A Guide to Friendly-ing the Skies

Last Wednesday, for my first appearance here, I waxed rather rhapsodic on the delight, but ultimate utter uselessness of my sporting goods collection. For my second guest post here at the internationally renowned IBC, I thought that perhaps I would turn to something more practical–dare I say, useful–to my readership.

The ART of Packing

What, you may ask, qualifies me for such advisorship? I am afraid that I have as yet acquired no credentials besides a fairly consistent traveling schedule, an uncanny ability to make it through customs before you when we travel together, an essential (and possibly misplaced) Yankee frugality that resists paying extra to check a bag, a job that suggests, nay REQUIRES, the availability of cocktail dresses, and a slightly sub-clinical dose of obsessive compulsive disorder.

Also, from time to time, people have asked for my expert advice in such matters. This way, I will have a link that I can send. This will assuredly NOT be one of “those” packing articles (I’m looking at you, mainstream fashion media) that offers ridiculous “tips,” like extolling the usefulness of Hermes scarves, and suggests relying on the generosity of friends with their own planes. In dazzling contrast, I shall assume that most readers don’t have unlimited funds, don’t have a private staff, and from time to time, have places that they need to be.


Oh you don't fly this way?


To begin with, the right bag has an enormous impact. Why? Because, you may feel differently, but I prefer to spend as little time as possible in airports. Pre-2001 world events, I was the one showing up for business trips 20 minutes before takeoff. I would throw my bags and a tenner at the skycap at the curb (not so much for the checking, though it was then included in the ticket price, young-uns, but because those guys could CHECK YOU IN, “security” was a quick wave, AND you could leave your bag in the middle of the floor when freshening up, besides. Damn you, terrorist extremists!), and sprint through the airport for a last minute gate arrival just as the doors were closing.


You’re probably going to have to check a bag at some point, and to that end, ALWAYS, buy a bright colored bag. Red is best. I once had to chase down a fellow flyer on a business trip when she collected my black bag, identical to her’s and everyone else. Ribbons don’t help. And just like red cars get more speeding tickets than cars of any other color (one hears–it does make sense, though), bright colored bags consistently come off that baggage conveyor belt first. Baggage handling is not an automated job, and the handlers will grab first–and toss out first–the bags that they see first.

If checking luggage (and I understand there are many reasons that it is convenient to do so, especially if traveling under someone else’s auspices), carry a toothbrush and paste, moisturizer, a change of shirt, underwear, and if traveling tropical, a bathing suit in your carry-on. Enormously refreshing upon arrival anywhere, completely disproportionate to the tiny amount of space ceded by reading material, and entirely humanity-restoring on any kind of trip overseas. And the gratitude you will feel flooding through you the first time your luggage is lost or delayed is thank you enough.


Eminently stuffable.


For the purposes of carry-on, which has unfortunately become the uncivilized default, get the largest bag that still sneaks in under the size cut-off. Hard side is generally the most effective if you’re trying to get through 10 days with a single piece of luggage. To begin with, you can stuff more in it, sit on it to close it, and return with more than when you embarked. If you plan to do a great deal of walking on arrival, I also have nice things to say about traveling with a pack, provided the trip in question isn’t tied to your professional reputation. A pack is easy to carry on, and entirely easy to toss on top of a bus or tuk-tuk luggage rack upon arrival.


Telescoping top for acquisitional possibility.


Carry a large shawl with you. I prefer silk, because it is both warm and cool, and packs down small. If the plane is chilly you can use it as a blanket, if your seatmate is smelly, you can cover your nose. If it’s cold when you arrive, you have a warm scarf, and if it’s warm, it can be useful as a beach sarong or wrap skirt. Entirely unisex suggestion, in case you are skeptical: on a recent trip to Mexico, the boy suddenly found that he had no desire to be constrained by pants, and though initially wary, allowed himself to be introduced to a concept that, decidedly,  felt so right.


Is that so wrong?



Wear your heaviest and bulkiest clothes on the plane, so as to free up additional luggage space. Boots are easy to pull off in the security line, and much easier to wear than carry. For a longer flight, a pair of moccasins or flats can go in your carry-on; eliza b makes all kinds of nice quality, customizable ones for a fairly reasonable price.


Get off your ass and jam.


Jeans with a little bit of stretch are as comfortable as yoga pants, but likewise would take up much more room in your bag, and a bulky, versatile cardigan can serve as an blanket with the added bonus that the cleanliness and point of origin are not mysterious or questionable.

One coat for the likeliest destination weather can be draped over a rolling bag, and stuffed under the seat. A trench coat with a zip-out lining is casual, but polished enough for almost everywhere, and if combined with a fitted leather jacket stuffed in your bag, it is likely warm enough for most destinations short of Scandinavia in the winter months. If you’re small or even “ish,” a boy’s trench can be a bargain purchase. Mine is a never-regretted Brooks Brothers boy’s shop purchase from the early ’90s (great proportions, and I like the slightly bracelet-length sleeves in a boy’s size 12, but their sizes go up to 20). Burberry is a classic option, and though slightly spendy, is still pennies on the dollar compared to adult sizes.


Can you image the sort of six-year-old who would wear this?


I prefer to fly an army surplus flight-suit for comfort and stylistic conceptual consistency. Nomex if possible, because it’s fairly indestructible, and appeals to my aforementioned love of useless gear, but cotton is nice too. They come in different lengths, and are made to fit men and women.


Seriously, with a camisole and high heels you can make people think you got dressed this morning.


My next planned trip, despite my recent Mongolia shout-out, will be Macchu Pichu and the Inca trail, just as soon as my newly arrived monkey is old enough to spend the ten days with his Nana. Taking him on an overseas plane sounds like a lot to carry, and entirely too much adventure in my travel.


About K. Jai Raj

Art dealer ski-bum. I spend disproportionate amounts on borderline-unnecessary tools and gear.


  1. Kat

    At first I thought that the Brooks Brothers boyswear trench was the best piece of fashion advice I’d seen in ages, but then I kept reading and got to the bit about traveling in a Nomex flight-suit, heels, cami (and scarf/shawl). Absolutely genius. How has this not occurred to me before?!

  2. Pingback: Girl, Interrupted: What to Wear When Couchsurfing «

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