My Essential Packing vs. Nellie Bly’s

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​Prompt: Author, Matthew Goodman was asked this by Random House in the interview about his book, Ninety Days….

How would you answer the question?

RHRC: Nellie Bly carried only a single handbag for her trip around the world. How would you pack for such a trip? What would you consider the essentials to be brought along?
My answer follows, and as with many of my writings, it veered off the very specific topic of what essentials should be considered to bring along. I may give this a go as part of my summer writing. It would be nice to see if I can stick to a limited topic and a deadline, so lets’s give it a deadline of July 10th. Sound good? It must be; I just felt my anxiety do a little somersault.

I’ve traveled alone only a handful of times, and in those times, only once was I not meeting someone else or staying in somewhat familiar surroundings. That one time was the adventure of a lifetime, and I learned a lot about myself and my abilities. Unfortunately, packing was not one of those things that improved over time. I always take more than I need and more than I should.
Since that first whirlwind solo trip across the Atlantic to meet my college roommate, I continue to keep a list during and after each trip of all the things I brought that I did not use as well as all of the things I forgot. The former list is always much longer than the latter.

I always overpack. I am getting better, but so far, it has been less than ideal. I’ll think I’ve mastered the art of packing for solo traveling and discover when my bag is too heavy or I have too many items to carry with my only two hands. And the ever frustrating, needing to buy a second bag to return home with because my new items ddon’t fit in the already too big bag that I’ve brought for my journey.

My clothes are on the larger size so they are no as easily rollable, foldable, and easy to coordinate and limit pieces that a size eight would have. This is especially difficult in the fall and winter months where sweaters are the standby and pictures are constantly being taken. I don’t want to wear the same outfit in multiple pictures on multiple days. This was not a problem that Nellie Bly contended with, nor do I think she would have cared. After all, her trip around the world wasn’t a pleasure cruise; it was work. According to author, Brooke Kroeger in her book, Nellie Bly: Daredevil, Reporter, Feminist, Nellie Bly had “the dress she was wearing, a sturdy overcoat, several changes of underwear, and a small travel bag carrying her toiletry essentials.”

Obviously I need clothes and a journal, money, minimal toiletries because the retreat house I visit already has soap as do hotels and B&Bs. And for most of my travels, I can buy anything from a drugstore when I get there. It’s not like Nellie Bly’s nineteenth century trip as primitive as some aspects of that would have been. I could probably find everything I need (or forgot) in any modern town despite small size. I do also pack differently for a weekend than I do for a longer trip th].

I also like my accessories. Scarves, cardigans, earrings, necklaces, pins, sneakers for everyday, boots, dress shoes, hats, and all of the other ridiculous fashionable things we subject ourselves to. I say ‘ridiculous’ but I love mine just as much as the next person. I also like an element of the familiar: a certain scarf or pair of earrings, but I still must pack more than one of each.

I have two weekend retreats (one in the summer, and one in the fall) coming up that I need to make my packing lists for, and possibly a family vacation, and it already feels like too much and all I’ve done is write the name of the retreat and the dates on the page of my potential list!

In modern times, my essentials would include my tablet (Kindle Fire), my headphones, my cell phone and the variety of chargers that go along with that. I would also bring along a journal or a notebook and several writing instruments for those times that electricity is not available or wonky. For an around the world trip, I’d also need at least two converter/adapters for foreign countries. Sunglasses and hearing aids plus extra batteries.

Regardless of the weather, I tend to wear capri pants. They’re mostly in jeans fabric, but I do have a pair of cotton taupe colored ones that can be dressed up depending on the shirt and the shoes. I think, though unless I’m attending a wedding or a funeral, we live in a more casual society, so I wouldn’t need anything terribly dressy so that’s one less thing to worry about. For a weekend, one outfit per day plus a travel outfit; a change of underwear and socks for each day, and one pair of sturdy sneakers.

One suitcase on wheels, carry-on size regardless of whether or not I will be traveling by airplane. It’s a good size, and it’s smart if it’s underpacked so newly bought items can be fit in for the way back. A crossbody messenger bag is perfect for personal items, jewelry, medicine, a scarf that doubles as a blanket, some things to do (if I’m not driving), maps, itineraries, pamphlets, snacks.

I also pack a purse to use on the trip, but not for travel; for travel, all of my money and my passport goes in a small pocket of the messenger bag. I also pack a foldable fabric tote. If I don’t bring this, my room becomes a disaster as my piles grow. This way, I can toss wayward items [th] into the tote for organizing later. This is especially helpful if I’m staying with family and want to hide my mess from their sight! It definitely makes me a better houseguest, at least nominally in appearance.

The most important thing I learned about packing, and i learned it the hard way, for any trip is don’t pack more than you can carry. I had this problem on my first solo trip to Wales. I thought that since I was renting a car I could take two bags just so long as they both could be wheeled. This was true in theory, but I hadn’t planned on the time it took to get to the rental car with two bags (through the terminal, outside, up and down two plus curbs), even on wheels, and then to drop off the car and get to my gate at the terminal with the same two bags going back over those original obstacles. For one thing, two bags on wheels being directed by two different hands have a tendency to go off in two different directions. This was gong to be a problem until I checked my one big bag, but because of timing and where the car needed to be dropped off, I had to take it with me to the rental car and then get myself to the ticket counter. I wouldn’t call it a disaster, more of a debacle, but it also wasn’t a whole lot of fun. On our family trip two years ago, we had three bags to check between the six of us, and it was still very difficult to handle and keep track of all of it. And, I should add that my kids are not little, teen and pre-teern, so they were helpful and it was still a continuing concern.

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