What’s in your suitcase, Mimi?

A friend of mine recently accepted a position in Juneau, Alaska, and she had a very quick turnaround from the offer to her move.  I asked her to write about what made the cut to go with her in her suitcases before her family joined her later.

“I know it’s a long shot, but would you consider a position in Juneau, Alaska?”

Would I ever! I’ve lived a lot of different places, but one thing I hate is a hot and humid summer. When the call came, I was living in Southeast Virginia, and while I have friends and family there, the summers were killing me. But Juneau has a mild climate very much like Seattle (only a little colder); I knew I would love it there.

After accepting the job, my biggest issue was what to pack. We were cash-poor, so whatever I took with me would be all I’d have to wear and use for three weeks, until I got paid and my husband could start sending me things; packing the right stuff was crucial. I’ve done a lot of traveling, and normally I just throw a few things in a bag and go, but I decided to take several days with this project.

The first decision involved what bags to use. Usually when I travel I take a laptop bag or backpack and a large duffel. However, I needed three weeks’ worth of toiletries, plus a variety of clothes, so I knew I would be checking one bag. I also wasn’t absolutely sure, until I got there, if I was going to need to take a bus from the airport to my hotel, or where I would be staying after the first couple of days. Therefore I decided that I would take a shoulder bag (the LA Police Gear Tactical Bailout Bag, which I got as “swag” at an infosec conference, was my bag of choice) to act as my “personal” item, plus two soft-sided rollerboards, one of which was overhead-compartment-sized, as my suitcases. As an added bonus, the two rollerboards could be strapped together if necessary. In addition, I took my CPAP machine in its own bag; as it is deemed “necessary medical equipment”, I am allowed to take it as an “extra” carry-on without being penalized. I managed to fit a few extra small items and a beach towel in the CPAP bag.

The next step was deciding what clothes to take. I’ve spent a good deal of time in Seattle at different seasons, so I knew which clothes would be most appropriate, weather-wise. However, I wasn’t exactly sure what the dress code at the office would be. Therefore, I took a lot of nice light and medium-weight tops, several pairs of capri pants, and several skirts of both the broomstick and pencil style, and I packed two pairs of my Skechers mary jane “biker” shoes (which are sport shoes and great for walking but can make it as casual office shoes). I also packed one nice dress and a couple of suit jackets, plus a couple of light cardigans for layering. I packed several pairs of socks, all homemade, because they’re small and can cushion fragile things, even though I wasn’t packing the shoes that I would normally wear with them. I figured if my feet were cold I could put them on and they’d be comforting.

After deciding what to take, I packed all my other clothes, with the exception of heavy sweaters, really fancy dresses, and company-logo polo shirts into USPS medium-size flat rate boxes for Chris to mail after I got paid. After that it was time to turn my attention to toiletries and electronics.

I have really sensitive skin, including my scalp, so I can’t use just any old soap and shampoo. Therefore, I packed several tubes of shower gel, my dandruff shampoo (which is coal tar and not always easy to find), and conditioner, plus all my lotions, using large ziploc bags because I knew from experience that during the plane ride there would probably be leakage. I also packed a container of wipes, which I use to remove makeup. I took a lot, but not all, of my makeup, which mostly consists of foundation and eyeliner, and because I have long hair I also took a lot of scrunchies and hairbobs of various sorts, plus the jewelry I wear most often.

For electronics, I took my laptop and my smartphone, with chargers of course, and I also took a couple of “passport” hard drives so that if I was required to set up a virtual lab I could do so. I didn’t take any of my small game systems (such as my DS) and I haven’t missed them yet, but if I thought I couldn’t have them mailed to me in a few days, I would probably miss them more.

To wear on the plane, I chose a light tunic-length tshirt, a pair of knit capri-length pants, my Vibram Five Fingers running shoes (the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever owned), and carried a cotton scarf and a fleece hoodie, since summers in Juneau can get down to mid-40s at night. Lastly, I took a double-walled metal water bottle (empty, of course) to fill inside the airport securiity area, since I was flying cross-country and knew I’d get dehydrated, plus some snacks.

In retrospect, I would have changed a few things. I’ve been borrowing my roomie’s car, which is a Ford Expedition, for the past couple of weeks, and the step to get into the driver’s seat is really high, which means that I can’t decently get in and out of it in my pencil skirts. I had taken a couple of pairs of business-casual pants out of my bags at the last minute, and I should have left those in and taken the skirts out. Also, I didn’t bring any books or any of my knitting with me, and I’ve been a little bored from time to time. I’ve been borrowing books, and I did buy some needles and yarn when I got here, but I probably should have tried to pack books and knitting.
However, all that can either be sent or can come with my husband when he joins me this winter, and I feel that with my shoulder bag and my two suitcases, I did a pretty good job. I am not sure what I would have done if I’d only had the ability to take one bag, because of the toiletry problem, but I probably would have cut the volume of clothes in half, abandoned the wipes, and put the toiletries in travel-sized bottles. I’m actually used to traveling with just a carry-on and a shoulderbag, so I probably could have done so. However, given that I had to survive with just what I was bringing with me for three weeks, I’m glad that I didn’t have to make that choice.

In general, when packing for this type of trip, unless you know for sure that temperatures at your destination will be one extreme or the other, it’s best to do as I did and pack layerable clothes and a warm but not bulky jacket. Shoes, too, should be of the type that can go either casual or business, like the Skechers I packed. And for goodness’ sake…always know where your towel is!

Visit Mary Ursula Herrmann’s blog at http://seriously-juneau.blogspot.com/

6 thoughts on “What’s in your suitcase, Mimi?

  1. valerie says:

    now tell us what you would have packed instead?
    Mimi’s bags sound bottomless , even after she pared as much as she could.
    She also could have ditched about 2/3 of the toiletries, even with sensetive skin.
    I would have worn the coat on the plane, in case it was freezing on board – to make more room for some of the other stuff, and in case airline lost the luggage.
    It sounds like she had too much, to keep it close to her, but oh what an adventure.

  2. Caitlin says:

    I suppose if I were going to be moving across the country, I’d pare down all my stuff anyway so I didn’t have to move as much overall, but if I were just packing for a month under the same circumstances (business casual dress code for work), I would take the following:
    -Coat
    -2-3 pairs of dress slacks
    -1-2 pairs of jeans
    -3-5 blouses that can work for casual or work situations
    -2 tank tops/undershirts
    -2 dresses
    -2-3 sweaters
    -pajama pants
    -Socks and underthings
    -Black boots, brown wedge heels, tennis shoes
    -1-2 towels and a washcloth

    I would skip most toiletries, because I just use whatever-shampoo and Dove soap, which I think I could pick up pretty easily. I don’t wear makeup so I wouldn’t need to pack that or makeup remover. I would pack my moisturizer, face wash, hairbrush, and deodorant.

    For electronics, I would take my laptop, iPhone, Kindle, and the required chargers and cords and stuff, as well as a flash drive.

    I think I could pack a month’s worth of stuff in a carry-on bag and my “personal item” bag, which would be a Timbuk2 messenger bag. I’d stow my actual purse in the Timbuk2 or the carry-on (I use a very small purse).

    Part of me really REALLY wants to ditch everything and just travel somewhere and live on whatever I could fit in a carry-on. It’s a scary dream🙂

    • valerie says:

      I’ve managed to pare my travelling stuff much more drastically, than at home stuff…
      My take rules are:
      If I can’t carry it, I don’t take it – which works well for me.
      I have a back-pack which folds in to a fanny pack, and a telescoping bag- with has wheels on the bottom layer.

      I’ve managed with this for 3 quite long trips so far – 3 to 6 weeks, and I plan 2 longer ones next year! with same method.
      My take list:
      I really nice dress
      1 nice skirt
      I extra pair pants
      skimpy underwear to wash and dry quickly…
      1 silk nighdress
      3 cotton t shirts
      1 light sweater
      1 pair nice shoes
      1 pair leggings
      I roll everything and put in telescoping bag, including fanny/back pack.

      I wear on plane:
      1 nice mid- range outfit with light jacket, and purse ( longchamp – fashionable and sturdy which carries papers, money, camera etc. + 2lunch size plastic bags for make-up, shampoo etc.( quantities are limited anyway! )
      small toothbrush and travel toothpaste, i-pod and kobo reader.
      I carry on plane :
      1 lightweight down jacket, useful as pillow or blanket on freezing cold journeys…
      All my luggage fits in overhead compartment and my hubby is in awe…. while he struggles with his own luggage!
      For trip next year I’m thinking of adding an i- pad, but that`s all.
      My school uniform training pays off big time when I travel and I`m good to go!
      Because my luggage can expand I can bring a few things back or mail anything I want to be waiting ,when I arrive home.

      • Caitlin says:

        I usually wear my bulkiest shoes on the plane so they don’t take up space in my bag. There is something to be said for quick and efficient shoes in the security checkpoints though! And comfort is always key for the plane ride.

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