Packed for the occasion

This item appears on page 38 of the May 2013 issue.

ITN printed the following letter from Kathi Snouffer of Portland, Oregon: “Is there anyone else out there who cannot brag about going around the world for years taking only a daypack? 

“My husband is 6'6" and not a beanpole. His size-12½ hiking shoes (or even tennis shoes) take up half of a carry-on all by themselves. I’m not tiny, either, and neither are our clothes. We usually travel about four weeks at a time and have taken daypacks and carry-ons plus one checked 50-pound bag each. This combination has taken us to seven continents, from subfreezing weather to the high 90s. 

“Vacation time is precious, meaning no cooking, cleaning, doing laundry or having to shop for travel clothing. Nor do we want to pay our hard-earned travel money for expensive laundry and cleaning services. 

“Most of all, I think it’s a matter of respect for the countries we visit to make an effort to appear appropriate. We were thankful on a 1997 trip to India, for instance, when dining in the beautiful Rambagh Palace hotel in Jaipur, with its elegantly attired employees, to not be the obvious tourists schlepping through the dining room in jeans, T-shirts, parkas and backpacks that looked like they’d been worn all day. (I’m not talking young people here, either.) 

“We also stayed at the Lake Palace hotel in Udaipur. Lest you think we are only palace-dwellers, the previous nights we resided in a mud-and-dung hut at a jungle camp near Kanha National Park.

“Our travel is usually independent and as off the beaten path as possible, with no fancy cruises and not focused on big cities. Whether it’s on an airline, checking into a hotel or patronizing a nice dining establishment, one usually gets better service and sometimes an upgrade for making the effort. 

“Are we alone on this or merely old-fashioned?”

Kathi’s letter drew a number of responses from like-minded travelers who pack what they need for a range of situations and find it all won’t fit just in their carry-ons. Their letters appear below. Several others explained how they manage to dress properly everywhere without having to check luggage, and their tips will be printed next month.


Thank you, thank you, thank you, ITN, for printing the query from Kathi Snouffer regarding packing for travel. I side with her.

I do not want to be in Morocco when the weather changes and wish I had packed that jacket and hat! I don’t want to be walking the Great Wall in China and wish I had brought that extra pair of shoes along that would have made the steep hike easier.

On more than a couple of trips, I have been the one to whom fellow travelers have come to use my international chargers or my sunblock, items they couldn’t fit into their daypacks.

Don’t get me wrong; my family kids me about having my “stuff” and always wanting to be “prepared,” but I check that one bag, pack a carry-on and also sling my “tech bag” over my shoulder.

Like Kathi, I don’t want to shop for clothes while on a trip or spend evenings washing my clothes and hoping they will dry by morning. I’ve been with people who sent their laundry to the hotel and didn’t get all of it back, and some that was returned came back dirty. 

I don’t want to wear the same slacks three days in a row. I am on vacation, and I like feeling fresh and a little dressier than what I trudge around in at home.

God bless you, one-bag travelers, but I will never be one of you — and proudly so!

Mary Koblas, Marengo, IL


My wife, Loie, and I sympathize with the plight of Kathi Snouffer and her tall husband. Although I’m not, by any means, tall, clothes do take up space and weigh more than one might think! Add a reasonable amount of cosmetics and shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, etc., plus perhaps a bottle of pills and a couple of guidebooks and the 50-pound limit is quickly reached.

Dressing well is a sign of respect for both ourselves and the inhabitants of our host countries. I’m not sure that dressing well results in preferential treatment, as Kathi mentioned, but that’s not a great concern of mine. Dressing well is just something one does to be a polite member of society, much the same as smiling, using the local terms of address and greeting, and so forth.

I abhor the whole “traveling light” concept. We want to travel competently. Over the duration of a multiweek trip, especially if it includes different destinations, we’re sure to encounter changes of weather and temperature, requiring different clothes. Traveling anywhere in the United Kingdom requires rain gear, no matter the time of year! 

Independent travel, as we practice it, surely requires some guidebooks, a camera, and a notebook for diary keeping. Weight and space! So what to do? How can we travelers maintain a respectful appearance, guide ourselves, keep records for posterity and not break our backs or budgets?

A few things Loie and I do might help others in their travel planning. 

Consider the travel style known as “slow travel” (visit or Google “slow travel”). One way to do this is to plunk oneself down in a self-catering rental, whether it’s a house in the country or an apartment in the city, for a couple of weeks; this simplifies life immensely. 

Although Kathi mentions not doing laundry, a load or two of laundry in the evening seems to us congenial while we make trip notes, use the WiFi to send an email or two or just unwind from a day trip with a bottle of local wine or a digestif. Being able to do laundry on our time, at our convenience, vastly reduces the amount of clothing we need to take. And sharing a self cater with friends can really reduce the cost of a trip!

Of course, not every trip can be pure slow travel; we sometimes break the rule. Our most recent trip included four destinations (yikes!), but one of them was with friends at their house (with laundry facilities) in the south of France. A self cater for a week would have served just as well to freshen us up for our trip’s last fours days in Paris.

Lightweight clothes also help. It may sound silly, but I bought a dozen pairs of very lightweight Jockey underwear for traveling. They weigh half what the old cotton ones do and pack tighter. Dress slacks in a good, wrinkle-free fabric are lighter and less bulky than denim jeans. Silk suspenders for my slacks weigh less than leather belts and are more comfortable! 

Loie has a couple of polyester scarves that weigh almost nothing, can be packed into plastic sandwich bags to keep them clean and which help immensely in keeping her warm on a cool evening.

Does everyone know about Dr. Bronner’s Soap? A 3-ounce bottle of the concentrated liquid soap serves me for both shampoo (and I have a ponytail halfway down my back!) and body/hand soap for two weeks, easily. 

We’ve upgraded our luggage several times over the years, as designs and materials have gotten better, getting bags that are lighter in weight and easier to handle.

Electronic guides and maps may be able to replace paper. I’ve just ordered an iPad and hope that, with the right apps, I can replace the immense amount of guidebooks, road atlases and information I carry as computer printouts, etc. I’m not sure that, at 61 years of age, I’ll ever fully trust battery power over ink on paper (time will tell), but the advantages in weight savings would be, if truly practical, immense.

We, at least, are two travelers who cannot and do not brag about traveling light!

Bucky Edgett
Westminster, MD


I can certainly identify with those who are “packed for the occasion.”

I am ready for rain by packing my umbrella. 

Cool weather? I wear a sweater on the plane and pack a shawl. Shawls, which are light to carry, are also handy in summer to use to cover up when visiting churches. 

If expecting an even cooler climate, such as that of Iceland or Alaska, I pack my Early Winters ski jacket. 

Being ready for a change in climate means comfort plus less time wasted looking for appropriate apparel once you have arrived at your destination. 

Comfortable flats are a must for walking, as are comfortable sandals in summer. Dress shoes make their way into my suitcase, too. 

And I always pack extra underwear and pajamas.

Special occasions, formal evenings and nice restaurants require proper attire, so dress-up clothes are a must.

I agree that dressing appropriately is putting your best foot forward and creating a good impression as an American tourist in a foreign country.

I wear jewelry and pack some complementary costume jewelry in my purse. I always wear a watch.

As a nurse, I like to be prepared by packing Tylenol, Aleve, an antihistamine, Claritin for my allergies/sinuses and, of course, Purell.

Last but not least, the camera. I cannot leave home for my trip without it!

Maria C. Ciancio
Ossining, NY 


Hooray for our side! No, Kathi, you are not alone, but we’re definitely in the minority.

You mentioned being at the Rambagh Palace in Jaipur and seeing “tourists schlepping through the dining room in jeans, T-shirts, parkas and backpacks that looked like they’d been worn all day.” Sloppy people seem to wear clothes like that as a badge of honor. I agree we should respect where we are, even though some of the locals have now joined the “sloppy” side.

Have you ever heard the saying, ‘Sit in the dining room and you have dining-room manners’? I feel better when I look better, whether I’m out and about or at home.

I use one suitcase plus a carry-on but sometimes have to “borrow” some of my husband’s luggage space, especially if we are going to different climates on the same trip. We’ll keep it up and not let others dumb us down!

Jeri Robb, Carpentersville, IL


I’m 76 and a retired registered nurse. Between 1997 and 2011 I took 20 trips, 16 with Overseas Adventure Travel and four with Grand Circle Travel. My 21st trip, in August ’12, was to Laos and Vietnam. I travel with a backpack and one checked bag, and my checked bag has never weighed more than 30 pounds.

My packing philosophy is “wear one, pack two.” Yes, I do laundry. I pack one dressy outfit. For shoes, I have a heavy pair of hiking boots and wear a multi-use pair of sandals. I pack basic first-aid items, basic laundry items and only necessary toiletries.

I also take some things to give for a school visit (a Frisbee, paperback books…) and something for a home visit.

Janet L. Ellis, Plano, TX


I am absolutely convinced that how you dress while traveling affects how people treat you. 

Long ago, when air travel was a treat rather than torture and frequent-flyer miles and baggage fees had not been invented, I traveled a lot on business. I always wore a jacket and tie. On a number of occasions flight attendants invited me to sit in the first-class cabin when there was an empty seat there.

Now, in retirement, I always travel wearing nice slacks, a sport shirt and a seersucker jacket. The latter is very useful for holding tickets and all the junk one needs to have on hand, but it also presents a certain image. If you show up in a dirty T-shirt, torn shorts and flip-flops, you will be treated accordingly. 

Irving E. Dayton
Corvallis, OR


For years I have felt like I’m mounting a one-woman crusade on proper travel attire. It embarrasses my husband and me to see the disrespectful way some of our fellow countrymen dress when traveling overseas. Like it or not, citizens of other countries resent the fact that some travelers don’t feel they or their countries are worth dressing decently for.

The old “I want to be comfortable” line doesn’t sell, logically. “Comfortable” doesn’t have to mean sloppy T-shirts, baggy shorts or pants, backward baseball caps or the ubiquitous American habit of wearing a pair of brand-new, white running shoes or flip-flops. 

My husband and I get countless compliments from locals who appreciate our sensitivity to their culture. One of the things we hear most often is, “You don’t look like Americans.” 

From personal experience, I can tell you that dressing well while traveling can get you airline upgrades, hotel suites, restaurant reservations, invitations to local homes or events and more. 

Here are a few quotes I’ve garnered on this subject.

Patrick Hoffman, director of the New York Public Library’s Theatre on Film and Tape Archive: “I’m a firm believer that good clothes open all doors.”

Esther Gropper, age 93, author of “Dance Until the Music Stops”: “Dress well every day. No frayed pants or frumpy house dresses allowed” and “Dress as if you had a date. When you get a compliment, it makes you feel distinctive.”

Gay Talese, author: “People dress up for funerals. Why not dress up to celebrate that you’re alive?”

Coco Chanel: “I can’t understand how a woman can leave the house without fixing herself up a little. You never know when you’ll have a date with destiny.”

Writer Susan Fales-Hill: “Do not give people the opportunity to dismiss you or mistreat you by looking less than your best. That means everywhere, even to the grocery store.”

Louise Welch (my mother): “Don’t ever leave the house in sloppy clothes or with messy hair; show respect for everyone you’ll meet.”

My mantra is “dress like a traveler, not like a tourist.”

In November 2002, my husband and I did a 3-week Saga tour of New Zealand with four Americans and 30 Brits. On departure at the airport, a couple (who later became our great friends) saw our blue passports and were shocked. They said we didn’t look like the other Americans: “We thought you were Brits.”

In Paris in February 2000, we followed a couple into a lovely restaurant. She wore flip-flops and Capri pants; he wore a T-shirt with writing and a baseball cap. The maître’d said to them, “We’re fully booked.” Then we stepped up, with no reservations, and were seated at a lovely table.

On our way into a restaurant in Amsterdam in May ’12, we passed a couple exiting who were indignantly and loudly complaining that there were empty tables but they did not get seated. Their rumpled clothes, sneakers and jeans were not what the restaurant wanted to see from their patrons. Appropriately dressed, we were seated immediately.

A good 30 percent of the time, we show up at the airline check-in counter dressed as though we belong in first class and are upgraded, often with a word of appreciation.

Our traveling clothes are wrinkle-proof and respectful. When arriving at a hotel from an early-morning flight looking well dressed, it is not uncommon to be told our room is not available yet but a suite can be substituted at the same rate. 

We do not wear designer clothes, gold jewelry or Rolexes. Experienced travelers know not to garner attention from the wrong people. What we do wear are well-fitting, washable, packable clothes (which are quite comfortable) and “real-life” shoes. There are good-looking, well-fitting walking shoes available for those rougher terrains.

People get testy about this subject. Sometimes when we’re presenting a travel program and mention the type of clothing we wear and pack, we get heated comments. 

We’re convinced most people want to wear sloppy things and don’t want to have to “dress up” in, for example, for men, neat chinos and collared Polo shirts (as a good example of menswear, see how Rick Steves dresses in his videos) or, for women, a simple belted dress that can be changed for day or evening with a scarf, necklace or jacket. 

Tourists who pack their “we’re on vacation” clothes send the wrong message to travel providers (airlines, hotels and shops) as well as to the residents of their destination. Don’t pretend that only clothes that are “comfortable” are worn for travel. Look around at the locals. They look perfectly comfortable in “real” clothes. 

Dress like a traveler, not like a tourist.

Joan L. Welch
St. Petersburg, FL 


I agree 100% with Kathi Snouffer. I’ve been traveling internationally since the mid ’70s. I don’t want to spend a lot of time washing clothes or paying exorbitant laundry fees. 

I feel it’s important to feel good and also to look good because you are a traveling ambassador. I can tell you that looking presentable, with nice, clean clothes, has been a plus on many occasions. 

I always push the weight limit with our baggage so that we have lots of options. Travel is supposed to be enjoyable, not a chore. 

Ronald Reed, Melbourne, FL


Humorist David Sedaris “hit the nail”: “Comfort has its place, but it seems rude to visit another country dressed as if you’ve come to mow its lawns.”

Bill Marsano, New York, NY


No, Kathi Snouffer, you are not alone. My wife, Jane, and I also think it shows respect to the host country to be decently turned out, and we too deplore the slovenly dress of so many tourists today. 

We are indisputably old-fashioned, though. The contemporary mode of dressing like a day laborer is the norm. To try to persuade our fellow travelers to smarten up is hopeless, as they dress just as badly at home!

It’s sad because it’s just as easy to pack a pair of chinos as a pair of jeans. The chinos, of course, look better, and they also are likely to be cooler and looser and more comfortable for travel. 

Likewise, a button-front shirt, whether short- or long-sleeved, is likely to be airier and freer than some sweat-sodden T-shirt.

And the concept of getting better service by dressing better? I have tried to explain it to some but was met with incomprehension.

We do part company with you on the issue of laundry. We make 5- or 6-week trips to India each year, taking a large camera case apiece plus two small, rolling carry-ons and two 45-pound rolling suitcases (themselves within carry-on limits) that we check. A great deal of our luggage is equipment, not clothing. 

To survive the six weeks with relatively little clothing, my wife does laundry in the hotel sink each evening while managing to recharge camera batteries and download the day’s photos to portable hard drives. I spend a couple of hours typing the day’s notes into our computer.

Whether you go the rub-a-dub-dub route or not, we agree that it pays to look good and dress well. Vive l’ancien régime!

Clyde F. Holt, Hinesburg, VT 


My husband, Michael, and I checked luggage even way back when we traveled on “$5 a day” for an entire summer. We have learned to pack lighter but still need luggage. 

We try to dress appropriately. We take comfortable shoes but NEVER wear ugly sneakers. In Europe, I especially notice the locals walking everywhere in regular shoes; rarely do I see sneakers. 

For me, it is just as easy to be comfortable in “nice” clothing. I cover my knees and shoulders before entering a church or temple, and I wish to project myself as a respectful American. 

Just a note — my make-up case is larger now than my suitcase was back then!

Amy Romano, Syosset, NY


I couldn’t agree with Kathi Snouffer more! I’ve traveled light in the past but now pack my monster suitcase, and the tiny bit of effort it takes to deal with luggage is so worth it. 

I wouldn’t dream of getting on a plane without a change of clothes, a robe and a pair of walking shoes in my roll-aboard — plus all the other goodies I couldn’t live without, even overnight.

It really annoys me to have dinner in a beautiful, atmospheric restaurant when the other diners look like they just came in from a cross-country trek. There is absolutely no question that because we look presentable most of the time, we are treated better by everyone in the travel industry. 

I usually research hotels pretty thoroughly and don’t hesitate to ask for a wonderful room when we check in. Almost always we’re accommodated. 

Airport upgrades are rare these days, but those I’ve received in the past would never have happened if I were standing there in a T-shirt.

Long ago my husband had been giving me grief for years about my big suitcase. One day I just handed him $2 and said, “Here, hire a porter.” That took care of that!

Judy Nagy, San Jose, CA