plug in our laptops to a TV screen, and an IPad mini. We buy throw-away phones to be in touch locally and leave our IPhones on airplane mode to avoid charges. We carry a great GPS with us to plug into rental cars. And, oh yes, my Bose noise-cancelling headset which allows me to write in the middle of a fireworks display, construction site, or shopping center.
About Other Essentials: I would never leave home without my wine opener, my little plastic knife sharpener, and my instant-read thermometer, a pair of scissors, some scotch tape, some duct tape, a few envelopes, and a check book.
LYNNE’S PACKING LIST
2 T-Shirts: Layering is the world’s best travel advice. I have two polyester/spandex scoop-necked long sleeved t-shirts that I couldn’t live without. One black, one white. They keep me warm under a shirt or sweater, or can go on their own as the weather warms up. They look great under my blazer, too.
2 Pairs of Jeans: blue and black
1 pair black slacks
1 Long-sleeved white shirt
1 Short-sleeved white shirt
2 Skirts – both elastic waist, knee length.
3 Tops that will go over the jeans and skirts
1 black dress – all season, goes everywhere, that will work with the blazer or cardigan.
1 pullover sweater
1 blazer that goes with everything
1 cardigan sweater
1 hooded jacket
1 lightweight windbreaker
TIM’S PACKING LIST
1 Sport Coat
1 Sleeveless sweater
1 Dress shirt
4 Golf shirts
5 Pairs socks
5 Pairs Underwear
1 Pair slacks
2 Pairs jeans
2 pairs shorts
1 Baseball hat
3 Pairs shoes
1 Pair black polyester work-out pants
1 Black polyester work-out baseball jacket
OUR RECYCLED CLOTHING TRICK
You’ll notice that there is no mention of coats. That’s because, unless we depart in deep winter, we don’t take them. We bought the coats you see at the Salvation Army in East Molesey, GB., in 2012, wore them there an in freezing Ireland for a month, left them with a friend, and enjoyed them again in a very chilly 2013 April in Kenmare, Ireland. They now are keeping some nice Irish people warm. An ecological and economical winner!
The last week in May, we’ll pack up our New York finery, which was necessary so we could swan around New York and Boston looking like dressed up adults. A big box of those duds will be shipped to California, where our darling daughters will plunk them in the storage unit. May 31 we will pack up our duffels with the stuff on our lists, and board a plane for Paris, where we’ll headquarter for the summer and take side trips to place we’ve targeted for a long time. We’re spending five days with our darling friends Andie and Georges on a farm in Normandy, and we’ll probably take a short trip to Amsterdam, perhaps revisit Berlin, and maybe go to the South of France. We’re talking about several other destinations, and I think our pals Rick and Margo will allow us to occupy their comfy leather chairs for a London fix. Planning is half the fun.
I know for certain that we’ll be wearing our same old duds no matter what we do, but nobody seems to mind! At least I’ll pick up a new hat!