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How I Attempt to Pack Light

I traveled to India this year, also the United Kingdom, Seattle, and made several short trips within my home state of Hawai`i. Day trips are not such a big deal, so long as I remember to put my hand gel in a plastic bag. But any trip requiring an overnight stay looms over my head until I have finally corralled stuff for every conceivable occasion and activity. A typical itinerary goes to the Mainland, usually Seattle, then to London and Yorkshire, and back again. Sounds straightforward.

First list: Activities. I need business attire, casual clothes for doing research and normal life, dressy items for formal dining. And, of course, work out gear.

Second list: Weather. Summer is easier than Fall, Winter, or Spring. Except when it isn’t. I once was in York, England for June and July. I anticipated some inclement weather – the occasional light rain. Wrong. I wore layers every day. First, the tank top, followed by the shell, the shirt, the pull over sweater, the raincoat, and gloves. And then there was the formal dinner. I am not kidding. Good thing there was time to shop.

Let’s leave the clothes for now. What next?
Third list: Electronics. There was a time when I occasionally packed a hair dryer. Paper sufficed for everything else. Of course, that was when my cabin baggage consisted entirely of printed notes from a yearlong research trip. Now, I have a jump drive . . . somewhere. PLUS . . . on my last trip: MacBook Air, iPad, iPhone, portable hard drive, digital camera, cords and other paraphernalia. [Sidebar: I think paraphernalia is a very cool word. It means ‘stuff’ but it sounds so exotic. Can I use it in a sentence? Hmmm . . . “Let me gather my photographic paraphernalia before we get into the Jeep.”]

OK, that’s sorted. Let’s move on to “personal items/toiletries. If you have the fantasy of traveling with just a carry-on bag, everything better be in 3-ounce containers that can fit into a 1-quart plastic bag.

Back to clothing. Yes, I know. Layers. Coordinated colors – which usually translates into black, grey, white, brown, navy and beige + scarves and/or cheap clunky jewelry. Professional “packers” recommend thin fabrics. They pack smaller than wool, linen, or cotton, and you won’t have to iron them later. [Iron? Moi?] Don’t fold your clothes, roll them, and save space by stuffing your shoes.

At this point, hysteria creeps up. How many days am I gone? Would anyone notice if I wore the Tre Elegant Knit Tank Travel Dress from TravelSmithcom ( ) to the formal dinner with six forks? Would their eyes be dazzled if I paired it with my imitation Hermes scarf, or would they fixate on my all-occasion slightly scuffed gold flats? Never mind, I’ll put in the light blue sparkly cocktail dress and kitten heels.

There are lots of websites with packing tips. Two of them, complete with suggested packing lists, are “How to Pack Light” by Josie at and “How to Pack Light” by Dana Sullivan Kilroy at

Single most important things to pack: a genuine smile and a sense of humor – the rest does not really matter . . . much.

Author Sandra Wagner Wright

Sandra Wagner-Wright holds the doctoral degree in history and taught women’s and global history at the University of Hawai`i. Sandra travels for her research, most recently to Salem, Massachusetts, the setting of her new Salem Stories series. She also enjoys traveling for new experiences. Recent trips include Antarctica and a river cruise on the Rhine from Amsterdam to Basel.

 Sandra particularly likes writing about strong women who make a difference. She lives in Hilo, Hawai`i with her family and writes a blog relating to history, travel, and the idiosyncrasies of life.


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