Ever since I can remember, people have laughed about how long it takes women to get dressed.
I have never understood this.
That’s not entirely true. I understand the stereotype they’re talking about. It’s just that, in my experience, it’s men that take forever to get dressed. The hours I have spent sitting on a couch with my stepmother, waiting for my father to emerge so that we can go to whatever event we’re going to… I cannot calculate them, my friends. They stretch into infinity.
Where fashion is concerned, my father has always been the Don Draper of his time: meticulously dressed, coiffed to perfection, ready for his close-up whether we were going to dinner with neighbors or going to a major event.
I did not inherit this gene.
The day of my senior homecoming dance, I mowed the lawn and painted the garage. My date may have arrived as I finished up, and may have looked stricken with a sudden bout of the pox. I finished, took a shower, dried my hair, put on some lipstick and mascara, put on my dress and my heels, and walked out. As I recall, his jaw dropped, and in a good way. The transition from drenched-with-sweat to high school dance photo-op took me 15 minutes (yes, I timed it).
That’s not to say I don’t have a sense of style – I do, and it’s generally “flattering summer dress” – or that I don’t appreciate fashion. But for me, fashion has to be functional. If not, there’s no point. That applies double for traveling.
Decades of traveling have convinced me of several things. First, you will never wear half the things you pack in a suitcase. Second, you will have to schlep those items everywhere, so you might as well pack clothes for one week and just wash them. Third, if you can pack it all in one backpack that does not make you appear like a method actor in a community theater production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, even better.
Which brings me to rolling.
Physicists may be able to hold forth at length as to why rolling your clothes rather than folding them allows you to pack more items into a backpack. I can only stipulate that we are unknowingly engaging in an ancient ritual that opens folds within the space-time continuum, making your pack bigger on the inside. But roll you must. Folding, friends, will not do. Only rolling your clothes tightly, and individually, will yield the results you seek.
For this two-month trip, I’m taking my backpack. Not a backpack designed for international travel: a regular Swiss Gear backpack. It has two compartments and a small mesh sack on each side. Because IcelandAir allows two carryons, I’m splurging and taking a messenger bag with me as well, which holds my MacBook Air and various cords. But that’s it.
Yet the pack, with its two compartments, holds the following: a blue dress, three pairs of shorts, three dress shirts, four casual shirts, three pairs of socks, one pair of heavy sandals, one pair of flip-flops, a large pashmina shawl, a swimsuit, a skirt, leggings, toiletries, makeup, and all necessary undergarments. Rolling is the way to go.
You’ll notice the absence of bulky things, such as jeans and sweaters. I tend to wear these on the plane, so I don’t have to pack them, or just abandon them altogether. Since I’m traveling warm climates in the summer, no jeans are necessary – and I’m wearing the only light sweater that’s going with me, along with my tennis shoes. You also want clothes that won’t wrinkle. I have crafted a lifestyle that stringently avoids both algebra and ironing, so I don’t need to purchase special clothes; I just take what I like to wear.
I recently heard an interesting bit of travel advice: namely, that you should always take one business outfit, just in case you find yourself meeting a business contact. I have a black jersey skirt and a black wrap top rolled up and ready to go, and I’m wearing a turquoise silk scarf on the plane. To quote Nathan Lane from The Birdcage, “One does want a hint of color.”
You can also always purchase items on the go, if need be. It’s not ideal, but you can make it work. I’m not taking shoes for a business meeting with me, but I feel sure I can find some black kitten heels somewhere, should the occasion arise… and I can always ship them home. For that matter, should I find this pack is too heavy, I can always ship some of the items home and keep traveling. And that’s really the point, isn’t it?