What’s in my suitcase?

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Where we are: Seoul, South Korea, going for long walks and drinking many iced beverages. I love ice.

What’s in my suitcase?

Someone asked Lee recently what was in my capsule wardrobe, which made me laugh. I have clothes, mostly shorts and t-shirts. They mix and match pretty well. I wear them. They get ratty, and I replace them. If that’s a capsule wardrobe, okay, but it seems unnecessary to give a bunch of shorts and t-shirts such an on-trend label. The upshot of that question, though, was that I made a list of what’s in my suitcase, and read it out loud for Lee’s podcast, so since I already had the list, I thought I’d share it with y’all, as well.

In nearly five years of being able to fit all my worldly possessions into the overhead bin, I’ve done a lot of experimenting with what I need—and what I don’t need.

Here’s what’s working for me at the moment.

Caveats: it’s all hopelessly out of style. As a matter of fact, I’ve been away from American culture for so long I don’t even know what the current fashions are, never mind own them.

This list changes a tiny bit, sometimes, from year to year, depending on where we’re going and what kind of activities we’re planning. Some things are easier to acquire or replace in some places than others, so our annual trip to the US is usually an important restock opportunity, particularly for shorts and bras and bathing suits—the things I’m fussy about.

I reserve the right to supplement if the weather or the culture require more layers or coverage. A cheap sweatshirt can be a lifesaver, and I can almost always find an inexpensive, colorful wrap if I need another layer. When I’m done with it, I just leave it for the housekeeper.

I also reserve the right to wear almost everything I own at the same time. I’m okay with looking ridiculous. There’s a high likelihood that wherever I am, I’m never going to see these people again.

It’s all mix-and-match, because that’s just practical. Same goes for machine wash only. If it requires any kind of TLC, it’s not an option. I refuse, however, to wear clothes I don’t like. Lee keeps trying to convince me to wear all black, all the time, but black shirts don’t make me feel happy, so I ignore him.

The tourist pass is real, and I am not afraid to rely on it. I do have one outfit that makes me look moderately dressed up, but we can get away with casual about 90% of the time.

Things I don’t own: dresses, pleats, jeans, anything uncomfortable. If it won’t be comfortable on a fourteen hour flight, I don’t need to own it.

One pair of charcoal gray yoga-ish pants. I pretend they’re dressier than they are.

One pair of black capris

5 pairs of shorts (longer is better, but sometimes they’re surprisingly hard to find)

1 knee-length black skirt

1 nice-ish dark purple shirt that goes well enough with the skirt (I bought it in a panic, with a child’s graduation looming, and it makes my arms look fat, so as soon as I find the perfect replacement, I’m ditching it.)

8 short-sleeved or sleeveless shirts: either linen or knit, but I avoid anything with words. Shirts with words just seem a step too far toward complete sloppiness.

2 long sleeved-linen blouses that I wear in lieu of a sweater (usually one is adequate, but we were in some very cold places this year), and no, I don’t worry about ironing.

10 pairs of underwear, all beige

8 pairs of socks

2 bathing suits (but usually only 1)

1 bathing suit cover-up, but I’m considering replacing this with a sarong. I can’t quite decide.

1 nightgown

1 pair of what I call lounge pants, and a ratty old t-shirt. This is my nod to the kind of lazy, Sunday morning comfort outfit that keeps me grounded in the person I’ve always been, and I refuse to give them up. When we’re in an airbnb, this is what I wear all morning, because I try very hard not to go out before noon.

6 bras, all beige

1 pair of nice-ish black flip-flops with patent leather on the straps. The patent leather is actually an important touch, because it’s what allows me to pretend they work in a nice-shoe-restaurant, ie, with the skirt. (Invariably, though, we want to walk to the restaurant, so I wind up wearing pants or shorts, with my sneakers. Remember, tourist pass.)

1 extremely lightweight, extremely squish-able Arcteryx jacket. It’s black, but it’s getting old, so I’d love to replace it with a nice bright color. I’m just waiting to find one I like.

I had a spectacularly useful sun/rain umbrella that I bought in Tokyo. It was bright pink, weighed next to nothing, folded up super-tiny, and was lined with silver. I swear it was cooler under that umbrella. Sadly, it disappeared last year when we were at our kid’s college graduation. I’m dying to get back to Tokyo to buy another one. [ETA: I bought one. It’s lavender and cream, and I love it unreasonably.]

1 pair of sneakers (although they don’t go in the suitcase, obviously—I’m wearing them).

1 very thin, gauzy scarf that I bought in India

1 pair of thin, squish-able, folding slippers that come in their own little bag. I buy these in Thailand, and try never to be without. Super-useful.

The other important things are a large ziplock bag that holds my prescriptions and some of our ‘first aid’ supplies.

Devices & their attendant cords and chargers. I have an iPad, iPhone, kindle, electric toothbrush, and an Apple Watch. I also have a very small digital scale, and an even smaller digital kitchen scale. Like, smaller than a pencil box.

A small stash of ziplock bags in various sizes. You never know when you’re going to need a ziplock. I can make one last, in constant use, for a year.

I have one of those thin, minimal backpacks that will hold my iPad and 2 or 3 grocery items. I use it as a daypack, or for going to work in a coffee shop.

Also, for what it’s worth, I only carry a cross-body purse; it has lots of pockets with zippers and snaps. I stupidly bought one in South Africa last year that had no pockets, and nearly had a nervous breakdown. Never again. Pockets forever!

My skin care routine is problematic—I’m embarrassingly vain about my skin, and I get a little cranky if I don’t have the exact right products, all of which I’ve been using for about 20 years. This is the subject of much spousal harassment, so if you’re thinking you’ll tease me about it, don’t bother. Lee’s got that covered.

The one other thing I always have is a skein or two of yarn. I get antsy if I don’t have a project going. I gave up my Vitamix five years ago; I refuse to give up knitting.

And last but not least, I carry a small bag of balloons. Fussy toddlers (and their beleaguered parents) seem to enjoy them.

From my writer’s notebook: Banksy, whose street art I love, donated a painting to a UK hospital a few weeks ago, as a thank you to medical workers.

Two days later, someone dressed up in a hazmat suit (interesting detail) and tried to steal it. He was foiled by alert security guards, but still. Some people are just jerks.

Take care,


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