How Many Pairs of Underwear Does One Take Around the World? Three (well, four)

We’ve been gone for all of two weeks and I’m already sick of my clothes. And I don’t give a rat’s patooty about clothes.

I’ve been getting this question a lot – how the heck does someone pack for a nine month trip?

You can’t.

For starters, we decided to just do carry-on, so I had to find a way to fit nine months of clothes into a carry-on bag. The around the world packing experts (and they’re out there), say you should just pack for a two week trip and do laundry from time to time. It sounds reasonable, although you have to also factor in traveling across climates and seasons. The truth is that we don’t have a clue what we’re doing and after two weeks, the problems are beginning to reveal themselves.

Here’s the bag, packed to the gills:


It’s actually a pretty cool bag. It’s a 22″ REI Stratocruiser and it has wheels and backpack straps, which I think will be really useful in certain settings. There are a million little pockets – I’m still finding them. It’s like buying a house with an attic. Such discovery!

Here’s what I stuffed it with:

Everthing into the bag!

These little packing cubes keep me grounded. I’m a pretty messy guy, but the cubes provide order among the chaos. Believe it or not, on our first flight of the journey, from LA to NY, my electric toothbrush (the little green plastic thing in the picture above) sent the TSA into high alert. ((A toothsome digression – I have a dental hygienist who is most certainly a dominatrix on her off days. She adds to her charm by dishing out guilt over poorly brushed teeth in ways that would make the most aggressive Jewish grandmother genuflect – yes! genuflect! – with respect. Early in our relationship, she alternated stabbing my gums with her spiky little implements with stabbing my soul with spiky little comments about my failure to reach certain parts of my mouth with a toothbrush (hmm, Maureen Dowd would have liked that sentence, for good or ill). Since I bought a Sonicare toothbrush and committed to regular flossing, my hygienist has dialed down both the pain and the guilt. In any event, rather than risk Madame Helga’s wrath, I am shlepping this heavy electric gizmo that airline security personnel think is an incendiary device all the way around the world. It takes up precious space in my bag and adds weight, but there’s no way in hell I’m leaving it behind. Now you know what motivates me.))

Where was I? Oh, yes, the TSA guy. He pulled my bag out and opened it up, looking for the toothbrush. He took one look at my bag with all its fussy little packing cubes, and he exclaimed, “Now YOU know how to pack!” That was affirming.

Here are the contents, for your viewing pleasure:

All the clothes that are fit to pack.

That’s it kids. My friends for the next nine months.

For all of you planning your world tour, or watching in pity, here’s a list of what I brought, although as you will see, I’m about to begin jettisoning ballast:

2 hats – a running hat and a baseball hat. This is stupid. One hat will have to do. I’ll mail the other one home.

Lounging shorts. At home or abroad, lounging shorts add value.

Two pairs of actual shorts. The serious, non-lounging kind. Not too short, not too long.

Blue blazer. This is essential – we’re so schlubby so much of the time that we’re going to have to play dress up once in a while. A blue blazer is a vote for sanity.

Running shorts that can be used as a bathing suit. And they’re so compact!

3 pairs of black dress socks. This is probably one too many.

Two pairs of white gym socks. (What was I thinking? I probably don’t need these at all and if feels like they take up half the bag. I hereby vote them off the island.)

4 ½ pairs of ankle socks (I’m already missing one sock and it’s one I really like, which is causing me distress.)

1 white undershirt (I really thought I brought two, so oops.)

Six t shirts (I think I could probably get by with four. I love t shirts, but like pithy but extraneous sentences I may have to kill a few darlings)

1 pair dress pants. To go with the blazer.

1 pair khakis. I’m wondering about this, but I’ll withhold judgment for the time being. Khakis are dull and they stain, but they’re better than jeans but not as fussy as dress pants. Oh, the inner conflict!! I feel like I’m packing for a trip on the space shuttle, if we still had one.

1 pair of jeans. Prediction: these will look like something out of Woodstock by the end of the trip.

1 pair of long warm running pants. I may not use these either, but I have a feeling that I’ll miss them.

2 polo shirts. These will be badly stained by the end of the trip. Actually, I think they’re already stained. I’m hard on shirts.

1 white dress shirt.

1 blue oxford shirt. I could probably do without one or other other, but I’ll let it roll for awhile. One will certainly not survive the trip.

2 other long sleeve shirts (one includes a very goofy Patagonia shirt with weird zippers for which I have a strange affection. It will certainly embarrass my daughter if she sees me wearing it in a photo. On the other hand, I see myself wearing it on a safari! The other is a very good all-purpose LL Bean shirt. That stays on the island.

3 short sleeve button-down collared shirts. These will go in the tight rotation. They’re light and airy and good.

1 long sleeve technical shirt. You know, the kind that serves as a thermal undershirt.

1 pullover sweatshirt.

1 cardigan sweatshirt. I think this may be superfluous and it’s really heavy. I’m thinking it’s gotta go.

1 windbreaker.

1 pair of black Nike sneakers that don’t make me look like a dorky American tourist.

1 pair of brown Clarks lace up shoes. They’re very comfortable, but they won’t embarrass me at a reasonably nice restaurant.

1 reversable belt.

1 pair of flip flops.

1 electric razor. Yep, it’s heavy and bulky. Bad idea. But on the other hand, without it, all my pictures will show me with silly stubble, and we can’t have that.

A portable JBL speaker.

1 Revolution Jacket from Scottevest. Yessir, I broke down and got one of those goofy as hell jackets that has twenty six pockets and other crazy stuff. The sleeves zip off for heaven’s sake! It has a detachable hood. Heaven knows what other features it offers. I’m waiting for it to arrive in the mail and I’m itching with excitement. What have I become?? Around the world travel planning will do that to you. It’s sad, isn’t it?

Finally, and I know you’ve been waiting for it, I have a grand total of four pairs of undies.

(As they say on NPR, the following section contains content related to underwear, which may be troubling for some audiences. If you are uncomfortable with such topics, feel free to skip ahead.)

My undies are made by this company called Ex Officio, and I love them.

Although they’re fabulous drawers, I’m slightly troubled by a few things. For one thing, they’re called “Give-N-Go” underwear. This just sounds wrong to me. I don’t want “going” in any way associated with my underwear. Can you imagine the brand development meeting for this product? Heads should roll.

For another, according to the internet (um, wikipedia), the ex-officio is a member of whatever they’re a member of by virtue of their office. One interpretation is that they have no substantive claim on their authority. For example, the board chair is an ex-officio member of every standing committee. You may ask, how does this apply to my underpants? Well, let’s explore. Do I really want them to be a member of everything? Don’t I just want them to do their job? Do I want my unmentionables to be a member of every committee? I think probably not. As I said, I’m troubled.

Nevertheless, nomenclature notwithstanding, I am quite happy with my pants. They just make me happy.

They are the cool space age kind that dry in a few hours. The drill is that you wear one and wash the other. I’ve made this process efficient by incorporating the daily ablution with the ex-officio cleansing process. This kind of ritual is good for the soul. It’s like yoga, but without the stretching.

The third pair is kind of lonely. I only use it on travel days when I can’t dry the previous day’s pair. The fourth pair has been safely tucked away for the sad day when I lose one of the other three. So it’s really like three pairs of undies for nine months. Sounds crazy, no? I’ll let you know how it goes.

So that’s my plan.

Too many clothes, and yet not enough. Two weeks or nine months.

What do you think?

I now turn to the online community for its good counsel. Is there some essential item that I’ve forgotten? How would you approach this very important set of decisions? If I made a tragic mistake, surely the internet will step in and prevent it. Won’t it?


8 thoughts on “How Many Pairs of Underwear Does One Take Around the World? Three (well, four)

  1. Surprised not to see any fleece. I’d ditch the sweatshirt and go with micro fleece. Works well in almost all weather and can layer with windbreaker. Can be worn on plane to add warmth.

  2. You left a pair of your “Give-n-Go” undies here. I found them in the bushes below the guest bedroom. It must have jumped off the balcony, knowing the wear-and-tear that lay ahead. It’s good Janine is coming back to stay for a week – she can stuff that pair in one of the cubes and carry it on back to you. It can either hang with the lonesome 3rd or snuggle with the “in case of loss” 4th.

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