How To Pack For a Three Week Book Tour

First: Don’t check luggage. I have a dozen flights in these three weeks. That’s a dozen chances for four separate airlines to lose my luggage. If you give them that many shots on the goal, they will score, and your luggage will be lost, and as you’re rarely in the same place for more than one day, your luggage may never catch up. So: Carry on. I have a roller bag, in which are my clothes and toiletries, and a travel bag into which I put my electronics and other things I want to be able to unpack at a moment’s notice.

Second: Decide to have a casual look, which is to say you’ll do better with clothes you can tightly jam into a carry-on, like tee-shirts or short-sleeved polo shirts and jeans, all of which de-wrinkle on their own after about ten minutes of you wearing them. I’m going to be the first to admit that this is much easier to do if, say, you are a dude writing science fiction, as I am, since the level of expected sartorial sophistication for science fiction male is “Don’t show up with Kool-Aid spilled down the front of your tee shirt.” Yes, this is a very low standard. When I am on the road for three weeks, I am happy to let a very low standard work for me.

That said, you can pack better clothing than I do into a carry-on and still make it work. Mary Robinette Kowal can pack as many days worth of clothing into a carry-on as I can, and still — unfathomably — have space for a ball gown. No, I have no idea how she does it. Ask her. I do think an iron is involved somewhere. But in a general sense, casual is better if you can get away with it.

Third: Have a scheduled laundry stop somewhere in the tour, which means that what’s on the schedule for some portion of one day is you shoving your clothes into a washer (and then a dryer), either at a laundromat or at the residence of a sympathetic friend. I don’t care how good you are at clothing Tetris, if you’re over a meter tall, you’re not fitting three week’s worth of clothes into a carry-on. At some point you will need to wash things. You must put this on your schedule; if you don’t schedule it, it won’t happen.

For what I think are obvious reasons, it’s best if the laundry day is scheduled at (or just after) the halfway point in your tour. My laundry day on this tour is on Day 12, which is slightly less than optimal for a 21-day jaunt, but still perfectly doable. This means I have twelve days of clothes in my bag plus the clothes on my back that I wore the first day of the tour (13 days in all). This means a very tightly packed carry-on.

Laundry day is also another reason to pack casual clothes: I’ll be jamming all my shirts and socks into one load and all my jeans and underwear into the other. Two loads, done.

Fourth: Rolling is magic. The key to putting twelve days of clothing into a single carry-on is have each bit of clothing take of the smallest amount of room as possible, with a minimum of surface area. The means taking every bit of clothing and rolling them into a highly compact tube, and then pushing them as tightly as possible next to each other. There are other ways to make your clothes small and compact, but this is my favorite, for two reasons: One, it’s easy to do — you don’t have to be a scientist to roll a pair of jeans — and two, it makes it easy to both extract and replace clothing during the trip: Pull out one clean tube, replace it with one worn tube (I turn my worn clothes inside out before I put them back into the carry-on so I know at a glance which things are clean and which are not).

So, having said all that, what’s in my bags?

Roller bag:

Six pairs of jeans (plus one pair on my body at any one time): You can wear jeans for more than one day (provided you don’t make a mess of yourself), they’re durable and they can take a fair amount of abuse. This makes them excellent tour clothing. They can be bulky but again you can wear them for more than one day so it evens out.

Seven polo shirts: Easily packable but can be worn to places where t-shirts are not appropriate. I have business meetings during this trip, for example, so I’ll be wearing those then.

Five tee-shirts (plus the one I wore on the first day): These are good for travel days and other casual events; I’ll mostly be wearing t-shirts when I am at Phoenix Comic Con, for example.

12 pairs of socks; 12 pairs of underwear (plus the pairs I was wearing on the first day). Because you do need these. Really.

Toiletry bag: Which includes toothbrush, floss, Q-Tips, razor, beard trimmer, Claritin, tissues and underarm deodorant plus a couple other things. I don’t tend to bring my own shampoo or soap because those are generally available in the hotel rooms; also on the road I tend to use soap for when I shave.

Travel bag:

Laptop: because I am doing writing/doing other computing-intensive things on the road and want a fully-capable computer.

iPad: for more casual use (tweeting on planes, reading books etc)

Phone: this stays mostly in my pocket but occasionally gets stuffed into the bag. Aside from all the things a modern smartphone can do, it’s also a portable 4G hotspot, which means that in general I do not have to suffer at the hands of terrible hotel/airport wifi. Also, this phone is a Razr Maxx, which means that it has an extra large-capacity battery, which is handy when one is on the road.

Battery: This is a 9900mAh outboard battery that I use to recharge my phone and iPad; it can charge each of these a couple of times (or one of them a few times) before it’s totally drained. This is great for travel because I never worry about not having a charge for my portable electronics (except the laptop). It also means that I don’t have to do the Sad Airport Wall Socket Walk, desperately looking for someplace to plug in my phone.

Paperback book: Because they still make you turn off your electronics on the plane, which is stupid, but whatever. I will replace the paperback a couple of times over the course of the tour; fortunately, I’m often at bookstores, where doing this is easy.

Extra pair of glasses: Because it would suck not to be able to see.

Pens: For signing books and writing on other things. Not every store that has me come for a signing remembers that in order to sign a book I need a pen. Also, in a general sense when I have a preference for medium-weight gel ink pens, and not every store has those, so I bring my own in case.

Sweatshirt: Because planes and other spaces can be cold, and casual shirts are good at keeping one warm. Also makes an acceptable pillow for air travel if necessary.

Baseball cap: For when I am out in the sun and don’t want to get a sunburn on my bald spot and/or for mornings when I need to briefly leave my hotel room before I take a shower, because then my hair looks like hell.

Snacks and gum: For long plane rides and times when I’m so busy I will forget to eat, which happens more often than you might think. The temptation is just to stuff Snickers bars in there, but in fact I do try to snack more responsibly than that. I’m also careful to balance out snacking with a) counting calories so I don’t gain a bunch of weight on tour b) actually eating well when I’m taken places to eat. Be that as it may, it’s not a bad thing to have something to eat at your fingertips, especially if, like me, low blood sugar tends to make you cranky. This is no good when you’re supposed to be nice to people, as, for example, one is supposed to be on a book tour.

The one drawback of traveling so compactly for such a long period of time is that I have almost no space to add anything to my packing. This can be a problem because fans do occasionally like to give me gifts, which is awesome (usually) but then presents the issue of what do I do with the gift. If I have a handler at the stop (someone who drives me around, makes sure I’m where I’m supposed to be, and keeps me on schedule), I will ask them to mail that stuff home for me; otherwise I might have the bookstore do it. So if you are a fan and you give me something, be aware it’s not going with me to the next stop; it’s being shoved into a box and will catch up with me at the end of my travels. I don’t think this will bother most folks but you never know, which is why I note it.

And that’s how you (or at least, I) travel for a three-week book tour.


75 Comments on “How To Pack For a Three Week Book Tour”

  1. The “turn dirty clothes inside out” is a keeper tip. I can’t count the number of times I’ve given up and simply thrown every piece of clothing in my suitcase into the washing machine.

  2. I’m going to hop over to Mary Robinette Kowal’s site, and see if she’ll share her tour-packing secrets with us SF writers of the female persuasion…. Because, ya know, sometimes you just gotta have that ballgown.

  3. Wow, you pack like an archaeologist! (That’s a compliment by the way.) Except I see that writers don’t have to worry about carrying cow skeletons with them… (True story – – when I went to Greece in 1982 to do my dissertation research, which was a study of animal bones, I took a cow skeleton with me, wrapped in my clothing. I got some weird looks. And on the way home in 83, I brought back a sample of pottery for a classmate’s research. Man, I set off every single airport alarm between here and Athens, because the clay had a high iron content and x-rayed as totally black. Thank God for the extensive (2″) of paperwork I was carrying to explain it. I was the most hated passenger on our plane.)
    Hope you enjoy the trip — and don’t lose anything. I’m hoping to come up to Cleveland to see you in June.

  4. Rose and I should take you hat shopping the next time we’re in the same space together to upgrade from that baseball cap. Unless it’s a beloved sports team cap or something. I think people have those.

    Think flatcap – packable, more stylish. All the cool kids are wearing them. Also, you should get a cloche for the wife.

    Travel wise, I go for a large, but not uncheckable backpack. Because hauling two things, even with wheels is a drag. I’m going to see if my recent purchase of a Kelty Redwing 50 is workable next time I fly. It’s certainly good for a long weekend trip to Boston.

    Finally, if you’re ever traveling to NYC, we’re chock full of places that pick up dirty laundry and drop it off next-day, washed and folded.

  5. I once went on a business trip to San Francisco with just a carry-on, and managed to bring business-attire (this was my first business trip ever; now I mostly wear the same clothes I wear to work in, which is to say jeans and a T-shirt. Hurrah for casual businesses), tourist clothing, and an entire costume including a shovel in my carry-on-wheelie-bag.

    I got some odd looks from airport security about the shovel.

  6. Hubby’s profession unfortunately requires him to wear a suit when he’s out in public Doing His Thing. He’s given up on packing multiple, colored dress shirts, and trying to remember which tie goes with which shirt. Now he packs one suit, one white shirt (very rarely two suits/shirts, he’s not usually gone that long), and several ties.

    He also tells me that, while his smartphone *can* double as a mobile hotspot, he prefers instead to use our regular ISP’s mobile hotspot when he travels. His phone generally only gets him 3G, and it eats into his data plan. The separate mobile hotspot usually gets him 4G.

  7. If you’re keeping your clothes tightly rolled with rubber bands, then you can use two different colors of band – one color for clean, one for dirty. It means you’ll need to add a handful of the dirty-color bands to your carry list, but it saves the time and effort of inverting clothing twice.

  8. I have about a dozen thin laundry bags, which I put my rolls in. Clean clothes go in bright colors, used go in dark colors. I always bring spares, and there are enough colors that I can sort on type: underwear, dark non-underwear, pale non-underwear, etc. That way when I come home everything is presorted and I can grab, say, the small, black laundry bag in order to wash all the thin, woolen socks in one go, just by pouring the contents of the bag into the washing machine.

    BTW, laundromats are quite rare many places, like in much of Europe.

  9. Ditto on the thin plastic laundry bag(s). Keeps the stink out of the clean clothes.

  10. If y’all are up for some excellent geekery on the subject of packing, take a look at One Bag The author presents a packing list that outlines how to travel out of a carry on bag forever. I can’t afford to travel, but I love going to the site to think about the freedom of having just a few useful possessions.

  11. On the chance that I might make one of your book signings one day, would you appreciate it if a gift came with a one-stamped flat rate shipping box so you would be able to address and mail it home?

  12. I think you could get away with fewer jeans. for rolling and stuffing, we use 8 # orange bags. work great.

  13. I travel constantly for work. Be glad your luggage doesn’t include a 66 lb case full of industrial tools and instruments. I’ve never had an airline lose a bag. My 6 colleagues and I fly on average 100 flights/year each and the average is one lost bag/year each.
    Snacks are essential for travel. You never know if you’ll get a meal when you expect one. I jam Clif bars into the interstices of my carryon. Too many times that’s all I’ve had for nutrition until I figure out how to say ‘omelet’ in the local tongue.
    As far as laundry goes, hotels will usually get it done for you within 24 hours. If I need some clothes washed I check in early, offload the filthy duds right away and ask for them ASAP.
    Your packing description is very complete and reasonable. There’s one more thing that I always carry; a few trash bags. Every once in a while I have clothes that get wet or unreasonably soiled. It’s good to be able to isolate them until they can be dealt with.
    On my 2 plane trips this week, Norfolk VA and Albany NY I read the paperback edition of the Whatever book, which brought me to this blog!

  14. Thanks for the tips. I find hair conditioner to be superior to soap for shaving and as to extra room, if I get a chance I will stop near the end of a long trip and ship dirty clothes home via UPS. Obviates the need for another bag.

    Enjoy your work.


  15. A comment on carrying on luggage. Bags that meet regulation size for overhead bins can usually be ‘gate checked’ at boarding. You get a claim tag and they hand-load it in a cargo hold at that time. You don’t have to wrestle it into the passenger cabin and stow it but you can be sure it’s going with you. Gate checked bags are also exempt from the new luggage charges that airlines now levy on most bags.

  16. I have gotten to a point in my traveling career where for me, what you describe would be overpacking in a major way. I honestly can’t remember the last time I traveled with more than three pairs of pants – and this includes trips of two months or more in duration. Granted I can add a skirt and/or a dress to mix it up a little. But I will usually have one pair of jeans, one pair of khakis (lighter weight, pack smaller) and one pair of dressier pants.

    This would allow more t-shirts/polos or whatever. Or just more space, less weight to carry, which is a big deal. I’m mostly a bundle-wrapper, converted a few years ago from an exclusive tube-roller. These days there are usually a few bundles and a few tubes to fill in around the edges. It’s true that the tubes are much faster to get out, but it’s also true that bundle-wrapping saves a ton of space AND is much better for your clothes.

    If you get travel-optimized underwear and socks, you need far fewer than 12 of each, because you can wash them in a hotel sink and they will dry overnight. Actually I pretty frequently wash all my clothes in a hotel sink and they dry overnight with strategic use of the radiator.

    For everything other than underwear and socks, my opinion is that people generally need far fewer clothes changes than they think they do. Americans have a weird obsession with only putting on Extremely Clean clothes.

  17. Such exquisite timing on this post – I’m going on a nearly three week vacation next week. While I’m planning on checking a bag (because, souvenirs), I’ve been using the rolling method for packing clothes for several years now. This can work with even dressier clothes, as I hang the wrinkled clothes as soon as I arrive at my hotel; letting the steam from my next morning’s shower kill the rest of the wrinkles for me. I also roll the dirty clothes back up and put them into a dirty clothes bag to keep everything separate.

  18. A very thoughtful fan who is giving you things might have such gift(s) pre-packaged and postaged, but open so you could see and then have you take it & address it yourself. Granted, you’d have to find a post office (or, more likely, have your minions find a post office).

  19. Just make sure everybody that your “carry-on” is actually carry-on size. It is super rude to drag a huge duffel or backpack onto the plane and then fill a whole overhead compartment with it. Also, many carry-on sized bags don’t fit if they are expandable and you fully expand them. The carryon should go perpendicular into the compartment, not sideways! A friendly message from your neighborhood obsessive compulsive luggage nazi.

  20. Agree with Thisbe: travel underwear (along with pants, woven blouses/shirts, etc.) can be washed (in hotel’s shampoo), so you don’t need to pack daily changes. Also worth consideration: what can you pack that you’re willing (or eager) to leave behind? Worn-once-more socks, read-once paperbacks, and “trash and trinkets” T-shirts can open up room in your luggage for souvenirs that you buy along the way. I usually have a lighter carry-on coming home than going out, as long as I avoid getting books or rocks as souvenirs.

  21. Smartwool socks – they make you sweat more (they are wool after all), but they don’t stink even if wearing for several days. Also dry very, very quickly. Might help to free up some space.

  22. Socks and shirts? Underwear and jeans? You mean you don’t separate by color? I’m shocked, shocked.

    Sadly I will miss your Seattle date as I have a higher ranking engagement. Sigh. Next time.

  23. DH and I have discovered that a sturdy backpack (Mine is medium sized with a leather bottom, from Jansport, and has lasted across 4 continents) is invaluable. It will fit under the seat in front of you in a pinch, may be carried and leave your hands free, and holds at least 2 weeks of clothing. Unless we can’t get to a post office, or con a friend into going for us, anything acquired along the way is mailed home. Very few souvenirs must be hand carried. We also subscribe to the ‘abandon in place’ theory: we take clothing that is on its last legs and can be discarded, and wear it at times when we don’t need to impress anyone, like on an overnight train.

    Re: laundry, Purex makes all-in-one washing sheets, with soap, de-wrinkler, and fabric softener that just transfers throughout the cycle with the sheet. 2 or 3 will fit into a Ziploc, and make laundry day much easier.

  24. Welcome to Phoenix!
    I doubt I’ll be at the Con, but tons of people I know will be there.
    I just found your book, “Your Hate Mail Will Be Graded,” and couldn’t stop reading it there in the bookstore….made me curious to check out this blog.

  25. A three-week book tour, a three-week book tour . . .

    Why would you need to shave? I thought that was the whole point of having a beard.

    And do you have a preference for a particular color of gel pen when signing books?

  26. I never check bags if I can possibly avoid it. Saves so much hassle not needing to do the check-in and then not needing to wait forever to pick it up. So I appreciate that you’ve got that point as #1.

  27. Fewer jeans, more shorts/manpris/shants. Sandals and flip-flips also mean you don’t need to bring all those socks… Short sleeve button down shirts also take up only slightly more space than polo shirts, but are infinitely less “i’ve given up” and much classier looking.

    Well, I mean, it works with warm-ish weather traveling at least.

    Dr. Bronner’s is AWESOME for traveling. You can use the same product for, well, everything.

    Poly-pro stuff is great as well. Wash in the sink, hang t up, it’s dry the next morning.

  28. Packing hints…having just come home from two weeks in heaven (Mendocino, that is). Ziploc bags are the second greatest invention of modern times, ranking right after Velcro. Ziplocs have held everything from toiletries (preventing leaks) to wet/dirty clothing to pounds of sand & rocks (souvenirs, we tend to bring home chunks of landscape). Chuck a few into the bag, they’re small, they weigh nothing, and you never know when you’re going to have to hold something small, liquid, or fragrant. Or get an ice-pack for an aching head. They work well for that, too.

    I have a friend who travels, contrary to every mother’s rule, with old, dingy underwear. Then instead of washing after wearing, she throws each pair away, and thus makes room in her luggage for More Stuff. Of course, if you don’t have 21 pairs of old, trashy underwear, I guess you have to pack underwear that will tolerate a wash or two, but not more.

    Personally, I can get everything I need for a week into one large duffel, I just plan to wash once a week, rather than once per trip. (I take night-shirts, I notice you don’t mention night-wear, so either you’re sleeping commando or doing the shorts & t-shirt thing)

  29. If you can go more casual, socks can be optional. Sadly, sandals probably won’t cut it at a business meeting.

  30. I have found that the Eagle Creek Folders pack stuff more tightly than rolling, and allow you take a couple of more nicer shirts (as in button downs) should you want to dress it up a little bit. I don’t work for the company, I’m just a happy customer

    As an additional hint, I use a garbage bag to segregate my dirty laundry from the clean.

    I understand the urge to never check laundry, but I also find people who expect to have 8 cubic feet of storage for their carry on stuff annoying and inconsiderate. If I were doing a three week tour, I’d probably check a bag, but keep three days worth of clothes in a smaller carry on.

  31. I got a Tom Bihn Tristar, and successfully travelled budget airline in Europe (ie, on a flight which was very strict about bag sizes), with a small child and carry-on only. When I think of the trips we took before child (both light packers, so small bags), and the ones with baby (3 large bags between us, mainly holding nappies and spare everything), this is a major advance. I mention it because you are hitting Seattle on this trip, and that’s where TB is based. They do expensive, but seriously lovely bags that will make you an organised packer.

    I’d also be looking into whether any of the hotels could do you laundry en route, so you could reduce the number of clothes, but that’s me. I have posted unnecessary stuff home before, which could free up space for gifts in the latter part of your trip.


  32. Wow, you pack a lot. Personally, I never pack more than 3 items of each type, and wash them in the hotel sink. 3 undies, 3 bras, 1 dress, 1 skirt, 1 pant, 1 blouse, 1 sweater, 3 slips/cammie pieces, 3 footies, and 3 pair of shoes. I can fit it all in smaller a carry-on with my laptop and toiletries. I also tend to choose wool and cotton knits, because they pack small, don’t wrinkle, wash easy, dry fast, and wool doesn’t pick up odors. This combo can be maintained indefinitely, and allows for clothing suitable for nearly any situation.

    I think you might be taking up more space than you need by going super casual with so many thick, bulky, hard to wash jeans. Also, jeans are kind of heavy, have you noticed? That’s a lot of extra weight to be dragging through airports and lifting over your head.

  33. Okay, okay, but how would you pack for a three HOUR tour? What if the tour boat were named Minnow?

  34. If I thought I’d be travelling again, I’d definitely want to know Mary Robinette Kowal’s secrets. I’ve got a carry-on sized rolling bag, which is in the coat closet and filled with my “in case of emergency/go-bag” stuff, because backpacks and I no longer get along well. Also have a smaller bag that has a fabric… [word? bloody damned anomic aphasia] bit that slips over the handle of the rolling bag. I now have a laptop, though, which won’t fit in that smaller bag… hmmmm…

    On my second trip to the UK, I ended up having the friend I was staying with ship home a carton of my clothing, so I could bring all 48 books I’d acquired home with me immediately. *And* still had forgotten one of the books… The customs people just looked at my declaration form, shook their heads, and passed me through.

  35. BTW, laundromats are quite rare many places, like in much of Europe.

    Oddly enough, I didn’t have too much trouble finding ones last year reasonably close to my hotels in Potsdam/Berlin, Amsterdam, Brussels and London. Yeah, it required time and effort to get there — and do the business — but hotel laundry charges? Well, when you’re on a budget and/or not charging everything to a company credit card the old proverb about fools and money comes to mind. (Added benefit: Meeting really interesting people in parts of town that are no less fascinating for not usually getting into the guidebooks.)

  36. I have heard the “wash your clothes in the hotel sink!” advice from a number of people, but aside from my fast-drying hiking shirts, I don’t have very much that will actually dry properly in eight hours indoors while draped over a shower rod.

  37. Advice noted for later and not read now.

    For a two day stay?
    Panties. 3.
    Socks. 6 pairs.
    Shoes. In the box, New, one pair.
    Shoes, on the feet, New, one pair.
    Pants, 2.
    Shirts, 4.
    Kindles, 0. Laptops, 0. etc. such things? 0.
    Vase, 1. Real flowers, 0. Fake flowers, some pretty ones for the vase.

  38. Fifth: UPS is usually MUCH cheaper than cleaning on site doesn’t weigh anything for you and lets you vary your wardrobe greatly with very little effort. Take your first few days’ clothes with you in a smaller bag, plan on a restocking point when you can sign for a delivery and dump dirty stuff in the box, retape and send back to yourself.

  39. Admittedly, my idea of a carry-on is an A-3 bag. But even so, I think there are a few things Our Gracious Host left off his list of essentials for the non-formal-business-attire set:

    A backup pair of shoes, probably “dressier” than the ones worn for regular travel. Some of us do NOT have common foot sizes… and sometimes them puddles in unfamiliar cities soak one’s shoes so badly that it’s worth changing to the backup pair in the nearest w/c (I’ve done that more than once). They’re also a source of spare shoelaces!

    A lightweight jacket of some kind — sport jacket for men (both Lands End and JC Penney have excellent, inexpensive travel jackets), and something appropriate to the season for women (whatever that is, I’m not good at figuring it out). By preference, I’d leave the sweatshirt behind in favor of the jacket, and even wear the jacket on my first travel leg; the extra pockets in the jacket more than make up for any inconviences, and make getting through even Israeli airport security much more convenient.

    A small notepad and fine-point felt-tip pen, stored in an outer pocket of the “briefcase” or in the jacket, because sometimes you need to give someone else your contact information and phones aren’t available/appropriate (e.g., leave a note on a windshield). When that happens, Murphy’s Law indicates that there will not be a substitute available.

    At least one Hawaiian-print shirt. This is an absolute necessity.

  40. the Sad Airport Wall Socket Walk

    Well, it is at least gratifying to know that this has a name.

  41. I spent about 8 weeks away from home a few years ago, initially going to New Zealand then on to Japan and laundry was a big concern when it came to packing, especially since I would be crossing the equator mid-journey (winter to summer). I didn’t expect any trouble in NZ as backpacker hostels all have laundrettes in them but it turns out that when the driers aren’t working you *can’t* rely on hostel staff to even put a note up, nevermind fix the problem (this went on for 2 or 3 days). Finding a laundrette proved to be less stressful in Nagasaki than in Christchurch, despite the sum of my Japanese language skills amounting to *thank you very much* along with smiling and pointing.

    Among the highlights of my trip were the awards and plaudits I received from the younger backpackers (I was only 29 at the time, but those kids made me feel OLD!) for teaching them that rolling things up when packing made for more room in their bags. Young minds successfully blown. Yep, I felt REALLY old.

  42. I also highly recommend the “one bag” travel list. Google it for a packing list, suggested gizmos, and travel advice.

    For drying things in a hotel, after wringing them out by hand, roll up the wet clothes in a dry towel and squeeze (stomp, smash) the roll. This gets most of the water out before you put it on the shower rod (or a travel clothes line as recommended by one-bag.)

    I’ve found a travel surge protector with USB ports is also very handy for both the airport and the hotel. (I bought one by Monster Power that is definitely rated for 120/240V for international usage, but it doesn’t have an extension cord which would be nice sometimes.)

  43. (disclaimer, this probably only applies to dudes)

    @Jaws, Backup shoes are only really necessary if you don’t have a pair of semi-dressy waterproof boots – the ones I currently have aren’t made anymore but Timberland makes a similar pair IIRC – pull-on style, plain black leather. I have to buy them online or when I’m traveling because retailers assume in Southern California that because we have a perfect climate a) it never rains, ever, and b) no one would wear a pair of waterproof shoes if it wasn’t raining, even if they look perfectly attractive. They’re also good for warding off the random dog/human waste and general street grime in any big city.

  44. A fun read, given I just came back from 9 days in England with 2 bags and a checked suitcase. United managed not to lose or destroy my suitcase, so I call it a win. Even if my feet still do hurt.

    My amendment to your list would be to pack extra underwear. Because it’s small, and well – YOU JUST NEVER KNOW. Also, if you’re a woman, you can wear a bra for two days instead of one, so that cuts down a little too (not to mention, you don’t have to then run out and buy more bras to go on a long trip. Because they are unfairly expensive).

  45. “The weather started getting rough, the tiny plane was tossed … “

  46. I went to a seminar where a consultant described his pitch to FedEx. First he described his routine of traveling weekly to 5 different locations. He would pack for three days and ship 2 days supplies to the Tuesday night hotel via FedEx. Then he shipped the dirty clothes back home in the same box.

    His pitch to FedEx they should provide cleaning services. He could pack up dirty clothes, put it in a box, FedEx would clean them and ship it to the next hotel cheaper then the hotel would do it. The idea was rejected. :)

  47. (1) insert here mathematical meanderings about Traveling Salesman Problem, in graph theory, requiring the most efficient (i.e., least total distance) Hamiltonian cycle a salesman can take through each of cities. No general method of solution is known, and the problem is NP-hard.

    (2) Comment that when clean shirts are used up, one switches to “least dirty shirt” algorithm.

    (3) Recall that optimum for travel between city A and City B is to have identical homes in each, fully equipped with identical sets of clothing, so that all one needs to take on the plane is the house key

  48. Ah, I see we’re having the Packing Olympics in the comment thread, with two events: 1) The “No, no, no, I can do it much better than you” Decathlon, and 2) The “You think you have it so tough, see what *I* have to pack!” Relay.

  49. David:

    Nah, just sharing information. I think.

    That said, here and on Twitter people have told me I’m packing too many jeans and that I shouldn’t wash them as often as I do, they can stay unwashed for much longer. To which I say, maybe you like your jeans that way. But I definitely notice when they have more than two days wear in them, and I don’t like how they feel then. So. Into the laundry with them.

  50. @David: That’s one way to look at it, I suppose. Personally, I used to pack like crap, but many people gave me advice over the years, most of which was very helpful, and made me a calmer, happier traveler. I guess I could keep it all to myself, and chortle with superiority from my secret batcave, but I don’t see the point.

    John is free to ignore all the tips and tricks posted; he is also free to consider each, weigh it against his personal needs and preferences, and perhaps make traveling a little easier on himself.

  51. I’d love to be able to do this, but about half my carry-on is full of medicines, and thus I have to check things.

    I’ve sent a whole lot of UPS boxes of laundry home through the years, though, in favor of more interesting stuff. And all my dirty laundry came home once through the Royal Mail, cheapest class, in favor of books and stuff. (Downside: 3 weeks trans-Atlantic didn’t improve it any. Yikes.)

    And Ziploc bags are the best. So are protein bars.

  52. Also, store brand spray bottle of Febreze equivalent because the store
    brand one removes odors and the Febreze® Air Freshener & Odor
    Eliminator people have really puky ideas about what a ‘pleasant scent’

  53. Vis pants that haven’t had anything coughed up onto by person in the seat
    next to you.
    Sniff the butt of the pants you just took off. (No witnesses, please!)
    If you smell anything just throw them out and obtain pants if you don’t have

  54. Tip 4b is brilliant (I was already doing 4a). Do you travel barefoot? I don’t see shoes mentioned and as a woman, that gives me pains.

  55. I discovered the joys of the convertible backpack suitcase and haven’t looked back. It’s so much lighter than a rolling bag, which is nice because sometimes rolling isn’t an option (like when the world’s longest escalator in DC broke down and there was no elevator….). I use the backpack straps without trouble (medium-framed woman) but you can stow the straps and carry like a suitcase if you prefer. I can pack a week’s worth of winter clothes, including professional wear, and I’ve never had trouble getting it in an overhead bin. I like the eBags Weekender eTech because it was (relatively) cheap and has been durable, but there are plenty of similar options out there. Also? Packing cubes are your friend.


  56. I’m a dreadful packer. Also, however, a Chronically Chilly person. Layers of wool are generally an essential. How does one get around this? Wool won’t squidge much.

  57. John — I, too, think you’re packing too much, but you’re still managing with one suitcase, so this is one of those “your mileage may vary” things. However, you can get MUCH lighter jeans than regulation heavy denim, and they’re worth it for traveling. Look at the Travelsmith and Magellan sites. They also stock easy-wash, super-fast-drying underwear and socks. Always take Ziploc baggies! And you are so right about rolling clothes: they take less space than folded, and actually wrinkle less. Fact. Thanks for all the packing tips, everyone!

  58. Book tours do not sound pleasant at all. It strikes me as sit at an airport, travel, go from airport to hotel to check in (maybe), then directly to bookstore for multiple hours with fans. Grab a quick dinner, go to sleep. Back to the airport the next day.

    Then at the bookstore, give the same talk for the umpteenth time. Answer the same questions over and over again. Hope you don’t forget what city you are in and look foolish. It has to be very difficult to not come back 5 pounds heavier.

    So for the writers out there, do I have this about right? It is rather surprising that you guys can get any work done on these trips. You must be very good at time management and focusing on what is right in front of you.

  59. I guess I could keep it all to myself, and chortle with superiority from my secret batcave, but I don’t see the point.

    The tips aren’t the point. The “you’re doing it wrong” and “I have it so much worse” prefaces are.

  60. jeans meh: the fabric is too thick. Check out for quasi-military wonda-fabric pants. Thin fabric, feels light, dries quick, holds an unbelievable amount of stuff (aka wallet, keys, phone go into pockets where I don’t put my hands). I’d wager it rolls up finer than your standard jean.

  61. Oh, that’s quite a bit bigger luggage than I would think of as “carry on”. But I haven’t flown in years and then only on “budge” airlines (like Ryan Air; yuck) who thought my *handbag* was almost too big for carryon!

    The main problem I have with packing these days is that I’m a runner, and I like running in new places – but that means taking my running shoes (shoes are huge!) also doing a whole LOT of laundry in hotel sinks; which hotels often hate because their plumbing sucks. Or trying to pack all my camping gear onto my bike…

  62. Excellent ideas, some of which I am sure to incorporate when I travel.

    The only thing that I would add is that I always wear either a blazer or sport jacket on the plane. This means that I have a more dressy option. Wearing it means that I don’t have to worry about it being worn and wrinkled when I take it out of the bag.

    I also find that customs/immigration goes much much smoother when you look like a middle class dude travelling.


  63. How things circle around.

    I discovered Whatever after Neil Gaiman linked to a post you wrote about efficiently packing for a book tour (The Last Colony, I think) several years ago. I clicked the link because efficient packing interests me. I had no idea how interesting I’d find everything else here on Whatever.

    Now, years later, after I’ve enjoyed your books and your blog, here you are talking efficient packing again, as you embark upon another book tour, this one even bringing your nearby. Groovy. See you in Atlanta.

  64. I seem to notice a lack of bad-weather gear. Do you hope for a rain-free tour, plan to just take the water head-on, or pack an umbrella or light raincoat you just didn’t mention?

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