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?


The Lady Under the Stairs, Part II

How can I describe the wonders of our home away from home? When you walk in you get a hit of something – is it menthol, you wonder? No, you realize, remembering your early twenties. It’s roach spray! This place is a studio, with a bed on some kind of hand-constructed platform, and a small living area that has its own built-in fold-up wooden board that doubles as a dinner table. The couch slides out to make a second bed, which must be really terrific when you have friends stay over. And then there’s the stuff – there are books, clothes, and cupboards stuffed full of plastic bags and defunct cleaning supplies and heaven knows what else. The bathtub backed up on the second day, right before the smoke alarm started chirping. It is, in a word I learned from my daughter, janky.

And if you walk too much or with too heavy a foot, our friend downstairs starts banging on her ceiling with a broom handle, or the butt of an AK-57, or her head, or something. We’ve started mincing around in fear. I’ve now created a map in my head of the creakiest floorboards. It’s like a scene out of the Diary of Anne Frank.

That bizarre bit about Norway started to come into focus when I reviewed the house rules on the website, (copied verbatim):

1. Please NO SMOKING!
2. Please Do not wear shoes in the apartment.
3. Please Do not put luggage on the bed or couch.
4. You can place your luggage on the counter tops or padded benches
5. Please Do not put shoes on the bed, couch or in the draws.
6. Please Do not run air conditioner all day (summer time)
7. You can put your clothes in the empty draw (if you want).
8. Sometimes when you flush the toilet, you might have to hold the handle down.
9. Please turn off the lights when you leave the apartment.
10. Please lock the door when you leave the apartment.
– If anyone in the building asks who you are, please tell them that you are friends from Norway.

Wait, what? Norway? I have to walk around with a cover story that I’m from Norway??

Am I supposed to attempt a Norwegian accent?

It might have also help if they offered up some basic facts about Norway. I mean if a neighbor asks who you are and you say you’re Anna’s friend from Norway, what if they say, “Quick! What’s the second biggest city in Norway?” Or “Who’s the Prime Minister?” Or what if they pull out a map and ask you to point to Norway? You’d be made. I had not realized that role play was a requirement of apartment sharing, but all of a sudden I am feeling woefully underprepared.

This gets to the deeper issue of that famous social media short term rental booking service. Is it a good thing? Would you like your apartment building turned into a hotel? In New York, it’s not exactly legal to rent out your apartment for short term renters. But hey, if you’re a traveler, it can be a great deal, and if you’re an apartment dweller, it’s a way to recoup the crazy high rents in places like New York. Of course there’s the matter of opening up your home to strangers, who will paw through your undies and otherwise invade your sacred space. I’m not sure I’d do that.

Most of the time it seems to work just great. The visitors are nice and respectful and the apartments are clean and convenient (although I did once stay in a place that had a brand spanking new kitchen but not a single utensil), and you almost always get value for your money.

Unless you live in fear like we do.

Yesterday, we opened the door to leave the apartment and our downstairs friend darted out of her apartment, as if to note our egress. It happened again the next day. Now, we creep softly out our door so as not to be detected, and to elude her malevolent gaze, but maybe to relieve her of her burden slightly.

I will say that she did throw me for a loop the other day. We were sitting around and the doorbell rang and there she was again, and I’m preparing to be quizzed about my recipe for ludefisk, only this time she came bearing positive feedback. “You’ve been much better about the noise.” I thanked her and told her that we were doing our best.

I am sympathetic. This woman is certainly not enjoying what may well be a regular stream of interlopers who dance around on her ceiling. But she lives in an old building with crazily creaky floors. Is she really expecting a family of levitators or trapeze artists to move in?

I’m kind of cheezed at the obvious liars who left positive comments on the apartment’s website, though, although I should have read between the lines. Everyone noted the good location, but almost nobody said anything about the apartment itself. This should have been a dead giveaway.

Here’s how I’d describe it: “It’s a really great place if you don’t mind the roach spray, the overflowing bathtub, the chirping smoke alarm, the junk everywhere, having to make toast with a broiler, the wheezing air conditioner…oh, and the lady downstairs.” On the other hand, the place would be a problem if Gandhi lived downstairs.

Oh, and the wifi is terrible. The final cut.

The other day a group moved in upstairs in the middle of the night. It was like the Rockettes were performing a special dance with rollerboards. Janine and I looked at each other, a bit sheepishly. If we stayed in this place for long, we’d become the Lady Under the Stairs. I put in my earplugs and made a note of that.

Nevertheless, believe it or not, I suspect we’ll continue to roll the dice on these joints. We will try to do a better job of deriving the hidden meaning from the glowing reviews, and using our mind’s eyes to see beyond the edges of the photos. Sometimes we’ll opt to spend more, or to sacrifice location. There will certainly be some duds, but I expect there will be some pleasant surprises as well. I just hope that each one will yield such a memorable story.