In which the author tells you how to run your life -- or at least how to make the most of the fun parts of it.

For instance, inside these pages you will learn how to weather a mortar attack in good spirits; how to avoid booking yourself on the Internet into a bed and breakfast full of twee quilts and dusty tchotkes; and how to plan a dinner party that will stun your guests with deliciousness and style and not destroy your will to live with the amount of work you have to do to pull it off.

These are things I know firsthand, and things people who know me often ask me about (though I usually just book them into bed and breakfasts myself -- identifying ruffled death traps is an acquired skill). I am almost always right about everything (food, style and travel-related, anyway, and often many other things) and if everyone would just do as I say, dinner would taste better, cupcakes would not be dry, your parties would be more fun (for you), and mortar attacks... well, they always suck. I can't do anything about them.

*except laundry. I can't manage my own laundry, much less yours.

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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

How to pack your bags.

So over on Apartment Therapy theres a discussion about how to pack for trips and how not to forget everything and do you start a pile of everything you want to bring?

The answer is "read below" (to questions 1 and 2) and no. 

I've traveled. I've had to pack for 9 week stints in war zones with body armor (it gets its own bag and weighs 40 lbs. Hideous. But your arms get super toned and you lose a ton of weight just carrying it around all day). And 10 country tours for work involving weird Saudi princes who wanted to buy me with 3 camels (really. A State Department official told them I was married with 3 kids, which as you have probably gathered is actually opposite reality, and they accepted that. That would be the only acceptable excuse not to marry this revolting 80 year old horrible prince and never get to drive my own car again. It's a 2001 Ford Focus).

So onto packing. I had a boyfriend years ago who was anal beyond all anality, and we once took a trip to a rather remote island off Florida where we had to bring not just all our camping gear but all our food too, as there were no stores or anything on the island (and not for about 2 hours in any direction.) . That's it, above.

This triggered every insane impulse he  ever had, including two bouts of REHEARSE packing to see if everything would fit in the bags we intended to carry. That means taking everything out we wanted to bring with us 2 weeks before the trip, piling it up, then putting it away. Twice.

The trip was a disaster -- the weather was bad, I wanted to kill him because of the insane control issues, and it all culminated with a tropical storm and gale force winds, me naked? practically naked? in the middle of the night  with lightning and thunder and lashing rain trying to secure our tent with the duct tape I had insisted we bring while he stood around and  yelled that I was doing it wrong. I yelled back "YOU ARE NOT THE BOSS OF THIS!" We stayed together more or less for 2 more years but never vacationed together again.

The upside was that in the morning all the shrimp fisherman landed on our island to recover from a rough night at sea and I was able to trade charcoal for a 5 lb bag  of just-caught shrimp which we ate all the rest of the week. The best schwimps I ever tasted.

(This island, Fort Jefferson off Key West, is a totally weird experience. There are no stores, no ATMs. Cash means nothing It's a barter economy. A bottle of tequila or charcoal is the best currency with the fisherman, who have refrigerators and lots of good stuff, but drink up their alcohol first, and don't bother with charcoal because who wants to burn down their fishing boat? But then they are out of luck when they land on the island and want to cook. The experience really drives home the importance and/or lack thereof of cash. It's freeing, really. But grim if you run out of food or tequila.)

In the ensuing years I covered my fair share of wars (that's me just after a patrol in Fallujah with a bunch of Iraqis and one Marine) which is probably the ultimate in packing. You've got to be smart about what you  bring, pack lightly because you're gonna be carrying it (sometimes, really fast...) and you can't get tampons in a war zone (easily, anyway). That's what I learned in the experience captured above.

So what I worked out is lists. This is not revolutionary, I know, but it works.

Make a simple chart that shows every day you will be on the road.
Divide the chart into categories:
clothes (to include accessories and undies)
equipment (computer, power cords,  thumb drives, pens, notebooks whatever)
documents (tickets, passports, directions)
hygiene: bandaids, meds, tampons, shampoo etc.
travel_ shizz for the plane ride. Books, Kindle, chewing gum, magazines, eye cover, socks.

Think through each day: what will you be wearing, when? Will you be exercising? What will you need to do your work (or go to wedding... gift? gift wrap?). Think through each day from the time you wake up to when you go to sleep. (wake up: wearing a t shirt and boxer shorts. Need flip flops for the shower. Need mesh bag to carry things to latrine. Need a towel. Toothbrush, toothpaste. Eye makeup remover. Moisturizer. Shampoo Floss etc).
Then what? On patrol: need body armor, helmet, ballistic eye wear. Pens (multiple), paper, tape recorder, extra batteries.Tampons, Advil (never be without tampons and advil). A few mesh Bandaids. Sun screen Water bottle. Luna Bars. Change of shirt and socks. Computer (never,never get separated from your gear).

Or a weekend beach getaway: wake in negligee, hygiene supplies, bathing suit, cover up, flip flops, hat, sunscreen, lavender spray (I love it), chapstick, towel, book for beach reading. sundress for later, undies that work with sundress. hair brush. Bathrobe if you're at a b&b where you;'ll walk down the hall to the shower.

It will look like this:
                                         Friday                            Sat                          Sunday
                                         yoga pants for drive       bikini
                                         t shirt                              hat
                                         blue dress                      red linen caftan
                                         strapless  bra                 flip flops
                                         blue sandals                   etc
hygiene                             tooth brush and paste
                                        hair brush
equipment                        Ipad
                                       batteries for beach radio

documents                       Reservation confirmation
                                        Directions and phone number of inn 

Write everything on your chart. Do this simply sitting on your couch or at your desk - don't try to gather the stuff. Don't pack a single thing until the list is completely filled out. No piles, no mess, and nothing will be forgotten.

The night before, pack it all up methodically going off the list. Pack the list last. When you come home, you can repack according to the list and you won't leave anything behind.

Follow these directions exactly for a panic-free packing experience. And a low stress trip.