December 28, 2011

The BGM No-Horseshit Guide To Packing Light

I travel basically for a living. I’m not a fancypants, globe-trotting photographer or some cool clothing designer with space-age Nikes and a penchant for Japanese/American workwear. On the contrary, I’m a business traveler. They cater entire lines of shitty hotels to guys like me. Can you say free waffles? I can’t. But I digress. The point of all this is travel, for me, is no longer an event. It’s a way of life. And the annoying thing I see going on in this bloggy-menswear-foodie-arty-fencepost arena is this constant and pervasive obsession with the least practical pieces of luggage and travel accessories I have ever seen. While some of this shit might be useful to throw in the back of the vintage Land Rover and head to the Easthampton for a long weekend with all of your friends with great abs, I’m 100% sure nobody would lug any of this crap onto an airplane for a weeklong stint at the convention center in Toledo. I know they say you have to suffer a little to look good, but I draw the line at separating a shoulder lifting my 1,000oz (for extra kinda-sorta-waterproofness) waxed canvas bag above my head and spraining an ankle trying to jam anything that J.W. Hulme makes under my seat.
What’s more, the TSA makes you take all your toiletries out of that 200 dollar Mullholland Bros. dopp kit anyway. And it has to be inside of a one quart plastic bag regardless. So until they start making bespoke Zip-Loc plastic bags in horween leather (now there’s a collab for you…) in 12 limited edition colorways, I present the 2011/2012 BGM No-Horseshit Guide to Packing Light:
For this exercise, we are making the following assumption: we will NOT be checking a bag, dammit. And if you do, God help you if you go anywhere with me. I will leave your ass at the luggage counter and then again at baggage claim. The probability of lost luggage and time wasted at the desk/carousel is rarely worth the extra pairs of pants you won’t wear. The only time it’s even remotely acceptable to check a bag is when your trip necessitates more gear and clothing than you can fit in a carryon. If your trips tend not to involve the wilderness, then this is probably going to be never. Think hard. You probably don’t need it, do you? Packing light is both a method and a philosophy.
Item one, and the most critical, is a sturdy roll-aboard. I do not advocate an expensive one, but if you really want all the other business travel dudes on the plane to ogle your rig, go get anything from Briggs and Riley. You’ll pay for it, though – most are in the 400 dollar range and I’ve found many of them don’t fit down the aisle of some airlines. Most of the time, however, something light and with a minimum of useless pockets will do. I’m a big fan of the PVC hard-sided ones that can be found at your local discount store for almost nothing. They maximize internal area and minimize the actual “structure” (and weight) of the bag – basically there’s less “bag” and more “room for stuff” than with fabric bags.
TOP TIP: Look for bags with actual rollerblade wheels. They’re easier and cheaper to replace should they break or wear down.
Item two is an intelligent briefcase or shoulder bag with some kind of sleeve or strap that lets you slide it over the handle of the roll-aboard. Some people favor the little doodad that allows you to sling your case over the back of the bag, usually via a hook mechanism of some kind. These people are idiots. The doodad invariably breaks or constantly gets caught in the zipper when you open and close the bag. Now I know what you’re saying, but BGM, my slick Filson field bag doesn’t have one of those sleeves so I’ll just use one with a doodad. Fine. You’ve been warned. Also, those bags weigh a goddamn ton so you’re beyond my help. But those bags are cool and I still want one so it’s a wash. Your call.

Item three is shoes. Your shoes need to be versatile because you will only be bringing one pair. I know, I know – the red Chromexcel indy boots only go with one pair of pants. Oh well, leave them. I favor multipurpose classics that you can dress way up or way down and go with everything. My work only necessitates a level of dress just on the upper end of business casual (Tie/Jacket Binary, one but not both) so I rarely need anything more than my trusty Sebago Docksides. For whatever reason they stay fresher looking and hold up better than Sperrys, and therefore remain “dressier” longer. I’ve also used bucs and plain brown cap toe oxfords to the same effect if a suit is necessary. Worn with classy socks and the right suit, very dressy. Sans socks and some dark jeans – very casual. 

Item four is going to be blasphemy to anyone who doesn’t have to live out of a suitcase, but you’re going to need some non-iron gear unless you really love to iron. In which case you should come over, I have a closet full of fun for you. In any case, non-iron shirts and to a lesser degree pants are worth it in the end. Yes, they’re anathema to the purists among us, and they definitely do not breathe as well as…the opposite of non-iron (yes-iron?) but they do work. Now, what I say next will probably obliterate any kind of taste-based bona fides I may have had, but when you’re as hard on your clothes as I am, seventy dollar shirts from Brooks do start to add up when you destroy one every 4-6 months. Now, if you want to spend more, go ahead. If you can afford the Brooks, get them. They are superlative shirts in the non-iron arena. I actually happen to find them too thick and they make my neck itch.
Item five is a compound item and it’s toiletries. You have a one quart bag to work with, in 3oz increments. Now, the thing you need to do first is get a Ziploc brand FREEZER bag. They’re thicker and last much longer. Secondarily, ditch the effete shave supplies. I’m a wet shaver at home and I have the Murkur safety razor, shaving soap that cost more than soap should cost, and a badger hair brush, but that’s a home thing. On the road, I have a disposable and I use shave oil. It occupies the same amount of space as an eye dropper and I’ve been on the same bottle for 6 months. Bring sample sizes of your high-end skincare products and it really won’t be all that bad. Check out Birchbox for some cool sample-sized products for not very much money. I also pump my favorite cologne into a portable atomizer that was left over from some awful cologne sample I once got.
TOP TIP: the little vials of cologne you sometimes get as samples are a pain in the ass, and are also generally made of glass. One broken one and you’ll understand why not to bother with these. The whole thing about seltzer water taking blood out of a white shirt is complete hooey.
The final item(s) is clothing. This is more freestyle, but you must always be thinking versatility. If it only goes with the suit you brought and not the pants for dinner, it’s out. A word on suits. If you’re on a trip for a week or less and need to bring a suit, don’t dick around with garment bags. Just wear your suit on the plane, no tie of course, and give it a quick brush when you arrive or steam it a bit with an iron if you’ve done any serious creasing. The only exception to the aforementioned skinflint clothesbuying advice is blazers and suits. Buy as good as you can possibly afford on those. The crappy ones just don’t stand up to real travel and hold on to wrinkles like grim death.
TOP TIP: 99% of the time, the people in first class won’t fill up the entire closet (yes, there is a closet on the plane most of the time), kindly ask the flight attendant if there’s room for your jacket and tell them your seat number. If you’re super nice, they sometimes bring it to you just before you land or on your taxi to the gate. Disregard this advice if you actually fly first class, and also don't wear a jacket on the plane. More room for us.
- Accessories are your friend and extend the life of every outfit. Ties, colorful belts and loud socks can help distract people from the fact that you’re probably wearing the same pants as yesterday.
- If you’re a workout kind of person, grab a pair of minimal shoes, I like and have posted about Nike Mayflies before, but there are a bunch of companies that make something similar. They fold dead flat and weigh probably 10 ounces.
Bring a packable backpack or messenger bag. Patagonia and EMS both make nice ones. This is a good idea if you’re in a warmer climate with a beach or pool, or in a city and have a day to be a tourist. You won’t want to take the briefcase and they pack down to the size of maybe a small apple and weigh nothing.
- Wear a watch – preferably a dual time zone one if you don’t like doing math. They make classy ones that don’t look like a wrist calculator -- GMT are the best variety. Flying these days requires a lot of stuffing your phone here and there and having to constantly fish for it to check the time is a pain.
- If you're headed somewhere cold, consider down jackets like these. They are seriously ligher and more compressible than wool or other natural fibers and will take up no room in your carryon. This is especially useful if you're going from very hot to cold (DEN>MIA, for example). 
- Drink on the plane but only if you don’t have to go straight to work after arrival. The novelty of boozing at 30,000 feet doesn’t wear off quickly.
- Jet lag only happens to the weak. Power through it.

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