Suitcase Fat Camp

The joy of smelling jet fuel is one of my guilty pleasures. I know it’s bad for you, but every time I catch the scent it’s because I’m at the airport and getting away. There is nothing better than escaping from reality for a few days. As a matter of fact, I begin to relax and decompress as soon as I pull those suitcases out of storage. Well, not really. . . .

As much as I love my getaways, nothing is more stressful than trying to pack for them. For years I wasted time overthinking and overpacking, because I felt like I had to plan for every possible contingency, all of the what-ifs. How many tops would I need? Pants? Shorts? Bathing suits? Sweaters? Should I bring a coat? A dress? Soap and toilet paper? Anti-diarrheal medication? What I’m trying to say is, I was at the point where I would rather have been getting my entire face threaded, scraping chewing gum out of my hair with toothpicks, and hosting a slumber party for screaming preschoolers than packing for my vacation.

A few years ago, I was set to visit a friend in Tanzania, but fretting about what and how much to pack. Would I have a washing machine? Would the weather be really hot or really cold? What if I wanted to go out to a nice place for dinner? I wanted to make sure I had enough to wear, and I wanted to look cute. But before I knew it my bags were full. I was ready for my safari… but also a cruise… and dining with the queen in London. I was way overthinking this.

So to help me pair my choices way down, I ended up using a concept I found at Believe it or not, the principles are very similar to a capsule wardrobe. claims that you can pack for a trip of any length in just a carry-on. The challenge intrigued me, so it was on! I went by their itemized list and packed everything in my hand luggage–all of my favorite pieces that I look and feel good in, the ones I really wanted to wear. Sure enough, they all fit in my carry-on! I was very pleased and amazed…until doubts started to creep in. What if this isn’t enough? What if I don’t have a washing machine? What if I get stranded in the bush? What if, what if, what if? So, I threw in an extra couple of tops just to make sure that I had covered all of the bases. But you know what? I wore everything in my carry-on, everything that was on the list, all of my favorite clothes, yes I wore everything—everything but the tops I threw in at the last minute.

From this experience I learned a valuable lesson which I have carried over into my capsule wardrobe down to this day: No matter where you’re staying or going, even if it’s three weeks in Tanzania, as long as you have the right clothing, you don’t need a lot of it. Pack for a trip of any length in just a carry-on, and enjoy the smell of jet fuel again.

Travel tip: Take travel packets of liquid detergent with you. Liquid soap dissolves faster than powdered detergents, enabling you to wash your clothes in cold water, a sink or a bucket, without leaving behind detergent residue.

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