Oppressors always expect the oppressed to extend to them the understanding so lacking in themselves.

Had not read this piece before on Black feminism by Audre Lorde in 1979, where she discussed how Black women are not responsible for giving Black men an exit out of the patriarchal privilege which they weaponize against Black women instead of uniting against common threats.

Read it here: https://blogs.baruch.cuny.edu/ethnicliterature/files/2017/01/Sexism-An-American-Disease-in-Blackface.pdf

Got here from this excellent piece on Noname calling out black rap/hip hop artists’ misogynoir.

DJBooth “It’s Time to go to Work”

Corona living: a few things we’ve come to appreciate

What a bizarre world. As I’ve told many of my colleagues, this isn’t the spring we wanted, with so many canceled trips and weddings and live classes. But it’s the spring we got. And so here we are.

Covid 19 sucks.

Let’s get that out right away.  Let’s find a few silver linings. 

We’ve stumbled into a few good things this spring that made corona quarantine a little better. My writing brain (and working brain in general) has struggled, but at least these things work ok!  Raise your hand if you can’t keep two thoughts together right now. 

Sharing these in case you might benefit. Adding my affiliate links so you can find each service; sometimes with coupons or referral bonuses for you.

Eat without going to the store as much

My husband laughs at my accidental Covid-19 planning — I’d ordered cat food, litter, a huge box of toilet paper, and paper towels back in February before the quarantine surge stripped grocery stores of so many essential items. We got lucky. 

I also signed us up for HelloFresh with our first box delivered the week everything blew apart in March and shut down pretty much American life.  Turns out, not having to go to the grocery store as much during a pandemic is a nice perk. 

We’ve been doing HelloFresh for about 2 months now and will try a box from Gobble this coming week. 

HelloFresh mini review

*Use this link to save $40 off your first box from HelloFresh!

The meal box services are all pretty similar, and you can find multitudes of reviews online. I wrote a longer review of HelloFresh here. 

In brief, HelloFresh dropped a box of 3-4 good meals including a solid protein, a good carb, and a vegetable at our door every week during the worst of the quarantine for about $80-90 a week. We supplemented with our own sandwich food (for lunch) and breakfasts, and we even did the 4-person HelloFresh for a while to ensure we had some leftover food for lunches as we transitioned to eating entirely at home.

HelloFresh meal kit review May 2020

HF and other box services aren’t cheap. On average, a box costs $70-100 a week depending on how many meals you order and whether you’re doing the 2-person or 4-person size. You can also upgrade some meals by choosing a nice steal or salmon meal instead of their standard weekly fare. 

But there are intangible benefits to having someone else plan your menu and just hand you everything you need to cook. Put your brain on autopilot (if you’re skilled in the kitchen) and follow the recipe.  The food tastes good. Or throw out their recipes and make your own. Either way, someone else did the shopping for you, and if you aren’t in an area doing grocery delivery, this can be a lifesaver.

Avoid the toilet paper scramble – get a bidet!

Bidet living, man.  It’s a thing!   I’ve always been a bit afraid of bidets, because the installed ones I saw in Europe were so bizarre.  

Happily, there’s a whole market now of bidet attachments that you can install on your toilet with minimal fuss and get a clean butt without using toilet paper.  Our box box of Charmin that I ordered in February won’t last far into June, but we’re definitely using a lot less since installing the bidet. 

Luxe Bidet 185 - quick review

The model we purchased is the Luxe Bidet model 185, which offers both hot and cold water for your bum and a variety of nozzle positions so you can clean [whatever] — a handy thing for us ladies.  Amazon link

Installation was … mixed.  No complaint against Luxe; they did a good job with their directions and all the hardware they sent for installation was high quality. Plumbing is just a bitch.  

We experienced a few leaks in the 2-3 days after installation, requiring some trips to YouTube, Google, and Reddit to figure out what we’d messed up.  Everything boils down to tightening every connection enough but not too much. The bidet’s hot water line popped off its under-sink nozzle, spewing hot water throughout the vanity and requiring me to throw out a lot of expired cold medicine that got soaked.  I guess I can’t complain? It was exciting, that’s for sure. lol

Eventually, we got it sorted out, and since then not a problem at all.  The hot water hookup for the bidet (which sits to the right of the toilet if you’re doing your business) runs behind our toilet and the vanity to connect to the hot water behind our bathroom sink. The cold water comes from the same line as the toilet water supply (clean water, obviously).  The nozzles have a self-cleaning feature, so you can set the water to warm and run it for a few seconds to warm it up, then hit your bum. 

And boy does it give you all the fresh tingly clean feelings you could ever want. 

Cannot, will not ever go back to wiping my bum with paper.  Nope.  Can’t do it.  We’re hooked on bidet living now!

Good accessory:  Put a basket of clean, cheap washcloths next to your toilet plus a spare trash can or basket.  Dry off after washing yourself, and throw the cloth into the bin for washing later. One use per cloth; wash each week.  You might try these inexpensive, soft cloths  And grab a trash can that’ll fit small spaces, like this one

Drink better coffee – from small roasters

Nobody is saying a good cup of coffee can downplay 100,000 dead Americans lost to Covid-19.   But supporting small local roasters right now is important too. We’re going to lose so many independent businesses through the economic downturn. Did I mention how much this all sucks? 

I saw an ad for Trade coffee and decided to give them a shot.  For a reasonable fee ($15-20), they’ll ship a pound of good, fresh-roasted coffee to your house. You can go for a subscription and get a new bag to try every couple weeks (a cool surprise to look forward to!) or just order coffee from them.  

Everything is sourced by local roasters across the country, and you can pick your order to ship the day after coffee is fresh roasted.  They offer good blog posts too about various ways to make a better cup of joe.  We’re huge fans of our bodum, as I’ve explained here.

Verdict?  Delicious!  We’ve gotten 3-4 coffees from Trade in the past month (some by subscription and mostly ones I’ve ordered to keep us resupplied), and they’ve all been good.  I could even order Methodical coffee!  We’ll keep running down to E-City for Tanzanian Peaberry, but if you’re trying to reduce errands and exposure, Trade is filling that niche well without forcing all your dollars to Starbucks.


Buy used books

I’m worried about our independent bookstores. They were already on the precipice before everything closed in March. Amazon relentlessly chews up everything in its path, so I’ve begun looking for alternatives. 

I’ve been searching at Thrift Books before resorting to Amazon. They carry a decent range of used and new books, and I was able to get about half of my recent books from them.

Some of their prices are better than Amazon’s and some are worse. Free shipping helps soften the blow of not using Prime.  

You can stockpile points to get free books as well, but the freebies have to be cheap ones, so maybe not as useful if you’re using Thrive only to purchase particular books (which is what I tend to do).

*Coupon for 15% off your first ThriftBooks order

Play games at a distance

No surprise to those of you already in the board game or TTRPG hobby, but it’s worth discussing tools to let you get some game time in even if you aren’t spending time around people in person.

Roll20 is a web-based service that allows people to share the same virtual space as a map for RPGs in place of a tabletop map.  Most folks combine this with a phone call or Discord voice server, but Roll20 does offer video and audio connection options. I have found them a bit unreliable, personally, so my group uses Discord. 


Tabletop Simulator has been around for a while, and board game designers are getting better and better about porting their game designs into TTS for remote / online play.  We recently played Iniš with a friend, and it was a great experience.  We used Discord for voice, but you could do any conference call / video call / group call option for audio.  You can also just play online if the game doesn’t require personal interaction (like some Euro games).

Tabletop Simulator runs within STEAM. 

Bonus recommendation: Iniš

By the way, Iniš is an incredible game, and I give it a 10/10.  Gorgeous game in print, absolutely glorious art by a Hugo-nominated fantasy artist, and a fantastic game set in a fantasy-style Ireland.  Plays 2-4 people.

The gameplay is so tight! You’ll be trying to claim territory or control areas with your limited clans. Strategy is key. The amazing artwork brings huge tarot-sized cards in your hand to life, and these cards generate the actions you can take during the round. Special cards introduce crazy powers that can suddenly change the course of a whole turn.  We’ve played it once on TTs and once in person, and both times everyone came within a few moves of each other of winning the game. 

Buy Iniš (Amazon link) 

Inis board game


Review: HelloFresh

I accidentally kept us from having to forage for food during the pandemic!  On a whim in early March, I signed up for HelloFresh using a great $90 off coupon (spread over 4 boxes).  Our first box was nearly free, and I figured at the time it might inject some variety into our supper routine.

Who knew that within a few days of our first box arriving, nearly everything in America would shut down?

What started as a simple experiment became a grocery lifeline for us. We even tried it out for an elderly relative (too much meal prep for her to handle, so we’re going to try TopChef next).

*Get $40 off your first HelloFresh box with this link

HelloFresh: The good stuff

  • Someone else answers the wearying question of “what’s for supper tonight!”  This ended up being a genuine benefit, as we’ve eaten so much at home for the past two months of quarantine that we would have been really bored with our usual supper routine, good as it was.
  • Each meal includes a good shot of protein, vegetables, and a relatively healthy carb.  The quality of the meat is quite good.  Also, some items like finely ground beef or chopped raw chicken really speed up meal prep, far more than standard ground beef or having to dice something yourself before you start cooking.
  • You can throw extra groceries into your box. You’re already getting it shipped to your door, so might as well add some extra ground beef or chicken, a salad kit, or some garlic bread to round out a meal or knock out a quick lunch.
  • Replaces curb-side pickup for major meals.  My area isn’t urban enough for Instacart and other door-delivery grocery services, so this gets us more than halfway through a week.  This goes along with being able to get food to your house without having to go out shopping, and we really appreciated how much this helped us keep quarantine when Covid19 was on the rise in our county. 
  • The portions are large enough that we are full after eating a HelloFresh meal. For me, anyway. You aren’t going to get anything extra from a 2-person meal for 2 people, but you won’t go hungry either unless you’re a really big eater.
  • Meal variety is good.  We started seeing repeat recipes in about 4 weeks, but they tend to have 20+ recipes up at any one time, and we’ve hardly found anything we genuinely didn’t like.  There are always at least 3 vegetarian options, plus several meals using chicken, beef, pork, and fish.  You pay extra for steak, salmon, and other higher-cost items (optional recipes).
  • Interface is easy.  The phone app is great; the web login works great too.  I had no problems figuring out how to add meals, subtract them, pause my box for the week, etc.
  • Options for pausing or canceling subscription.  Although you do need to remember to set up your meals several days in advance (otherwise, you’ll get the standard recipes, and we always want to swap some out), you can easily push “pause” on HelloFresh for many weeks at a time.  So if you wanted just one week a month of planned meals but be on your own the rest of the month, you could manage your deliveries to accomplish this.
  • The recipes are easy to follow, even if you aren’t an experienced cook. If you’re helping to launch a teen or young adult into their own living space, you might consider giving them a few weeks of HelloFresh along with a good cutting board, a sturdy knife set, and a couple key pots and pans. They’d be eating well and learning while doing it!
  • The random stuff you never have in your pantry is included in the meal package.  I don’t have a knob of ginger around or a squirt of concentrated chicken stock when I need just a tablespoon.  The only stuff you need to add to HelloFresh recipes are butter or oil (nearly all the time), salt & pepper (all the time), and occasionally sugar.
  • The delivery box really does keep the food cold for 24 hours or more.  Those freezer packs and box liners really work!  We also saved a couple and re-froze them to use as a day cooler recently, with zero conscience about throwing out the box instead of hauling it back home (as if it were our actual cooler).
  • Customer Service has been good.  I had an issue with a box early in our subscription.  I couldn’t get through the phone line (this was at the height of the Covid19 outbreak, so things were nuts). I used the chat feature online and rapidly got an agent, and help with my problem. They fixed the delivery issue, sent out a new box ASAP, and credited my account to boot.

Nice perk:  Aside from just the sheer variety of food and reduced mental load of planning meals — which has been much more valuable  during corona-living than I’d expected — HelloFresh makes it easy to experiment with international foods and flavors (Thai, Korean, Mexican) in your own kitchen without dropping $100 extra bucks in the international foods section to pick up the side items required for less-common recipes.

So – is HelloFresh the perfect solution? Well, no. Everything brings tradeoffs, and I’d say there are a few key downsides. 

HelloFresh: The downsides

  • The cost:  Our average box of 3-5 meals for 2 people runs $75-100 per week.  Granted, sometimes that box has 4 or 5 meals in it.  And food prices have really shot up lately, so you’d have to hit 3 or 4 store sales plus have a really well stocked pantry to cook the same menu for much less.  So I don’t think HelloFresh prices are at all unreasonable given the convenience you’re paying for.  But this is not cheap eating.
    **You do end up with a more cost-effective box if you’re buying for 4 people. The meals aren’t double the cost when you double the size.  We did 4-person meals for a few weeks, and it was nice to have leftovers or have a friend over for dinner (pre-corona) and know we’d have enough. 
  • The packaging waste: HelloFresh works hard to use only recyclable packaging, and you can fully recycle their boxes, liners, and freezer packs (if you first pour out the gel).  But every week you’re getting 1-2 big boxes and all the interior packaging.  It’s a little overwhelming.  Also, every individual meal item (aside from vegetables) is packed in its own little wrapper. You will use your kitchen scissors 100 times (that’s what it feels like) to cook any given meal.
      HelloFresh says there’s less overall climate impact from having a box of groceries delivered than what you spend in gas and packaging buying stuff from grocery stores yourself.  That’s probably true, but it doesn’t change the shift in responsibility. You’re going to be throwing out a lot of packaging.
  • The freshness of the vegetables is hit or miss:  While I have been very happy with the protein and spices and accessories as well as the customer service for HelloFresh, I’m sometimes really disappointed by the quality of the vegetables. Carrots in particular seem to expire much faster than any carrots I buy myself.  Also, if you decide to stock up on 3-4 meals in a given week but aren’t planning to eat some of them for 4-6 days, you should strategically plan to eat meals with tender herbs (cilantro) and perishable vegetables before others which can hold out longer (like potatoes).
          Also have to note that HF tomatoes are just the saddest thing. If you’re out and about and can hit a farmer’s market for a fresh summer tomato, plan on swapping out the HF tomatoes for ones with actual flavor, at least in the summer!
  • You have to cook.  There are days when I’m tired from work and my spouse has been busy all day too, and we just aren’t in the mood for 10 minutes of chopping plus 20-30 minutes of cooking.  If we get too reliant on HF, we end up having to do takeout because we don’t have the supplies for a quick weeknight supper. Moral of the story: HF is not going to turn you into a supper-cooker if you aren’t already willing to cook. Also, keep some food in your pantry!
  • Recipe prep: If you’ve got two people to split up the work, it goes much faster.  But every recipe starts with several things to chop and prep, and once you’re into the cooking, sometimes you need three hands.  I do think HelloFresh has streamlined their recipes and I always know what to do. But … you need to be up for it.
  • Calorie counts are high if you aren’t picking low-cal recipes. You can control this if you pay attention to the recipes, but EVERYTHING uses oil and 1-2 T of butter. Those calories are really adding up.  I can’t blame HF entirely for my quarantine weight gain, but it’s definitely a factor.

None of these are deal-breakers to me.  The fact that we’ve done HelloFresh for over two months is testament to the quality of their meals.  But we recognize that we are lucky enough to have the privilege of extra income right now to do a meal box service, as we’re both still employed.

Bottom line

This was the best time to try a meal box service.  Little did we know.  I am going to try Gobble this week (we paused HF) and see how they compare.  We could probably run through all the meal service options using their coupons, but HelloFresh is one of the least expensive on the market, and we’ve liked the mix of flavor and quality.

If you want to give HelloFresh a shot after reading this, my link will give you $40 off your first box. It’s easy to cancel — set yourself a reminder to manage your HF account after you’ve gotten your first box and decide if you want to keep going.

HelloFresh meal kit review May 2020
May 2020 review of HelloFresh meal kit delivery service

January Reads

A quick rundown of what I’ve been reading in case you too are looking for a book to add to your pile in 2020.

Links are to my Goodreads reviews (where they exist) and Amazon (if you want a copy):


We Want to Do More Than Survive: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom

Bettina Love | Nonfiction – Education, Race

Review on Goodreads | Amazon link

review of Bettina Love We Want to do More than SurviveI wanted to like this book. Really did. Hits the intersection of issues I care about (critical theory, education, freedom) and I was hoping it would be as helpful as Chris Emdin’s For White Folks who Teach in the Hood (Amazon link)

Spoiler: It wasn’t.

Super disappointed. Now more than ever, we need good discussions of how race and poverty and systems intersect to cut off non-white folks from power and influence in America. I’ve been reading on this topic for 10-15 years now and still have so much to learn. Really wanted this book to be something I could pass on to others and say “Read this! It helped me understand things.”

The book did help me understand stuff, but not in a way most people would find helpful.  If you’re a teacher, read Emdin’s book.  If you’re just generally interested, I found Ta Nehisi Coates’s We Were Eight Years in Power (Amazon) to be one of my favorite (and painful) reads of 2019.


  •  The Washington War is on my list, continuing my journey through WW2 and General George C Marshall that I worked through last fall
  • American Warlords – ditto; started reading this before handing it off to someone a few weeks ago. Need to find another copy so I can finish it!

Science Fiction & Fantasy – in progress

Enjoying all three of these enough to mention them; will post reviews once I’m done. 

A Song for a New Day, Sarah Pinsker

Song New Day PinskerI love Sarah’s short fiction – her Hugo-nominated story “The Winds Will Rove” about a teacher / musician on a generational starship was one of my favorite things in 2018. This is her first novel. Imagine you’re the band who played the last show before The Thing Happened that ended civilization as we now know it, a Thing that forced people into their homes and ended public gatherings for good…. and you’re trying to find an underground music scene so you don’t shrivel up and die inside.  Great so far!

Servant of the Underworld, Aliette de Bodard

I found Aliette De Bodard’s short fiction in the Hugo nomination packets and fell in love with her gorgeous prose.  Her novella “The Tea Master and the Detective” (2018) is delightful and I highly recommend it.  This novel is the first in her Aztec-inspired series, exploring the murder of a priestess and a priest’s journey to find the killer. It’s like NCIS in history with Aztec magic! lol  I’ve enjoyed the book, and I’m going to read the next one, though I don’t find her novel prose as rich as her short fiction writing.  Still, this is a rare opportunity to see Aztec culture in fiction and I have learned a lot!

Seven Blades in Black, Sam Sykes

I’ve been following Sam on twitter for a while now and he cracks me up! One of my favorite twitter personalities, especially his 2018 series of painful tweets about trying to get up every day and work on his novel. So when I ran into the hefty Seven Blades book at B&N, I bought a copy and started reading.   It’s been a fun read with strong lead characters. I’d say Sal the Cacophony is one of my favorite female leads in all of speculative fiction. She’s brassy and mysterious and brutally honest.  I haven’t entirely love the prosaic style of the novel. So. Many. Short. Sentences.  But the action is pulling me along and the world is interesting and I genuinely enjoy the characters.

Professional Reading

I’m working on my doctorate in education / professional leadership, and I’m trying to identify my research agenda. Been reading a lot about adaptive leadership (giving a presentation on it at work next week). Also looking into scholarship on followership (it’s a thing) as well as critical theorists’ critiques of leadership theory in general (I dig what they’re saying).

When I have something more interesting to say here, I’ll say it.


So – what are you reading?  What should be on my list? 

The Perfect Trip is Possible: How to Pack

Continuing my series on travel planning to make 2020 your best travel year ever, let’s talk about one of the most foundational travel skills: packing.

Don’t groan. This is where the magic happens!  I know packing sounds like a chore, and in some ways it is. But you don’t have to spend the entire run-up to a trip worried about what could go wrong and what you might have forgotten.

Table of Contents:

      1. Tools for Great Packing
        (including product recommendations)
      2. Bare Minimum Packing List
      3. Carryon vs Checked Luggage packing
        (and how to pack souvenirs!)
      4. Travel-Tested Packing Tips
      5. Test It Before You Go

    Go into this with the right tools and a good plan, and you’ll be halfway to a great trip already.

    Let’s try to avoid this mess?
    (Photo credit: Caroline Selfers / Unsplash)


    Interested in a lifetime of great traveling?  Invest in good luggage, one piece at a time. No need to drop a mortgage payment on it, but you do want to build up to high-quality pieces that are rugged enough to last many years.

    1. A good suitcase

    Lots of folks write suitcase reviews; you don’t need my input here on specific brands and models. I do have opinions about the type of suitcase you want:

    • keep it small to force yourself to pack lighter
    • high-impact wheels, sturdy handle, and well-made fabrics or plastics aren’t cheap.
    • I’m not sure hardside (plastic) vs soft side (sturdy nylon fabric) really matters. I’ve carried both, and I’ve never had anything broken in either type of luggage. Learn to pack so your things don’t bounce around, and never put something fragile on the outside edge (any outside edge)
    • uniquely colored, or blaze it with colored duct tape if you buy a black suitcase that looks like everyone else’s. For years, my black soft side suitcase has traveled the world blazoned with yellow and red strips of duct tape across the back. I spot my bag instantly.

    You might catch a sale (or a combo of reward points or Kohls cash + a sale) to take a good suitcase down to $100-150, but you should be wary of inexpensive luggage in general. Materials matter!

    This is the same model as my favorite suitcase, and this one is sometimes available on Amazon for under $200 (click the photo for link)

    I did finally pick up a 25″spinnerstyle case from Samsonite on sale from Kohls for about $100 (half price), and it’s been perfect! I’ve seen similar cases on Amazon for much more, so watch Kohls for a good sale if you shop there and use your Kohls Cash.  These good quality cases cost at least $150 (for a decent cheap one) to $250-300 for an entry-level Samsonite, so watch for sales.

    I don’t think I’m going to return to the more traditional “straight wheeled” suitcases. The spinner case can roll beside me,  upright, regardless of what direction I’m headed or where I need to walk. More importantly, it doesn’t “pull” on my back or shoulder as much as traditional cases do as I’m rolling it along, and after a long airport or sidewalk trek, I’m very grateful.  

    2. A great carryon

    Comes in colors!

    We’re moving away from handbags and toward wheeled carryon packs for longer trips. On short trips, I just pack a handbag (see below).

    Wheeled carryons like the one here (Amazon) are getting better and better, with many integrated pockets, optional USB chargers (be careful of airline battery rules though), and the peace of mind that you will have at least one pair of underwear handy if your luggage were to get lost. More on that later.

    If you’re just starting out: You don’t have to pour precious funds into a special carryon bag. Clean out your school backpack if it’s still in working order. The pockets will help you keep everything organized, it fits great under the airline seat, and the straps make for easy toting of stuff!

    ….or a great bag that doubles as a carryon

    I bought this bag off Amazon for under $30 on a lark a couple years ago before traveling, hoping I could find something that would double as a large purse for normal life (when needed) and a small carryon / day bag while we were in Barcelona. Holy cow, did I hit the jackpot!

    I absolutely adore this bag. Handles are long enough to go over my shoulder but short enough to carry like a purse too. The many pockets inside and out keep my stuff organized, whether small change or documents or a camera. It looks like a day bag and not luggage, which is another win.

    Optional: Travel-safe Purse

    I carried a red version of this bag, slightly different style, for a Europe trip in 2015. Loved it so much, I made this purse my daily bag for months.

    I carried this purse (Amazon, $45) as my main day-bag for several years after taking it to France in 2015. It’s very comfortable as a cross-body bag with a slim profile. The handle is knife-resistant (no one will cut your bag off your shoulder) and the multiple pockets and zippers can be locked down if you’re especially worried. There are plenty of internal pockets for all your foreign coins, random dollars, and travel documents.

    These bags are relatively inexpensive given the high-quality materials, look good, available in many colors and styles, and hold up well. Mine eventually picked up too much dirt for me to continue carrying around, but I’m willing to pull it out for trips because it packs so flat in my suitcase.

    3. Packing Cubes

    How to use packing cubes Shacke Pack
    See below for tips on using these packing cubes and making the most of your space

    These Shacke Pak nylon packing cubes (Amazon, about $25) revolutionized my travel life. I’m not exaggerating.

    The smallest cube is about the width and length of a box of granola bars. The largest is 12x17x2″ which nearly covers half of a small carryon.

    Instead of throwing everything into your suitcase, or even rolling and packing (which is a great method), carefully rolling and packing your clothes into the cubes then packing the cubes into your bags keeps your overall packing job much more organized.

    In other words, packing cubes give you the organizational benefits of pockets inside your suitcase, but they also let you subdivide your clothes into smaller subsections. I tend to put jeans/pants in one and shirts in another, and undergarments in the smallest. You might use one for shoes or throw your makeup bag and toiletries in the smallest. My husband and I split one set between us when we travel – his clothes tend to take up more space than mine in his suitcase, so he uses the largest size for pants or shirts.

    4. Extra bag / Day bag

    This is a must for international trips or anytime you’re flying.

    If you expect to buy souvenirs or are traveling for the holidays and aren’t sure what you’re going to be bringing home, throw in a foldable nylon tote bag like this one (Amazon).

    These take up zero room while you’re traveling, but they’re a lifesaver once you’re on the road and you run out of suitcase space.  They also give you a daytime carry-all that doesn’t add any weight to your suitcase (unlike packing an actual tote bag), plus having a second bag means you don’t have to pull everything out of one of your other (well-packed) bags to do a day trip.

    Sometimes you can find these on sale at places like Books a Million or department stores for $5. If you are so lucky, grab 2 or 3.

    5. Other Essentials

    Quick round-up of what we never leave home without:

    • Combo set:  Power converter & Plug converters:   If you’re traveling to where they use 220 current instead of American 110 V, you need a power block converter that’ll step down the current by half before plugging in devices like hair dryers, curling irons, or device chargers. NOTE:  Many iPad, laptop, and Android phone chargers do this already – do some Googling for your charger’s specs and read the fine print on the block (if you can read it.
       Even if you have the 110/220 thing handled, most countries use a totally different plug style than we use in the US.  You will need little plastic plug converters to fit over your plug so it can go into the wall.  Most converter kits come with multiple plugs. Just throw them all into your bag; things can get crazy out there.
      *We use this all-in-one block:  Amazon, $22
      **You’ll each need a converter, unless you use no electronics while traveling.
    • Travel document belt /holder: You need to protect your passport with your life. Credit cards too, but those are replaceable in “worst case scenario.”  Losing your passport means giving up everything you planned to do so you can sit at the American consulate instead. FUN! Avoid this horrible outcome by carrying your passport on you at all times and in a safe place away from the prying hands of pickpockets.
      *There are many great document holders out there. This one is $15 at Amazon and works great.  Get one for each person traveling. Spread out your hard cash and credit cards so a single theft or loss doesn’t mean a miserable trip.
    • Laundry sheets: These little gems will enable you to pack actual laundry detergent for a quick load on the go (or a batch in the sink) without having to pack any liquids at all! The sheets dissolve in the water and then do their job. You can get cheaper ones for $7 for 30 at Amazon that just provide detergent OR step up to a fancier model with some fabric softener included on the sheet for $8 for box of 10
    • Travel-sized toiletries, including gels, creams, and liquids, packed into a 1 quart bag: If you’re flying, you must adhere to current FAA rules for liquids on carryons. Currently that means no bottles (or tubes or jars) of pastes, liquids, or lotions (or makeup) above 3 oz each, and collectively everything fits into a 1 quart ziplock bag.  See below for more on carryon vs checked luggage information.
      You can find pre-made travel packs, but I hoard the toothbrush & little travel toothpaste my dentist gives me, then pick up a sample-sized contact lens solution at the eye doctor, travel-sized shampoo and deodorant, and pack only the most essential makeup items. 
    • Photocopies / scans and photos of your critical documents:  These don’t take much space, but you should safeguard your passport, driver’s license, travel documents, and credit cards by traveling with backups.
      At least shoot photos of each document with your phone under good lighting and store them on your phone if you’re bringing it with you.
      I’ve heard that if you lose your passport, you can expedite the replacement process by traveling with photocopies of the document plus an extra set of passport photos. That’s probably overkill, but I do travel with a print copy of my passport tucked into my carryon, with my real passport stowed carefully in my safest pocket, and keep photos of my credit cards in a secret place on my phone.
    • Every electronic charger: Just writing this here so you don’t forget charger cords and power blocks for your phone, camera, and anything else that requires a charge. (Apple Watch? Earbuds?)
      You’ll also want your earbuds, plus wireless or regular-plug earbuds (old Apple style, not the Lightning connector) that’ll plug into the plane’s sound system, or you’ll end up buying a set from the airline for $5-10.
      I also travel with a cellphone battery pack so I’m always charged up. Traveling eats my phone battery right quick. I’ve had great luck with Anker products for charging and batteries; maybe try this dual-port battery brick.
    • Contact numbers for your credit card companies (the cards you’re traveling with), the customer service number of your bank, and emergency contact information for at least 3 people. Put this with your critical documents and also take a photo and hide it on your phone.  Make sure your trusted travel companions know where to find this information on your behalf.
      *If you bought travel insurance, bring that information too.

    Packing Principles: Make the most of the space you’ve got

    There are great guides online already about packing, so get on YouTube or Google and find yourself a guru and a method you like. Roll ’em up, pack ’em tight!

    I’m not fussy about packing, and I’ve packed so often that I don’t even need a list anymore for close overnight trips. But I recommend making a written list anyway, and it’s a must if you’re traveling far from home.

    Bare minimum packing list

    • Underwear (# days of travel +1, up to 8 pairs). Longer trips probably doing laundry or carrying a bigger suitcase, and I never choose bigger.
    • Bras: I carry two and swap back and forth each day.  During longer trips or hot weather, wash one out in the sink every couple days and let it dry while you’re out.
    • Outerwear: Obviously, the weather matters here. If you’re carrying winter clothes (ski trip?), you need a bigger suitcase because they take up so much more room. I’ve done weeklong beach trips in a small duffel bag, by comparison.
      Summer: At minimum, buy one of those tiny nylon jackets that fold up into a packet and throw it in your suitcase. Easy to carry, peace of mind. Also, having a nylon hood means you don’t have to mess with an umbrella when it’s raining.
    • Shoes: My rule is “the pair on my feet plus one” unless it’s a short weekend trip without anything fancy, in which case I’ll probably just wear one pair of shoes the whole time.  Tennis shoes are heavy and internationally they make you look like a tacky American. Invest in a stylish, comfortable pair of walking shoes for nice events and a pair of sturdy walkers (Merrills, Chacos, etc) for cobblestone streets.
      *I avoid losing space to socks by going everywhere in Chacos sandals unless it’s actually cold outside.  On long trips, I do like to swap back and forth between two pairs of shoes to give my feet a break.
    • Flat, foldable extra bag (see above) if traveling internationally or taking a trip where a day bag would be handy for shopping, souvenirs, carrying your water and camera, going down to the beach…..
    • Outfits: Pack smart, people. Make do with less; do more with a few pieces that mix and match well.  I pick a color family and throw in long pants, shorts, long-sleeve and short-sleeve shirts, and a lightweight sweater that match that color family.  You also want wrinkle-resistant clothes, and you want to avoid sequins on flight days (sets off the machines) or anything that’s going to be uncomfortable if you wore it all day.
    • Documents (see tips above), wallet, credit cards, photo ID and a holder to carry them privately and securely.  I use my purse and keep a tight rein on it. My husband uses one of the under-clothes document pouches. We split our cash and credit cards between us.
    • Toiletries: Remember to get <3oz bottles for anything that needs to travel in carry-on luggage.
      TIP: Inside my suitcase, any bottled items like contact lens solution, shampoo, or sunscreen are bundled together into a large ziplock bag to protect against leakage due to the changes in cargo pressure. There’s nothing like opening your suitcase at a destination and finding everything soaked in shampoo…..   :/
      *I use a nice fold-out makeup bag that keeps everything organized, similar to this one that you can get on Amazon for $15.
    • Medications and copy of Rx: If you’re flying, it’s wise to keep any essential medications in your carryon instead of checked luggage so they aren’t lost. Also, you may want to bring along a printed copy of your prescription in case you’re challenged about carrying medications into the country.

    Carryon vs Checked Luggage Principles

    This is a short section, but it deserves its own spot if you’re inexperienced in packing for flying.  Sometimes you need to check bags (for convenience or because it’s a long trip), and then you need to strategically split your items between checked and unchecked bags.

    If I can get away with flying only with carryon luggage, I do because I’m guaranteed to land with all my belongings in tow. But airline rules about size and weight of carryons (especially in Europe) can  make this hard. Also most short-hop flights in the US are using tiny airplanes now with little luggage space. Large roller carryon bags can’t all fit, and you end up gate-checking the bag anyway.  So if you absolutely must keep your bag with you at all times, make sure it’s small enough to fit under the seat of any airplane on your route. 

    I’ve not suffered many luggage losses, but you should always pack a carryon as if you’ll never see your checked bag again, at least not while on the trip.  If you actually lose your luggage, you’ll probably need to buy some clothes

    With this principle in mind, here’s how I pack for a carryon + checked luggage flight:

    In a small carryon bag:
    • Essential toiletries for freshening up, all in travel size, including face-wipe or makeup remover cloth, contact lens case & solution, deodorant, brush & hair ties, safety razor (disposable), and toothbrush + toothpaste.  I don’t wear a lot of makeup, but it’d go here too, including lipstick — everything in a single Ziplock bag that you can pull out during TSA check
    • Glasses or sunglasses in their case
    • 1 pair underwear
    • 1 lightweight shirt (folded around the underwear)
    • if rainy, pocket-sized raincoat; I keep larger coats over my arm
    • phone charger cable, plug, and battery pack; power converter & plug adapter if headed overseas
    • earbuds
    • travel documents, ID, money
    • necessary medications
    • book or magazine or tablet
    • camera if I’m carrying one

    Sometimes I can use a large purse as a carryon (like the brown leather bag linked in the first section above) and that’s all I carry onto the plane!  This is extra handy if I expect to need to use my spare expandable tote bag to get home with everything later — the tote bag might become my actual “carryon” and my purse (which has been functioning as my carryon) is now just a purse….. a very full purse. 😉

    In checked bag:
    • full range of outfits, extra shoes, underwear! all the underwear
    • Laundry supplies, fine mesh bag
    • actual coat or winter gear
    • bag for dirty clothes (I always throw in a few extra plastic grocery bags)
    • supplemental fold-out bag in case it’s needed
    • large-sized toiletries, full makeup bag, hair brush.
    • if traveling to hostels, my own towel & washcloth
    • supplies for packing souvenirs*
    • scissors, nice razor – these are usually part of larger toiletries bag
    • extra charger cable, battery pack for camera, etc
    • swimwear, any specialty clothing
    *Plan ahead for packing souvenirs
      • roll of bubble wrap if you anticipate buying ceramics, glass, wine, fine tableware, etc
      • gallon-sized Ziplock bags – you can put liquids in here (wine bottles, liquor, perfume) after wrapping them in bubble wrap or pack food items
      • roll of scotch tape (or packing tape)
      • pair of scissors
      • a packing plan – what needs to stay in your carryon vs packed flat in your suitcase?

    You can get home with nearly anything if you pack it tightly in a suitcase so nothing bounces around once the case is closed and locked. I’ve carried home wine, rum, fresh coffee, jimon from Barcelona, olive oil, crystal glasses from Prague, fine glassware …. 

    My travel-tested packing tips:

    • Set aside an hour for the job, prep yourself mentally, make a list, and pack at least the night before so your brain has time to “remember” the stuff you’re forgetting.
    • Lay everything out on your bed before you start putting things into packing cubes or into your bags. Get a sense of the whole before tackling the parts.
    • Identify fragile and breakable items and make sure they’re either in your handbag / carryon or packed tightly in the inside area of your suitcase (not packed against one of the outside edges).  I’ve successfully carried fragile items in the corners of a hardshell suitcase, but it’s still a risk.
    • Are you flying and checking a bag? Pull out critical toiletries in travel size (toothbrush & paste, stick deodorant, contact lens case & solution, maybe a face cleanser) and a pair of underwear (consider a shirt too) and plan on packing them in your carry-on. Also medications. Always pack your carry-on in preparation for a common mishap: your luggage is lost for 24 hours (or more).  You can buy more toiletries and clothes if the worst happens and you lose your clothes (it’s happened to me!), but you will be less miserable if you’ve got a plan B right in hand.
    • Before packing, reconsider everything sitting on the bed to be packed. Overpacking is worse than under packing. You can always buy something on the fly (unless you’re camping in the wilderness), but once you’ve hauled unnecessary items with you, you can’t get rid of them without throwing them away.

    BONUS TIP: As I mentioned above, blaze your suitcase with a brightly colored strip of duct tape if your luggage isn’t a distinctive color already. Thankfully, colorful cases are becoming the norm, making it easier to spot your luggage on baggage claim and prevent others from grabbing the wrong bag accidentally.  Doing anything extra to “make it yours” adds another layer of protection from accidental loss, and it also gives you an additional way to identify your bag to airline personnel if it’s lost in transit.  “Black 26 samsonite” means nothing; “green hard shell with an L in red duct tape on the back” makes your case easy to spot.

    Test drive your suitcase’s weight load

    OK, so you’ve got good luggage, packed it firmly, and are ready to embark?  Wait just a minute. Take that suitcase out and put it in your car (yourself), then drive to a nearby parking lot.  Park on the edge and get out your suitcase.

    Now. Walk the entire perimeter of the parking lot, towing your suitcase. I mean the whole way around, all 4 sides of the big rectangle. Get back to your car, lift your case back into your trunk, then get into your car and rate how much you hate your life right now, on a scale of 1-5, with 1 being “that was fun!” to 5 being “I will never leave my house.”

    You will often walk miles inside an airport or when taking public transportation in a big city or internationally.  Whatever you think you need to take on this trip, remember you’ll be carrying it by hand the entire way.  If that parking lot excursion left you panting and hating life, go take half of the stuff out of your suitcase.

    I promise you’ll thank me later.

    I’m planning to do at least one more post in this series to round up some of our tips and tricks earned through 20+ years of worldwide travel. Stay tuned!

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