packing right

“What should I pack?”

I got that question from Dee during a phone call a few days before our planned trip to Thailand. Helena asked the same by email. Chris, who I barely even knew, also sent an email wondering what his suitcase should hold. My answer to each was probably not of much help. Unless they planned on hauling a suitcase full of sarcasm with them on their trip.

In my defense – not to dissuade you from thinking my reply wasn’t heavily laden with sarcasm – I had previously gone over our planned destinations: Thailand’s capital city, a large hillside college town filled with backpackers, and a tropical beach. Did adults really need an itemized list of what to pack? If so, they didn’t get it from me. And that was probably a good thing; I’d have never considered to include Dee’s dildo on the list. Ditto for Chris’ matching BFF.

The girls’ naivete emphasized the difference between my current dyke travel partners and my old model of travelling lesbians. The previous version included my friend Ann. Even though I’d already been to Thailand once, prior to our first trip together she did what Ann did best and attacked the packing part of the trip with gusto. Scouring the internet and local library for tips she came up with what she determined was the perfect packing scheme. Mistakenly, she assumed ‘packing light’ was the Japanese/English version of ‘packing right’. And managed to fail on both scores.

The principle theory to Ann’s packing was that rolling your clothing instead of folding it consumed less room in your suitcase. No problemo. Being a guy, I already practiced that tip. Before a trip, I’d throw all the clothes I planned on taking on the bed next to an empty suitcase. Then I’d wad each piece of clothing into a ball and stuff it into my bag. Her version was a bit more advanced, a bit more regulated. The result was a lot neater, but the outcome was the same: way too much, a suitcase overflowing, stuffed to the brim. And since she’d saved on space, she packed even more stuff than normal. The idea that less is more never applied to Ann’s suitcase.

packing right

The important thing to Ann was that all her clothes were neatly rolled into equally sized bundles, tied off tightly with string, the twine color-coded for use. Ann was the poster child for OCD. She used a yardstick to decorate her Xmas tree (and had a printed diagram of where each ornament belonged). At one point in our friendship, we decided to buy a house together. Out house hunting – showing that gay folk and straight folk have a lot of similarities – she’d scope out the kitchen while I checked out the garage. At one place I heard her scream with delight, “Come here! You’ve got to see this!”

Wandering from the garage into the kitchen I considered the possibilities of what had gotten her so excited. An indoor grill? A restaurant style side by side? An Easy Bake Oven? (Okay, maybe there are some differences between gays and straights.) When I made it to the kitchen Ann was standing in front of an opened cupboard gazing in with wonder. “Look!” she said.

“Uh, canned goods. Amazing.” Yup, the sarcasm thingy has always been with me.

Ann invented the bitch slap, which she applied upside my head before crackling with delight, “No asshole. Look!”

The slap didn’t help. Nor did the term of endearment. It still looked like nothing more than a cupboard full of canned goods to me. And then she pointed out the wonderment. Ann had found a fellow traveller. The cans were arranged by type; veggies, fruits, soups, etc. each on their own shelf. And alphabetized within each grouping. But the crème de la crème was that each can sat equidistant from its neighbor. The owner had used a ruler to stock her canned goods. I think that was the last house we looked at together. But Ann still qualified as a great travel buddy. As long as you overlooked the packing thing.

packing light

Packing light has become the new buzzword thanks to airlines now charging extra for every ounce over their minuscule baggage limit. In the old days the paradigm was how much you could cram into a bag. Now it is how little you can take with you. And for a trip to Thailand, at this I excel.

On my initial forays to the Kingdom I too was an overpacker. And usually bought at least one suitcase during the trip to haul everything I bought home. Now I travel with an almost empty suitcase on the way over, and usually on the way home still have room left after filling it with all my purchases. And that’s not about overlimit fee avoidance. I fly Eva, am a diamond card member, and my baggage allowance allows me to pack the entire country in my luggage if I so desire. It’s just that I’ve come to realize how little I really need to take with me.

The secret to packing light, or packing right, is not limiting what you take, but taking only what you need. And you don’t need much. The bulk in most suitcases is clothing. Casual clothing is so cheap in Thailand it is disposable. If you buy clothes at street markets, the quality means it will be disposable whether that was your plan or not. T-shirts and casual shirts can be had for less than $3. Jeans or casual pants for less than $10. Laundry service is so cheap, so you don’t even have to load up on cheap clothes; you can launder what you need as you go.

Toiletries are often cheaper in Thailand than in the States, so unless you will only use a particular brand of something, one that’s not available in Thailand, there’s no reason to be hauling that stuff half way around the world. In deference to Xian Darkthorne’s travel words of wisdom: check, your hotel probably supplies a hair dryer so you may not even need to pack that.

packing right

Ooops! Wrong kind of packing. But, well, ya know . . .

The only thing you really need is underwear and shoes. Sizing in the latter may not be available for American feet. And fly-front briefs are not something you’ll run across in Asia very often. Men there prefer briefs that look more like women’s bikini-style underwear than something a man would wear. (I’m not complaining.) Boxers, however, are to be found everywhere.

If you plan accordingly, even nicer outfits need not be packed. If you have a few days before you need them, you can have suits, shirts, and pants custom fitted and tailored at exceptionally reasonable prices. Or of you prefer to participate in a scam, you can have an entire outfit custom made in twenty minutes; no fitting required!

Off the rack business wear is also inexpensive and can be tailored to fit for a song. Which segues nicely into the ‘dressing right’ part of this post. And I don’t mean which side you like to hang on. Unless you are a perfect size 40, ninety percent of dress shirts, pants, and suit coats that you buy off the rack should be altered to fit you properly.

Off the rack does not mean ready to wear. It just means you’re saving a few bucks by not having the entire piece custom made for you. A trip to the tailor is still advised. Oh, and that perfect size 40? That’s in suit coat sizing, not pants. Size 40 pants are only perfect if your full time job is working as a department store Santa Claus.

Packing right is not just about packing light. It’s also about packing clothes that help you avoid making a fashion faux paux while on holiday. Just because you are on vacation does not mean your sense of style should take time off too. Regardless if you are hauling a suitcase full of clothes with you or buying most of your clothes when you land, even though you are on holiday, you should show some pride in what you wear.

Thai bar boys

Looking good during your night out has its benefits.

Bangkok is Thailand’s capital city. Running around in short pants is a no-no. Yes, there are plenty of touri who do so. Please recall your mother’s advice about jumping off of bridges. In Bangkok, any man over the age of twelve should be wearing long pants. Always. Daytime or nighttime.

You can go causal in jeans if that’s your thing. What you will find is that Thais are very clothes conscious and will judge you by what you wear. Even in (clean) jeans and a T-shirt you will be treated with more respect than dressed in board shorts and your favorite rugby shirt. You get respect because you are showing respect, too. Don’t run around looking like you are sharing a room with a dozen strangers in Khaosan. Unless you are sharing a room with a dozen strangers in Khaosan.

When it comes to shirts, anywhere and everywhere you go in Thailand will be hot and humid. Cotton clothing breathes. Polyester does not. You will be cooler wearing a cotton shirt than you will be wearing something made out of man-made fibers. The plus is cotton shirt manufacturers tend to not use the bright colors and loud prints which lines that rely on polyester tend to favor. Garish and gay are not synonymous, despite what you may think. And that was never more true than when it comes to aloha shirts.

I’m not sure why or when aloha shirts became the shirt of choice for men who travel. But having come of age in Hawaii, I can tell you there is a big difference between what a business man and a yokel wears in aloha shirts. A small, dignified print in muted colors with a button down collar is classic and classy. Big floppy collars and big floppy prints, of colors not seen in nature, are only suitable when your entire family is wearing matching aloha wear. And that’s so the rest of us can giggle at the spectacle. If you have to wear an aloha shirt, do so with a bit of dignity. Please.

The dress code for men in Chiang Mai is a bit more relaxed. Chiang Mai is a college town heavily trafficked by young backpackers and adventure travellers, so casual works. Short pants are okay. At least during the day. Provided they are no shorter than just above the knee. No one wants to see any more of your legs than that. Unless you are under 25 and have a body by god.

six pack abs

This is who Abercrombie & Fitch markets their T-shirts to. If your six pack abs look more like a pony keg, pass.

T-shirts work fine up north, too. Um, but the ‘Starfucks’ T shirt you saw at the night market might have been good for a laugh hanging on the vendor’s wall, you wearing it is not so funny. And in case you didn’t know, Hollister is branded for the preteen crowd and Abercrombie & Fitch for the high school crowd. Both, in knock-offs, are readily available throughout Thailand. Either worn by a fifty + year old man will get the laugh you missed by wearing the Starfucks T-shirt.

Sandals, flip flops, slippahs, whatever you want to call footwear that doesn’t cover your feet, should not be worn in Bangkok. At least at night. I don’t really think it is proper during the daytime either, but have to admit if you are touring wats and have to take your shoes off twenty times during the day, they make sense. In Chiang Mai, they are the norm. However you refer to them, it is footwear designed to be worn without socks. If you need to wear socks to keep your feet warm, put on a pair of real shoes. And unless you are packing a pair of black dress shoes, do not even think about packing black dress socks. Much less wearing them with sandals in public.

In Phuket you’ve hit a tropical paradise and short pants, board shorts, T-shirts, and slippahs are perfectly acceptable. Tank tops – singlets for non-Americans – are only proper if you have the upper body of a twenty year old. And have no hair sprouting from your shoulders. I’d say ditto for Pattaya on both shirts and shorts, but then in Pattaya if you aren’t exposing any part of your gross anatomy you’re already ahead of the pack. So no worries.

That you are even in Pattaya means you won’t be getting much respect from the locals, and your fellow touri won’t notice. They are all staring at the piece of ass they bought the night before or are planning on purchasing for that night’s fun.

That leaves us with swimwear. And already I shudder. Go to Google Images. Search ‘President (fill in the blank of your choice) and beach’. That’s what you should be wearing for swim trunks if you are over forty. I don’t care if you are European. Yes, I know, Americans are puritanical and uptight about sex. When it comes to swim trunks, we’re right. You on the beach in a G-string is not about sex, or about being comfortable or cool. It is about grossing the rest of us out.

If you are more than ten pounds over weight, if any part of your body qualifies as sagging, if hair grows on any part of your body it did not grow on when you were eighteen, you should not appear in pubic in a speedo-style swim suit. If you are male, you should never appear in public in a g-string style swimsuit. I’ve a strong feeling the gods invented tsunamis to wipe the blight of skimpily dressed old folk and fatties off the beaches of the world.

Pattaya beach lover

. . . and this is what the rest of see when you hit the beach in your skimpy bathing suit.

Sorry, but that cute beach boy that just called you handsome man didn’t really mean it. And since he’s already seen what he’s gonna have to deal with, his asking price just skyrocketed. Save yourself a few bucks, and the rest of us from losing our lunch, and cover that shit up. Maybe with a nice polyester aloha shirt in a loud pattern.

Here’s what I pack whether it is for a week or several months:
2 T-shirts
1 Polo shirt
5 Pair of Underwear
1 pair of socks
I pair of sandals
1+lbs. of good coffee
1 Travel french press
1 Ten+ year old bottle of Advil (Really need to buy a new bottle)
1 Pen light
1 Jeweler’s scale
1 Set finger & toenail clippers
1 Brush
1 Case of XXXL condoms
1 Bottle of Bodyglide

In my carry-on I pack my camera and lenses, travel netbook, a pen, a spare pair of underwear and T-Shirt in case my luggage is lost, a few books, and a big wad of cash. Technically, I could get away with just a small carry-on, but I often also pack a ton of stuff for my friend Noom.

Everything else I buy, launder, and/or dispose of as needed.

So, what’s in your bag?

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