Packing: Vanity vs. Sanity

Hi there! I’m going to depart from my typical subject matter of running to talk about two other hobbies of mine- organization and traveling, sub-category of both: packing for trips. I decided today to share about it because I’m pretty damn proud of how I did, and I may have some insight for people who struggle with decisions when it comes to including or leaving items out of the suitcase. Please note- my guidelines are about a philosophy of packing, not a detailed list of what should and should not go- if you read, you’ll see how I reason leaving heels out, but if I was going to a destination wedding or Vegas, my priorities would be different and so would the items I’d find necessary.

In less than a week, I leave for a three week trip that starts in Japan and ends up in Hawaii. In Japan I will be site-seeing and trail running, one week with a buddy and one week on my own, and after two weeks there, I go on to Waikiki Beach, where I will meet up with my sisters and niece. With three weeks on the road, and activities ranging from down and dirty trail-running on my own to resort lounging and dining with my family, there was lots to consider when it came to packing. Luckily I enjoy it, so in I dug, and three days out I am already done. The only things not already in the bags are items I’ll still be using until I leave. My luggage for three weeks consists of one carry-on suitcase, and one small weekender bag.

Since I started taking international trips when I was 20 years old, I have tried both ends of the spectrum when it comes to packing- a relatively small backpack for a rugged month in Costa Rica, to two large suitcases for two party weeks in Europe. Let me just say this- overpacking is a bigger nightmare than under-packing. Lodgings get messy, and things go missing because there is too much to keep track of. Not to mention, bringing extra luggage costs more money. A few years ago I went to a free “travel-packing” talk at Distant Lands, a travel & book store in Pasadena, CA. After being awed by the delightful visuals of fitting 3 dresses and 6 separates into a suitcase with room to spare, I invested in some travel accessories that have since made the packing process easier, and keep my things from exploding all over my destination digs.


First of all: Here is what my closet looks like, if you are wondering just what sort of maniac spends this much free time on packing. That’s an image Holly Golightly from Breakfast at Tiffany’s on the left. We don’t have much in common- her things are LBD’s and cats, I go for prints and dogs.

Now, for my thought process and action items for packing:

1) In the weeks leading up to the trip, if I saw something in my closet I knew I wanted to bring, I set in apart in some free space. When it came time to pack, instead of going through my whole closet and debating whether I should bring something, I was editing my already created stock pile to remove things I could do without. Clothing items did get added to the “go” pile, as I was decided on bottoms, I looked for tops that could go with most of them.

2) I try to obey this mantra: “I am traveling to meet the world, not so the world can meet me.” What does this mean when in comes to packing? It means checking my ego at home, and not worrying about looking like a jet-setting style maven . I’ll leave that to the fashion bloggers. I’m a running blogger. I spend time and consideration on what makes me feel good and look presentable, and “good enough” is good enough. Of course I did pack some nice, fun outfits, mainly with Hawaii in mind, but I know I will wear them going out in Japan. I paired way down from what I would have done ten years ago- my “fancy” clothes include two rompers and one dress that’s more of a day-time option.

Full disclosure: I know its hard. Before I finished the process of packing for this trip, I had to pull 3 eyeliners out of my makeup bag, because 7 definitely seemed excessive. That still leaves four, and I wont even be wearing makeup all that often. (I have turquoise eyeliner that I don’t know will ever get worn if not in Hawaii). However, when I can and have let go of options, I’ve found limiting choice to be a true time and stress saver on-the-go.

In Eat Pray Love, Elizabeth Gilbert brings one black dress with and laments that she might have to repeat wearing it. The man she’s with, who she later marries in real life, tells her,

“You’re young and beautiful, darling.” You only need one dress.”


3) Why am I taking this trip? I decided to go to Japan because I wanted to run there. In case you are a new reader who hasn’t caught on from the name of my blog, its what I like to do- on roads, on trails, and in the mountains. I have to have room for running shoes, two pairs, one for road and one for trail. I wear a women’s size 10, 11.5 in athletic footwear, so it’s a situation I have to plan around (more than most women). I knew from the start bringing heels was not an option. Definitely not wedges, even thought they look awesome, both on me and on tropical islands, because in my case they take up at least one square foot of space- I measured. So sneakers took priority over fancy footwear, and I included three outfits to run in, as well as my hydration pack. Those were non-negotiables, and anything I can fit otherwise is gravy.

4) This is specific to me and my running trips- I bring a few things I wouldn’t mind getting rid of.  Old, inexpensive tops. Bottoms nearing the end of their life. For the running portion, I’m bringing three outfits to wear, over and over in tropical climates. When I went to Costa Rica, I wore the hell out of my clothes and there were several items I happily let go of. I have plenty of fancy pants that would be Insta-great, but again this trip is not about that. I don’t have to leave them behind, but the option is there, in case I need the space for some rad souvenirs! One of my friends did this really intense hiking trip in Nepal, and she brought underwear that she could just throw away, fully intending to do so. I don’t want to advocate waste, but if its pretty much time for something to be let go of anyways, bring it, and toss it or donate it at your destination. (Just don’t donate underwear- I used to volunteer sorting donations and no one wants to handle or wear it!)

5) Rolling clothes versus folding them: You know, I don’t believe that rolling necessarily saves space. How good are you at Tetris? Find a shape that fits in the space you have and go with that. I did roll some items, like underwear, all together and then put a rubber band around them. The rest is flat.


6) As far as toiletries and cosmetic items go, I’m leaving the moisturizer at home because I wont need it, but bringing all the other products I use daily in travel size. As far as relative space-takers go, I am probably guilty of overpacking in this category. Maybe (definitely) extra cosmetics are my safety blanket for not having as differentiated wardrobe as I do at home. For this trip I’m leaving hair dryers and straigheners at home. Hopefully the hotels have something decent, but if not, oh well. I’d rather have wild hair and a neat suitcase. That’s just who I am, and braids are always an option. Similar to how I set aside clothing to pack, there’s a box in my bathroom where I collect and keep all sample and travel size toiletries, and I cull from that when I’m packing, filling in where necessary.

As I’m finishing writing this, I’m questioning my sanity at thinking so much about organization. I am also lamenting that “how will I look?” plays through my head at all. I’m embarking on a wonderful opportunity to take in new people, different culture, time with friends and family, adventure and relaxation- that’s what really matters, right?

How do you approach packing?



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