girlfriend’s essential packing list

packing list for adventure | Chef Gretchen Hanson | girlfriends guide

Twenty things you need on your packing list for your next adventure.

I have had wanderlust since my first independent expedition when I was twelve. All I have ever needed for a guaranteed adventure was a ticket to somewhere new. In my life I have traveled more than I have stayed still in one spot, that being said, I have NEVER been very good at packing. I really wish someone had sat me down a long time ago and given me a packing list for essentials.

The problem is, I really like clothes.

Really…a lot.

So when I traveled, I would (quite literally) pack my entire closet to prepare for any possible circumstance or encounter. If I needed to have tea with the Queen, I had the perfect dress and sparkly chandelier earrings. If a hottie Italian Count just wanted to go yachting for the weekend, I would be prepared with my sporty Wathne bag and perfect Ralph Lauren bandeau.

Polo, opera, hiking, theatre, spelunking… you guessed it: I was going to be prepared for any adventure.

Over the last couple of years I have managed to pare down my sartorial impulses when packing. Don’t get me wrong: if the QEII is taking off tomorrow and I am on the first class deck I will throw these rules out the cabin window.

RULE #1 Define a personal style and stick with it. We all have different personas within our closet. Mine includes: MILF, saucy chef, sophisticated writer, Terminator Mama, you get the idea. Pick one persona that you are taking with you for your trip, and stick with it. Sometimes I will decide to have a day and an evening personal style, but really, no more than two.

RULE#2: Get a smaller suitcase. You can take more stuff, but should you? No, girlfriend, definitely not. No matter how many different outfits I pack, I will still only be able to wear the following simple equation: the amount of days I am gone times two. That includes changing for dinner every night. However, If I’m being completely honest I will wear my Sneaky Sam sweatshirt and Aerie leggings more than everything else put together.

RULE#3: Make a list. Yes, I know you have travelled before but seriously, seriously, make a list. Include on it all the electronics you need, chargers they require, medications, a gauzy lightweight shopping bag, baseball hat for rain, extra Ziploc’s and a bathing suit. If the reason you are putting something on your list is that you ‘might’ need it, then leave it behind.

RULE#4: When it comes to toiletries, go through a regular week and see what you actually use. Not what you THINK you SHOULD use, but what you actually DO. Unless you are actually going on a spa weekend then don’t bring all that shizzit you’ve been saving up for special pampering. Put small amounts of essentials in screw top bottles and put those in plastic Ziplocs that can be sealed and reused. HINT: Albolene is a great item with many uses it takes off makeup and is a great lubricant. Dr. Bronner’s is awesome for body wash. Get the good travel containers. Those cheap ones break and leak everywhere.

RULE#5: Pick a color family. Then lay out your clothes according to outfits not separates. If you are using classic separates, make sure you can switch it three ways. I’m a big fan of single item outfits like one dress makes one outfit. The advantage of color families is that you can use accessories like shoes and bags in multiple outfits and one jacket can cover all your needs.

RULE #6: Pack for the person you are. Not the person you think you are. So often when we are packing we look at that really slinky dress in the back of our closet and we say, “hey I’m going on vacation, now is the perfect chance to BE that person.” The thing is, when we get where we are going the same person actually came along with our luggage. I’m NOT saying don’t go for that crazy adventure, in fact, the exact opposite. Just know who you are and what makes you comfortable. Comfortable clothes equals happy adventurer. When I was in my early twenties I went with my significant other and his assistant on a sailboat to the islands for two weeks. His assistant loathed me with a capital ‘L’ so I packed to impress the assistant, not to be happy. I looked like Madonna, who is beautiful, but not me, I went on a sailing trip for TWO weeks with not one item of clothing that made me feel comfortable in my own skin. Epic fail. Which leads to the corollary:

RULE #7 Do you. Everyone else has packed and left already.

RULE#8 Take two thirds of what you think you need. I promise. You will thank me when you buy those four new pairs of shoes on sale and you still have room in your suitcase.

RULE#9: Don’t dress like a schlump on the airplane. You know who you are. Just STOP it already. This is not your bedroom, I am not your wife, or your mother. I do not want to look at your ass crack or see through your leggings.

RULE #10 Let’s talk about shoes. Everyone loves them. If you are not wearing each pair of shoes with AT LEAST THREE OUTFITS then don’t take them. My last trip I started with seven pairs of shoes. After applying this rule I was down to three pairs of boots and a pair of flip flops. It will also help you to eliminate that one outfit, earrings, eye shadow, lipstick, shoes that you just have to have that go with nothing else. The exception to this is a special event and then anything goes – throw it all in the bag with impunity.

RULE#11 Put on your makeup on for a regular day. Pack only what you used, plus one extra lipstick and one extra eye shadow. NOTHING ELSE. Pack only as much jewelry as you can carry on you AT ALL TIMES.  Put in one quart size Ziploc MAX. If you can get away with less, do it.

RULE#12 Take multiple payment methods and a Xerox of your passport. Keep them in different spots. Pick pockets are real. Hacking happens. Have a backup plan if everything on you gets lifted. The same thing goes for your cell phone. Keep hard copies of travel itineraries and flight numbers and airports in a separate place. I make myself a folder with copies of everything I need to know if my phone disappears. Be prepared, be careful and pack your street smarts. My grandfather used to always say, “spectacles, testicles, wallet and watch” when he would walk out the door. If you have your equivalent necessities you are probably going to be ok. Just make sure that you are the one carrying them.

RULE #13 NEVER ever, ever, leave home without a sense of humor. This is the most important thing you will take with you so make sure it is bright and shiny and easily accessible. There will be ridiculous delays and the guy sitting next to you on those uncomfortable airport chairs will smell, have a weird laugh, bend over and let you see his butt hair and then talk too loudly on the phone. Go with it. Think of the stories you can tell if you absorb the experience rather than sitting there stewing. The best stories come from the worst experiences.

RULE#14 Take suspended expectations and leave behind your sense of Western entitlement. Be prepared to wait with good humor, get accidentally touched without freaking out, have people cut in front of you in line, get rained on without making everyone around you miserable, and get delayed or bumped without being a total bitch. In the United States we are pretty sure we are the center of the civilized world, so leave THAT person behind and bring the five year old you who is just so GOSH DARN EXCITED about this adventure that you just might have to break out and dance with glee right now. Did I tell you I’m at the Berlin Wall!!! That’s right (!) that five year old ‘you,’ should be your constant travel companion. The world is glorious. Pack your kindness.

RULE#15 Please, please, please, don’t make us more of a laughing stock than we already are. Look, it’s blunt girlfriend time. I first found out that Americans were not loved around the world when I was in Ireland. That was IRELAND for Heaven’s sake, you don’t even want to know about the Middle East. Trust me, we have not endeared ourselves to the rest of the world. You are not the center of the universe. Neither is your country. There is a big blue world out there. Pack your humility.

RULE #16 Oh my gosh, I am so sorry to tell you this, but not everyone speaks English. Take a few hours to learn rudimentary language basics like, ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ and ‘where is the bathroom.’ Just trying will endear you more than speaking loudly until someone ‘understands’ you. Pack some language tools and some basic manners.

RULE #17 Whatever country you are in has a rich and wonderful cultural tradition. Your resort, your cruise ship, your all inclusive, do not even begin to explore where you are. Get lost, wander, wonder and discover a world that is so very different than the one you just left behind. Pack your sense of wonder.

RULE #18 And the most important corollary; stop being the ugly American who always needs to be the center of attention. We don’t own the world. We just think we do. As I write this I am sitting in a traditional bar inside of the city of Berlin. There is no English being spoken and the babble and loudness are spectacular. Life is amazing when we stop trying to control it.

RULE #19 Everyone has travel karma. You can create better karma by being patient and warm and loving to the rest of the human species who share the planet. When you are traveling, time stands still. You can dive deep into whatever experience is right in front of you. If you are too impatient to get to the next place you will miss the moment that is right in front of you. The journey is taking you to exactly where you are at that moment.

RULE #20 The detour is the adventure. Go find yours.

4 Responses

  1. Great advice as I get ready to travel to Eastern Europe for the first time! I will say, last year I went to Spain for two weeks with only 2 pairs of sandals and that was plenty of shoes!

  2. Excellent advice! 🙂 Learn to say “What’s the best local beer?” and “So beautiful!” in the native language and you’ll make friends wherever you go.

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