Sunday, December 7, 2014

WIP: Stitch Block Cowl

I started this cowl over the summer for a knit-a-long and haven't been great about working on it. I decided my lovely Schwiegermutti should get it for a birthday present... and now it's a Christmas present haha!

Here it is so far, almost done!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Packing Light

My husband and I recently went on a 3-week-long trip to Germany and I tried out some new things with my packing strategy. This summer we traveled a lot for conferences which allowed me to observe our current methodology.

I observed the following problems with our past travels:
  • We brought more than we actually needed
  • Dirty, unwearable clothing took up too much valuable space
  • Finding toiletries was difficult
  • Toiletries required counter space and became disorganized
  • I frequently left toiletry items behind on accident
  • I had to fully unpack the suitcase to find things when I needed them
  • Re-packing took at least an hour
  • The rolling suitcase felt over-sized and was difficult to carry in non-flat surface situations
  • I kept losing track of small items (nail scissors, nail clippers)
Based on these observations, I used my Engineering Superpowers to creatively determine solutions, using both my own imaginative searches for products on Amazon and by researching travel blogs.

Rolling bag vs. Non-Rolling Bag

For the past 3 years, I've had a Samsonite 23" Spinner in Solar Rose. I originally bought it for a trip to Hawaii where I realized I needed a nice suitcase since my current one had been falling apart. I've used it as a carry on and it fit just fine in the overhead compartment even though it's slightly over the size limit, but it's big enough that I can unzip an expander and check it if necessary. The overall rolling is stable and for most American travel that involves cars, taxis, elevators, escalators, and flat airport surfaces.

So what's the problem? Rolling wheels are great if you're dealing with escalators, ramps, and wide flat sidewalks. Once you encounter stairs, and crowded, narrow, and uneven sidewalks, things get really uncomfortable. This bag is also really difficult to get in and out of the overhead compartment.

One of my favorite travel resources, Rick Steves, mentioned a convertible bag in a blog entry. I thought it looked really cool but I wasn't totally crazy about it, so I checked out some other options. Turns out eBags makes something similar and I liked the colors and overall structure a lot better.

I purchased the Mother Load TLS Weekender Convertible along with a set of packing cubes and a toiletry kit.

Here's the official product pic:

Here's it is in the flesh:

Open and Empty
A peek in the front pocket
Filled with packing cubes and unzipped.
Nothing here is compressed, this is how I use it on a daily basis without unpacking.

Packing Cubes

I got these on a whim, not really convinced and concerned they might take up more room than the actual things packed in them. However, I was intrigued by the advantages over organization that they offered.

I ordered the set of a small, medium, and large packing cube. My clothes, ALL of my clothes, went into the large cube. I used the largest packing cube for the majority of my clothing - shirts, pants, skirt, etc. I used the medium sized one for my pajamas, socks, initimates, etc. The smallest one I ended up using for small items and electronic components (wireless trackball, laptop power supply, portable phone charger).

The key advantage I found to using the packing cubes is they let me organize and compact things. I had total control over how much stuff I was taking and I could make sure my bag didn't end up bulging. With packing cubes, because everything is fairly well organized, I didn't have to fully unpack, even during longer stays. I was able to just dive into my bag when I needed stuff, and putting things away was quick and easy too because everything had a place in its packing cube.

Large and medium packing cubes in the suitcase
Small packing cube, closed
Small packing cube, open

Toiletry Kit

 I've just been using random zip top pouches and plastic bags for transporting toiletries when travelling. This technique works fine if you have a counter area and don't mind unpacking everything when you reach your destination, but I really wanted the option to just keep everything in one place. The zip top bags were large and deep with no additional organization. This meant that I either unpacked everything so I could find it easily, or I spent several minutes digging through the bag looking for the small item I needed.

The nice thing about a hanging toiletry kit is it's instant shelf for everything. You can easily find things and you don't really have to unpack.

Toiletry kit and small packing cube
Toiletry kit hanging from a cabinet

Clothing Choices

Because we're travelling in late summer/early fall, I knew I would want clothes for warmer days with layering options as it got colder. I'd also want rain and sun protection, as well as comfortable but versatile walking shoes. Again, stuff that I use in New York City all the time just commuting to and from work and walking around the city.

My criteria:
  • Doesn't wrinkle
  • Easy care (no special instructions beyond wash and dry)
  • Versatile (works for a variety of situations, from going out to dinner to hiking)
  • Functional (eg, decent pockets)
Here's a list of the clothing I ended up bringing to Germany for 3 weeks:
  • Cashmere Cardigan
  • Lightweight Jersey Cardigan
  • 3 short sleeved tshirts
  • 1 pair of Hiking Pants
  • 1 Skirt
  • 1 Dress
  • 2 pairs of socks, 1 pair of tights
  • 2 pairs of shoes, a sneaker and a dressier walking shoe
  • Pair of tights
  • 3 pairs of ExOfficio Give N Go underwear (dries so fast!)
  • 2 bras
  • 1 sleepshirt
  • Set of workout clothes (tank top, leggings, sports bra)
  • Long underwear shirt
  • Rain Jacket

More than enough clothes for 3 weeks of travel!

The piece I ended up wearing the most was the black dress. It was just so easy to wear and so stylish. I was definitely a tourist but I felt like I looked a little nicer than the other tourists wearing that dress. It was incredibly comfortable and versatile. I went from hiking around in the daytime to eating at a nice restaurant in the evening, no problem.

The absolutely biggest thing I found myself missing is some portable slippers. Most folks in Germany don't wear shoes in the house so I was either wearing socks or borrowing slippers that fell off my feet. I know it sounds like a small luxury, but when you're travelling and away from home, anything that helps you to feel a little more cozy can make a huge difference.

Here I am in the ExOfficio 24-hour Dress!


The combination of the Ebags suitcase, packing cubes, and toiletry kit was awesome. Having clothes I could wear frequently and wash quickly was also awesome. I bought a bunch of souveniers and I had more than enough room in the lovely Ebags Mother Load TLS Weekender Convertible to fit it all in addition to everything I brought. The Mother Load is a little big however, I might get a Mother Load Junior and give that a try for comparison. Regardless, my husband was so impressed, he's decided he wants to give the packing cubes a try but isn't totally sold on the suitcase yet.

All the souvenirs I bought that I managed to cram into my suitcase along with everything else I brought!