A Packing List for Writers


On Travel

Today, I wrote a friend for advice about packing. I’ll be going from Virginia to Nashville to New York City, after which I’ll be flying to Rome for three weeks. My friend mentioned that his wife takes up more than her share of their suitcase, because she believes men don’t need as many clothes. I wouldn’t consider sharing a suitcase with my husband. It’s disappointing enough to see your Jockey sports bra in another country—it looks so sad in hotel rooms abroad (bad pun!). How much sadder, then, to find it entangled amid chargers, extension cords, computer cords, unwound dental floss (how would I know how that happened? Big hello, though, to my dental hygienist), earphones, noise-canceling headphones, dangling cords, and bungee cords (you never can tell). I’d be hugely foiled trying to extract my underwear. Who wants to deal with a bunch of cords doing the kudzu around a bra when Caravaggio beckons?

Though it seems to be common knowledge, I just discovered that it’s best to roll everything. Ankle boots are all-purpose, and you can roll delicate stuff into them with your socks. It’s the packing version of making a jelly roll (okay, you wouldn’t plunge a jelly roll into your boot). When you remove the boots, empty them right away. Santa spoiler alert: the next morning you might find (rolled up) twenty dollars in the toe! 

What to bring? There are already numerous articles about all-purpose wrinkle-free clothes you can layer (I’ve already made one cooking analogy, so I’ll avoid talking about being human phyllo dough), along with “versatile” scarves (that adjective won’t go away until scarves do), dangly earrings that conduct heat (patent pending), and lipstick that doubles as eye shadow. You can also line your eyes with a no. 2 pencil (kidding!) and wear your boot shoehorn as a bolo tie, improvised from one of your husband’s cords. My tips below are helpful primarily for writers, but absolutely anyone, cis-writered or not, might benefit:

  1. Take an external mouse and use it to kill big bugs! No hotel has a flyswatter. Have you ever once seen one?
  2. You know those scented, “personal” travel candles that are supposed to set the mood, calm your mind, and give you double points on your AmEx? Take one with you to the church in Rome so you don’t have to rationalize and/or feel bad if you can’t buy one. You’ll still want to symbolically light a candle to pray that more insight comes to you in the future about, say, packing. Or that you get money. Or, even though it’s technically too late, you’ll want to remember your dissertation advisor fondly. (He/she/they always liked symbolic gestures!)
  3. Leave the Kindle at home. Read galleys on the plane. If you “lose” them, the publisher will always send another.
  4. Leave the bra at home. See if anybody notices, underneath those layers. (No fair hunching your shoulders: that’s reserved for a late night at the computer. Use the scarf to bind your breasts those times you feel you absolutely must.)
  5. Don’t add weight by carrying a pen. Do you ever write in longhand, let alone on planes? If mere swiping won’t do it, sign with your finger. Raise that finger again for the flight attendant. A double Cognac? Just make sure it’s the right finger, as the employee serving business class will already dislike you. (“No underwear!” she’s thinking, “And she kept sniffing a little candle that was probably some drug she tongued the minute I turned away.”)
  6. No hairbrush. The “beachy” look is always in. Or use earphones to tie back your hair.
  7. As for the clothes: you’re a writer. People used to know what writers looked like, but no more. (Faulkner in that vest; Hemingway’s big belly inflating a guayabera shirt that might also serve as a flotation device; Susan Sontag, who understood the timelessness of boots, not only the timelessness of herself. You can look any way, because nobody will believe that you’re a writer. That’s because they, too, are writers who’ve settled on a look entirely different from yours. Perhaps they will not be so clever as to use their carry-on as a back pillow, or to use their Spanx as a head warmer, under all that germ-ridden air blowing down (when worn upside down, the leg openings above each ear provide the perfect opening through which to thread cords).


Ann Beattie’s short story “Ruckersville” appears in our Fall Issue. She is the author, most recently, of The Accomplished Guest. Read her Art of Fiction interview.