I’m the Nomadic Troglodyte. I did not pick that name lightly. When it comes to traveling, I’ve done it enough that I have a disproportionate amount of practice at packing. I tend to forget how good I’ve gotten until someone asks me if I want anything.
I heft my fairly light backpack over one shoulder and say, “No, thanks. I’ve got everything I need.”
It should be noted that not only am I a bibliophile, I come from a long line of bibliophiles.
I am a writer who’s obsessed with pens and notebooks.
And I have dietary restrictions at the moment.
Those three facts should add at least twenty-five pounds to any traveler’s pack. Here’s how a girl can keep her luggage light when going from 15 degrees of mountain cold to 60 degrees of Oklahoma sun…
First: tech. You can wear the same clothes day after day if needed. It won’t be pleasant, but it’s survivable. Try telling a writer to survive without their laptop, and it’s like trying to tell a fish they can survive without water.
I need exactly three pieces of tech, the corresponding cords, and one pair of earbuds. Laptop, for writing, list-keeping, emailing at hotels, and watching the occasional movie if time permits. Phone, for navigation, music, audiobooks, other list-keepings, and any social media addictions which might need to be indulged. Also, the earbud-phone combination makes it easy to share hotel rooms with family members who might snore. Kindle Paperwhite, so I don’t have to lug fifteen physical books around with me (did I mention I was a bibliophile? Yeah… so maybe I brought a “backup book” just in case I needed reading material, like if my kindle had been swallowed by a dragon or something). That’s it. No mas.
A brief note: Evernote – the free version – syncs across two devices (three if you have a Chromebook). I highly recommend it for any organization-addicts out there. Keep your lists in order, set reminders, and even share notes with others to get your team on the same page.
Second: clothes. Girls, we try to pack for contingencies, and I’m here to tell you that it is bogus. We need to stop. Instead, let’s try shopping broadly. Think simply. You don’t need a comfy travel top while you pack an in-case-of-fancy-dinner blouse. Pick a knit that can do both and move on with life. Don’t take your purse when your wallet will do. Coats: invest in a peacoat and a nice scarf which can double as a shawl – you’ll be warm, fashionable, and versatile.
This last road trip, I experimented with layers. I wore an athletic top (built in support), a light long-sleeve pullover, an open draped sweater thing, and my coat. As the temperatures fluctuated, I removed or added various layers. No matter what, I always had at least two pockets at my disposal for my phone and wallet. It worked flawlessly. I may never travel using another configuration of clothing ever again.
I had a pair of slip-on shoes for the car and the warm weather and a pair of snowboots for the mountains and the drifts. My gloves stayed in my bag the whole time. You should splurge with extra socks. Take enough of everything else, and, should the trip run long, you can go for multiple uses, but pack yourself some extra socks and feel good about life. No one likes putting on used socks. No one.
Comfort won out over style and I wore my black yoga pants the entire trip. Yoga pants and road trips should be like peanut butter and chocolate in your mind. It works. It’s comfortable. You can bust out some stretches at gas stations and feel like a road trip bawse.
A hat. This doesn’t seem to be a standard move for a lot of traveling women, and for the life of me, I don’t know why. I have a sweet little black thing that goes with every single piece of clothing I own. It’s comfy. I can wear headphones with it. It has a brim for sun. It’s fancier than a baseball cap. But the greatest thing a hat does for you – above all else – is to reduce by half the following category…
Girls, if you have a hat you do not need the following: fancy barrettes, hair spray, clips, mousse, or (possibly) even conditioner. In fact, when you pack in your vitamins, brush, tooth-cleaning supplies, and… ahem… essentials. You should have a travel kit smaller than the family bible. Your hat takes care of your head-fashion for you, and you are free.
Go hence, and be liberated from cranial nudity.
Pack what you can eat, and if you can, pack it healthy. Sugar has been linked to inflammation, and if you’re asking your body to do unusual things (like sit behind a wheel for ten hours at a time), you will be more comfortable if you cut the sweets. If you pack chips, you can chill with the fat-fest and maybe just go with some tortilla chips. They pack the crunch you need to stay alert and deliver the salt you need to remind you to hydrate. Apples, yogurt, crackers (with an accompanying baggie of cut cheese slices), tubs of salad, some toasted nuts and seeds, and a treat-bag of homemade cookies can sustain you for days. Days, I say.
Regarding dietary restrictions and eating out…
If you are eating Paleo, figure out a way to make fast-food options work for you. If it’s a Wendy’s… maybe order a hamburger with extra lettuce and then pitch the bun (and grab the fork and plate you packed for just such an occasion). If you’re vegan, most places sell salads nowadays; tell them to hold the cheese and bacon and pack your own salad dressings, so you know you’re getting something you want. Gluten-free peoples, see the Paleo suggestion but remember that Taco Bell sells stuff in corn-chip taco shells. Me, I’m fighting a mild allergy to nightshades (hopefully not for much longer), which means no tomatoes, paprika, eggplant, peppers of any kind, or potatoes. Fries are out of the question, no ketchup on burgers, and no hot sauce of any kind. This scraps most house-sauces, almost all gluten-free things – which are often made with potato starch, potato chips, almost any ethnic cuisine, and I have to be careful to specify to hold the tomato on my burger. I simplify on the road and save the fancy cooking for at home.
A general reminder: you probably aren’t going to run into that “just in case” scenario you concocted while packing and then used to justify adding that thing, this thing, and that other thingamabob. I used to be guilty of packing lots of extra things I didn’t need “just in case”. I have found that I get exactly two small “just in case” items, and I probably don’t use them anyway. As a rule, you can make do without, and if you can’t, we live in a world of Wal-Marts and excessive material options at your local convenience store. If you forget something, you can probably rectify it for less than the cost of a tank of gas. If you must cast yourself upon the hospitality of another, go for it: it feels good to help other people out, so don’t by shy about asking… but do, please, be polite about it.
A final word on packing and traveling like a boss: make a master list and check it twice, fold neatly, use packing cubes, take magnesium if you can (as it will help your muscles relax against unusual uses, uncomfortable seats, pillows, and/or mattresses), and toss a couple bags of your favorite kinds of tea (or healthy kinds of tea, like this which will help your kidneys process any toxins you eat, drink, or breathe while traveling) in along with your extra socks and know that you are ready to face just about anything the next time you hit the road.
To the bibliophiles: the next time you’re at a bookstore and you want to buy that book so, so, so, so badly, but don’t want to weigh down your pack… take a picture of the cover and the back on your phone. If you still want it when you get home, Amazon.com probably has a better price anyway. Unless it is an old book or a jaw-dropping deal. Then I have no advice for you except: buy it and give it to me for Christmas.
And, no, this post is not sponsored by Amazon.com… I just have a problem when it comes to my online shopping. The good kind of problem. The kind that means I don’t leave The Cave any more than I have to.