How to pack

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Tomorrow, I’m flying to Chicago to pick up a van that Rosalie’s aunt is very kindly giving us (we haven’t had a car in a while). I’ll be driving the van back, which is a 2100 mile drive, at least on the route I’m taking, which will take me from freezing, possibly snowing Chicago, all the way through the Ozarks, the north Texas prairie where I grew up, and the mountains and deserts of New Mexico and Arizona. So I need to pack for versatility.

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I’ve traveled quite a lot in my life — less so in the past few years, but a lot more than your average American. Consequently, I’ve developed specific algorithms for what to pack.

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My first rule is: black t-shirts. I always have at least 1.25x as many black t-shirts as the number of days I’ll be gone. Black t-shirts are incredibly versatile — you can wear them under a sportcoat in a pinch, they don’t advertise stains, and you can roll them up for additional space. In this case, I don’t know exactly how long it’ll take me to drive home, so I’m taking six t-shirts, just in case.

Always take at least one or two collared, button-up shirts, just in case. In case of what? Exactly.

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Pants: nice jeans. One pair per day, generally, but in this case I’m driving solo, and frankly I’m only taking three or four pairs this trip. A pair of light shorts for hanging out in hotel rooms, in case you need to step out to get something from the vending machine. And they double as swim trunks, if you need ’em.

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Shoes and socks: I only travel wearing Doc Martens. Not steel toes, if you’re traveling in cold places — trust my bitter experience on that. However, I also take a pair of cheap flip-flops, which I wear to the airport to speed up security. Also good for hotel rooms.

Socks: always carry lots of socks. For this trip, I have three pairs of heavy socks and four pairs of light athletic ones.

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Toiletries: I just shaved my head, so I don’t need shampoo and conditioner. I always carry my old-fashioned double razor, shaving cream, toothbrush and floss and toothpaste. If you’re staying in hotels or motels, they’ll have soap.

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Weapons: This may not apply to you, but I’m driving by myself 3/5ths of the way across the country, and I may sleep in rest stops. For me, it’s my giant Gerber pigsticker and my little Gerber pocket knife. Stowed in checked baggage, of course.

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Electronics: I have a Keen shoulder bag that stores most everything I need: laptop, adapters, a tiny MIDI keyboard in case I get inspired to write music. I also keep a powered USB hub that can charge my phone, ClearSpot (for 4G wireless, where I can get it) and my iPad.

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I’m still debating whether I need to take my actual laptop this trip. If I wasn’t driving, I would probably only take the iPad and my phone, but it’s not like the laptop takes up much more room.

Miscellaneous: When I get to Chicago, I’m stopping at an army/navy surplus store and getting the following:

  • A sleeping bag
  • Chemical hand warmers
  • A couple of MREs (Meals Ready to Eat)

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I’m also bringing a paracord bracelet, a pair of touchscreen-friendly gloves, and a warm hat. Sound like overkill? Maybe…but if anything happens, I’m prepared.

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Even if I get lost and don’t have a cell signal, my iPad has a compass and a GPS locator built in, so I can generally find my way. Despite my reputation as a firm urbanite, I spent my early years out in the country, and I know the basics of surviving and finding my way in the wilderness. Not that I plan to be in the wilderness, but….

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For longer trips, I follow my old buddy Abe Burmeister’s travel tips. Abe spent a few years as a nomad in the last decade, and he told me how he managed to live out of his Boblbee backpack for months at a time.

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Basically, he only traveled with a few items: a couple of pairs of nice pants and a couple of nice shirts and his laptop and cell phone. He didn’t stay continually on the move — he’d be in one town, more or less, for a few weeks at a time — so when he got there, he’d buy a couple of packs of cheap t-shirts and wear them while he was in town. When he left, he’d donate them to Goodwill. This allowed him to travel with a single carry-on bag, pretty much anywhere in the world, with little difficulty. It’s a useful trick.

I’m off to pack. See you when I get home.


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