Traveling Then and Now . . .

Confession time: I am the probably among the world’s worse travelers when it comes to packing.

When I go on a trip, even a weekend trip, I have a tendency to over pack. This is particularly true when I’m driving. I will take at least two suitcases, an ice chest, a minimum of five books and quite possibly the kitchen sink.

I think it goes back to my childhood. I was a Campfire Girl. Like Girl Scouts, we were taught to always be prepared. You never know, for instance, whether there will be a freak ice storm in August, or a heat wave in January. You never know whether you’ll be tempted to go to a formal restaurant or a Kentucky Fried Chicken window. And I must have at least two bathing suits and at least one coverup for frequent trips to a pool.

I know. Excuses. Excuses. But I can’t help myself. I’m a packaholic.

Everyone has their most admired person. My most admired person is Libby Hall, president of RWA when I first went on the board. We had ten day meetings in July – three to four days of board meetings and six days of conference. Most of us dragged huge oversized suitcases, book bags, carry-ons and purses large enough for a Great Dane. Libby carried one carry-on for all ten days. Ten days! Ten days of parties and formal events and presiding over luncheons and dinners, etc. Wonder of all wonders.

I was shamed but, unfortunately, not shamed enough to change my profligate packing.

So I was bemused — while researching a new western series – to find a recommended wardrobe for one man embarking on a three-month journey across the western plains. It comes from “The Prairie Traveler,” the Best-Selling Handbook for American Pioneers (published 1859).

Here it is:

2 blue or red flannel overshirts, open in front, with buttons.
2 woolen undershirts.
2 pairs thick cotton drawers.
4 pairs woollen socks
2 pairs cotton socks.
4 colored silk handkerchiefs.
2 pair stout shoes, for footmen.
1 pair boots, for horsemen.
1 pair shoes, for horsemen.
3 towels.
1 gutta percha poncho.
1 broad-brimmed hat of soft felt.
1 comb and brush.
2 tooth-brushes.
1 pound Castile soap.
3 pounds bar soap for washing clothes (for three months?)
1 belt-knife and small whet-stone.
Stout linen thread, large needles, a bit of beeswax, a few buttons, paper of pins and a thimble, all contained in a small buckskin or stout cloth bag.

Being written by a man, it doesn’t deign to offer advice on women’s wear, but I would guess it would be two dresses, two pair of cotton drawers, etc.

I fear I would make a terrible pioneer, but the above information provides some inspiration. Perhaps on the next weekend trip, I can leave the kitchen sink at home.

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18 thoughts on “Traveling Then and Now . . .”

  1. Pat — I found your list of men’s essentials for a 3 month trip very enlightening. I loved the “2 pairs of cotton drawers”, for 3 Months!
    Guess they didn’t change their drawers too often … ugh!

    I’m an overpacker too. When my husband’s eyebrows raise, I simply tell him, “I like to have choices.” And there lies the difference between a man/woman packing habits.

  2. Love this post! LOL

    Alas, I’m an overpacker, too. Better to be safe than sorry. And I’m a huge list maker. I make lists for almost everything, but ALWAYS for packing. 😉

  3. Ah, another overpacker–that’s me! Must be a female thing, eh?

    I’m going to keep this book in mind, Pat. Sounds like it’s wonderful for research. And it really shows how our society has become very materialistic when our forefathers got by on very little!

  4. Me too. I hate to get miles and miles from home and discover that I forgot something so I pack like I’m going to be gone for a good year. Ha, I’d hate to see the size of the pack mule that would’ve had to cart my stuff all the way to Texas! I’d probably have had a string of ten or twelve. 🙂 But you never know when you’re gonna need something, huh? My mother used to hide sandwiches and things in the car when we left on a trip to keep my dad from throwing a fit. But we were always running out of gas in the middle of nowhere. She learned. And I remember my dad sure didn’t turn any down. Ahhh, memories.

    Loved your post. It’s interesting how little the pioneer survived with. I can just imagine the body odor. Yuck! But they did what they had to do. And remember, they had to pack enough food for the trip as well so they needed the room. I guess clothes were considered a non-essential. 🙂

  5. I am a serious UNDER packer.
    I go to a four day event and think, okay, one pair of black slacks, one pair of comfortable slip on black shoes, plus blue jeans for the plane ride.
    Four shirts.
    A blazer or two.
    They’ll have a blowdryer. They’ll have toothbrushes and toothpaste and shampoo.
    Take a curling iron and my little wallet sized make-up kit.
    A hair brush.
    The underwear…well, I’m better than those pioneer guys. I take an ample amount. 🙂
    The conference I’m going to this week has a semi-formal evening event. So I’ll take one more shirt, a sparkly thing I wore as the top to my mother-on-the bride dress with a floor length black skirt…except for this event I’ll wear it with…the black slacks and black shoes.
    Wow, I must need more than this…hairspray?
    Laptop. Purse. I don’t travel much. Maybe I’ll start taking more if I travel more and get caught in a pinch and wish I had something.
    Maybe, to prepare for possible exploding frappacinos, I’ll take a spare pair of black slacks.

  6. I am an overpacker married to a minimalist whose favorite ensemble is shorts and tee-shirt. I do do the mix-match thing but Mary, you sound awesome. As for those 1850’s guys…in my dreams, they’re always hot no matter what they wear. Or don’t LOL. Thanks, Patricia, for the excellent and useful information!

  7. Great post, Patricia! On my local chapter loop, over the years we’ve discussed the grooming habits of different historical eras. The toothbrush on your list reminded me of some of those discussions. This is one area we, as authors, often tend to breeze right over in our stories. I mean, how often do we see the western hero brushing his teeth while he’s on the dusty trail–often for weeks at a time? And with all that kissing going on! LOL!

  8. I got a hoot out of that list, especially two pair of drawers being enough for 3 months. Of course, I’m an overpacker, too. For years I traveled in a van–so I did have the sink too, albeit a small one! I tried going lighter at the con this year. Does it count that I bought a larger suitcase beforehand? I think it’s safe to say I’m a lost cause when it comes to taking just the essentials, because my essential list tends to grow.

  9. I’ve found that it depends when I pack. There are just some days I can’t make a decision for the life of me and thus I have to pack more things and decide later. If traveling in a car it’s pretty easy to do. But I really really try not to overpack when traveling by air. One thing missing from the list was reading material roflmao.

  10. We are going to New England in a few weeks to peep at leaves, and coming from SoCal, I find packing is interesting. It’s already 39 in Vermont at night…wonder if hubby will wear his shorts then LOL. Thanks for a fun day, ladies.

  11. I had to laugh when I read this post. I’m definitely an overpacker.

    The dh and I just got back from a short little trip to Chicago. It was only about a 51/2 hour drive because we’ere not that far from Chicago (we live in Detroit).

    We only planned to drive there, stay the night, attend a taping of THE JERRY SPRINGER SHOW then head back home right after that.

    This is what I packed (1 huge suitcase and 1 large carry on-not including my purse and the snack bag & cooler). Of course, I needed way more stuff than the dh.

    2 pair of jeans (I couldn’t decide which ones to wear to the show)
    3 tops (one sleeveless – what I wore on the drive, 1 long sleve, 1 dress top)
    2 pair panties
    2 bras (1 regular, 1 push up)
    1 pair of jean shorts
    1 pair of socks
    1 pair nylon knee-highs
    3 pair shoes (sneakers-what I wore on the ride there, slip on sandals and flats-I didn’t know which ones I wanted to wear to the show)
    1 pair pj’s
    Make-up bag, shampoo, conditioner, mousse,
    brush & comb
    2toothbrushes (1 for each of us)
    1 tube toothpaste
    1 book

    The DH
    2 pair jeans
    1 black t-shirt (what he usually wears)
    2 pair socks
    1 pair briefs & under-shirt
    2 shirts (1 flannel, one dress)
    1 pair sneakers

    Hey, you just never know. lol

    The dh looked at the suitcases and just shook his head. After 23 years I guess he wasn’t all that surprised.

  12. I don’t know for the life of me how a woman can get by with one small bag. I have a friend who packs that way, too – and looks great with appropriate clothing wherever she goes. But, come on, there is a coordinating pair of shoes for each outfit, right? And then you need tennis shoes in case you walk or exercise. And what about a glitsy purse for the formal affair? I don’t really end up with things I didn’t wear, so I don’t know how to take less.

    I even pack lightweight bags that fold flat for the trip going, because I can take them out and fill them with the extra stuff I buy and have to pack coming back.

    You will laugh at this: When my daughter Kristin was a teen and traveled with us, we had to take an extra bag of books. She would finish one between each meal, so we’d leave them for the waitresses at restaraunts!

  13. I don’t know how a woman can get by with one bag, either, Cheryl. And you’re absolutely agree about coordinating shoes. lol

    I did think about taking an extra purse. I have two fav slip on sandals that I wear just to bum around in during the summer. One pair is black, the other is brown. Needless to say, I have a purse to match each and just toss my wallet, sunglasses, etc. back and forth between the two depending on which pair I wear that day.

    I had to chuckle about your daughter. That’s great that she liked to read like that as a teen. Does she write now? That was a nice thing, leaving the books for the waitress. I’ve been a waitress off and on throughout the years, and I have loved it if someone left me a book!

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