The Advantages of Packing Early

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June 29, 2011 by Leah

After I posted an abbreviated version of our itinerary on Facebook, one of my friends commented that it sounded like choir tour. When I was little, I sang in a children’s choir (the Alaska Children’s Choir, to be precise), and we’d go on annual tours. (My parents let me use my Alaska Permanent Fund Dividend checks to fund these trips, figuring international travel was just as educational as college.) Several weeks before leaving, we would receive a fancy booklet containing a very detailed itinerary, a packing list, the uniform clothing we had ordered (if logos had changed or we had grown and the previous year’s stuff no longer fit), and lots of other information. When we were on tour, the grownups would always set up a white board in the lobby or hallway of our hotel. We would check this every night to see what we would be wearing the next day (usually it was something like “black pants, red polo, white sweatshirt”). I always had a fantastic, mind-broadening experience, but only recently did I realize just how easy the tour organizers made things for us.

Granted, I left on my first choir tour when I was nine, having just learned how to use a traveler’s check. I am now 29 (for three more days), and much more capable and experienced. Still, after spending weeks making the travel arrangements, I thought I was going to completely freak out when it came time to pack.

This did not, in fact, transpire, because I discovered that this newfangled thing called the Internet has a wealth of information – it even includes packing lists for European vacations. When I checked out travel guides from the library, I picked both Eyewitness guides (they’re so pretty!) and Rick Steves’ guides (I love his radio show!). Aaron really took a liking to the Rick Steves books, and even booked our Eurail pass through his website (apparently we got a small discount by doing this). Naturally, when it came time to pack, I consulted Rick Steves. His website has gender-specific packing tips and lists, as well as generic advice.

The generic list didn’t have anything about skirts, for example, and I had been planning to wear a knit knee-length skirt for much, if not most of the time we are touring cities. The women’s packing list includes a skirt or two, along with pants and shorts, and even allows the option of a dress. Hooray! I also thought the bit about remembering to allow for the time difference when taking birth control pills (if you take them, that is) was a stroke of genius, as well as the advice that lace underwear dries quickly.

Because I am packing light (exceptions include a fancy outfit – with fabulous shoes – for the wedding we are attending in Italy, and a running outfit), I stopped at REI yesterday to see if they carried travel clotheslines. I was in luck: they did. Then I almost bought Woolite (that’s what I was always taught to use when handwashing clothes), but decided to come home and do research instead. Turns out, castile soap is much gentler and less chemical-laden than the advertised-as-mild Woolite, so my five total ounces of Dr. Bronner’s should see to my person and my clothes nicely. (I have no idea if Aaron is planning on taking three weeks’ worth of clothes or doing laundry, btw.)

The trip to REI was also excellent because I found a Coolmax reversible skirt (light gray with black floral detail one one side, dark gray with light gray hem on the other) on sale for $30, and I had earmarked some birthday money for travel supplies. (I also discovered I had a $47 REI dividend. I love me some co-ops.) I had been planning on taking a faded, pilled black knit skirt in order to try to look more put together than I would if I was in jeans or shorts all the time. A pretty, flattering, new skirt will greatly aid me in my goal of not looking like a slob. Plus, gray instead of black really opened up my shirt/sweater options, and allowed me to come to a final decision on which shoes to take.

Here is where packing early really came in handy. I had been planning to take Keen sandals for hiking and hot days, and running shoes because Aaron insists we need cardio while on vacation, and flip flops for the beach and shared bathrooms, and smoky teal patent leather heels for the wedding, but I really needed some kind of intermediate shoe – one that would feel good after a day spent on my feet but look reasonably cute with skirts or dresses – as well. After looking wistfully at the $100 pairs of shoes at REI, I remembered that I own a pair of Keen Mary Janes. I unearthed them from the floor of my closet and realized they were not in great shape. One seam had come undone; the nubuck was faded and worn; the elastic under the straps had lost all semblance of, well, elasticity.

Luckily for me, my bff Allison is a cobbler’s daughter. I thought of her dad’s advice, which is “buy a pair worth repair,” and realized I’d paid good money for these shoes and I could get another few years’ worth of use out of them, with a little help. The soles are in excellent condition, after all – it was my mistreatment of them by wearing them through salty snow and slush for several years that messed up the uppers. I Yelped “shoe repair” and discovered a little store called The Shoe Doctor right next to the place I bought my last pair of running shoes, less than two miles away. The nice man who owns the place said he’d make all necessary repairs and pretty-up the shoes, for just $25, and by Thursday. I was so elated with this news, I took my Keen sandals (which also had ripped seams – they’ve climbed mountains on three continents, after all) to him for some minor repairs the next day.

I also had a watch repaired this week. I haven’t worn a watch in a long time (I have an iPhone, after all), but we’re going low-tech for this trip. Since we will be needing to catch trains, I unearthed a nice one that was given to me as a bridesmaid present ages ago. Fifteen dollars and five minutes got me a new battery and tightened clasp. I felt so virtuous, getting these old things fixed this week. All the money I spent went to independent local businesses! I didn’t generate any waste! And I will have good shoes to carry me around European cities and mountains. And we will wear watches, instead of carrying smart phones. This means we will actually have to make conversation and gaze into each other’s eyes while eating romantic dinners out. (Apparently, some of my family members were alarmed by the prospect of our not eating out while in Europe, because Aaron and I have gotten quite a bit of early birthday money to help us enjoy our trip. Or maybe it’s because I’m entering a new decade. Either way, my relatives rock, and we will enjoy at least a few nice restaurant dinners.)

Me, modeling choir tour uniform chic.

Massed choirs singing before an Oakland A's game.

More good times on tour: picnicking beside a lake, somewhere in Scandinavia.

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